Many states require or recommend the use of a pretrial RAT in decision making

Various governmental bodies can require or recommend the use of a RAT, or enshrine its use into laws or regulations.

These include state legislatures passing legislation, city governments passing local bills or writing rules, and the courts setting out administrative rules. The institution that requests or requires the use of a RAT is often distinct from the sheriff’s office, local jail, district attorney, or county court that may house pretrial services and actually administer the RAT.

Our research found 13 states where legislation or court order required the use of a pretrial RAT. Many of these states use a specific tool state-wide, either a common national tool or a state-created tool. 

For example, Indiana implemented the Indiana Risk Assessment System-Pretrial Assessment Tool (IRAS-PAT),1Eric Grommon, Brad Ray, Dona Sapp, and Rachel Thelin: Process Evaluation of the IRAS-PAT Pilot Program Implementation: Report to the Indiana Office of Court Services, Center for Criminal Justice Research, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and Indiana University Public Policy Institute which is adopted from the ORAS-PAT, after a pilot study of 11 counties2Indiana Pretrial Pilot Counties, September 2017 in 2016 and 2017. Indiana’s Supreme Court Rule 26 expands this pilot to the entire state as of January 1, 2020, requiring all jurisdictions to use IRAS-PAT for pretrial decision-making.3Indiana Office of Court Services: Pretrial Release: An Indiana Supreme Court Pilot Project

Alaska uses the Alaska Scale,4Alaska Scale (AK 2-Scale) Alaska Department of Corrections and while legislation requires the Department of Corrections to create a pretrial services program and approve a validated pretrial risk assessment for the program to use, the RAT is just one of 12 elements judges consider to determine pretrial release.5Laws of Alaska, 2019, CCS HB 49 Delaware uses the state-created Delaware Pretrial Assessment Tool,6Alan Davis: Delaware Pretrial Assessment Tool, Chief Magistrate6 and its legislation requires the use of empirically based tools7House Bill 204, 149th General Assembly (2017-2018) to determine risk in order  to assign conditions of release.

Another 12 states have language in their statutes that recommends or allows the use of a RAT for pretrial decision making, and several counties within these states have opted to use a tool.

For instance, Kansas legislation allows courts to use a risk assessment for release on recognizance programs,82018 Statute: Article 28 – Conditions of Release and specifies that certain criteria, such as stability of employment and local family ties, must be included. Our research found at least three Kansas counties that opted to develop their own RATs.

Even when states do not require the use of pretrial RATs, many counties make administrative decisions to implement them on their own. In some states, courts have decided to use tools, or jurisdictions have partnered with tool developers to run pilots.

Pennsylvania, for example, does not require the use of RATs in the general pretrial context. However, our research found that as of November 2019, at least nine counties have adopted one. Since 2018, South Dakota has been piloting the PSA in two counties9Public Safety Assessment (PSA), Laura and John Arnold Foundation without any statewide requirement to do so. As of fall 2019 in Louisiana, our research found that Jefferson and Lafayette Parishes and New Orleans all use RATs, though there is no specific legal requirement or recommendation to do so.

In some jurisdictions, district attorney’s offices create policy or standards of practice around the use of risk assessment tools. In Dallas County, Texas, in 2019, the District Attorney adopted guidelines around bail that included the use of a risk assessment for determining conditions of pretrial release.10John Creuzot, Criminal District Attorney, Dallas County Texas, 2019

However, pretrial RATs, on their own, do not automatically change anything about how a pretrial process operates in a particular place

In some places, such as New Jersey, pretrial RATs have been introduced as part of a complete overhaul of the entire pretrial system11Chloe Anderson, Cindy Redcross, Erin Valentine, and Luke Miratrix: Evaluation of Pretrial Justice System Reforms That Use the Public Safety Assessment Effects of New Jersey’s Criminal Justice Reform, Pretrial Justice Reform Study, MDRC Center for Criminal Justice Research that includes efforts to release the majority of those arrested. New Jersey focuses heavily on pretrial release and uses the PSA, but the judicial, prosecutorial, and even police culture have changed towards massive release.

In other places, pretrial RATs are implemented without major cultural and policy changes, and can lead to no change in pretrial incarceration or can even be a part of an increase in pretrial incarceration. Risk assessments are not a quick fix to mass incarceration and pretrial systemic failures.