Another Wave of Opposition Against Pretrial Risk Assessments as the Texas Legislature Steams Forward

Another Wave of Opposition Against Pretrial Risk Assessments as the Texas Legislature Steams Forward


House Bill 2020 is making its way through the legislature.  We certainly support all efforts to increase the information judges have in making decisions and the other important changes that the bill would make to the bail setting process.  What we don’t support, however, is the statewide deployment of a pretrial risk assessment by the Texas judicial branch.

On our position regarding pretrial risk assessment tools, we are not alone. 

Within the past several weeks the Partnership on AI, which is comprised of over 80 entities including the ACLU, Google, IBM, etc. condemned the use of pretrial risk assessments and demanded that such assessments, if used, meet ten very specific criteria.[1]  These groups include groups from all sides of the political spectrum.[2]  In fact, a recent article noted that “big tech” was taking on criminal risk assessment algorithms.[3]  Although these groups call for an end to pretrial risk assessments, they lay out 10 specific standards that pretrial risk assessments should meet if used.  House Bill 2020 is deficient in terms of properly regulating the risk assessment process according to such best practices.

Then, the largest proprietor of pretrial risk assessment tools, John Arnold of Arnold Ventures (formerly the Arnold Foundation) out of Houston, Texas, came out in support of legislation in Idaho that would undo the secrecy of risk assessment tools and eliminate trade secret protections for builders and proprietors of pretrial risk assessment tools.  Arnold took to twitter to come out in support of Idaho House Bill 118.[4]  Unfortunately, none of the requirements contained in Idaho House Bill 118, which Arnold believes are essential to stopping black-box and non-transparent systems are included in House Bill 2020.

Finally, within the last two weeks, two legislatures, one controlled by Republicans and one controlled by Democrats, failed to pass statewide risk assessment legislation.  In Colorado, House Bill 1226, which would have created a statewide risk assessment controlled by the judiciary was defeated on May 3, 2019.  In Florida, a budget amendment to create a statewide risk assessment in addition to Senate Bill 534 that would have created statewide pretrial risk assessment was also defeated as the session came to a close on May 3.

As the movement against using pretrial risk assessments grows, two major cities, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, are set to now abandon their pretrial risk assessments due to the many concerns we have voiced over the past few years.

Texas needs to wake up: House Bill 2020, if it is to contain a statewide pretrial risk assessment tool, should be substantially amended to include the transparency and other requirements.  We would also suggest that delegating the power to the Courts to regulate their own use of the tool is delegating legislative power to the Courts and creates an impermissible conflict of interest.


[1] https://www.partnershiponai.org/report-on-machine-learning-in-risk-assessment-tools-in-the-u-s-criminal-justice-system/

[2] These groups include: ACLU, Accenture, Amazon, Google, Human Rights Watch, IBM, Sony, Unicef and many others.  A complete list is here: https://www.partnershiponai.org/partners/

[3] https://www.insidesources.com/big-tech-condemns-algorithmic-tools-for-determining-who-gets-bail/

[4] https://www.law360.com/articles/1143086/the-criminal-justice-system-s-algorithms-need-transparency


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