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(excerpt from The Intercept - July 12 2020)
TWO YEARS AGO, Demontez Campbell, who goes by Tez, was arrested for third-degree burglary stemming from what he says was a domestic dispute at his house in Hardin County, Kentucky. As he was being processed, a pretrial officer told him that he had been evaluated by the state’s risk assessment algorithm, a criminal justice reform tool intended to release more people before trial without bail.
Campbell, who was 29 at the time, had a record of theft and drug-related charges, though none at that point were violent. “On paper, it looked as if I was just a real hardened criminal because of my past mistakes,” he said. Though he lived in the house in Hardin County where he was arrested, Campbell is from Louisville, about an hour’s drive away. The disparity led authorities to consider him a flight risk. The combination of factors — his age, history, and lack of an official local address — resulted in a moderate risk rating, according to the algorithm, which in Campbell’s case meant that he would have to pay cash bail to be released.
“There’s no hands to help, there’s just hands pointing at you. I felt like I was being convicted before even being convicted.”
The judge set bail at $15,000. “They’re looking at your charge and looking at your past charges and deciding, ‘That’s what he’s going to do forever,’” Campbell said. At the time, Campbell worked at Subway and had to pay child support every week on top of his other bills. “You might as well have set it at a million, because I’m not going to be able to make that,” he said. On top of the financial strain, Campbell also said he had post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, as well as substance use issues, which he said was part of why he got tangled up with the law in the first place.
He spent six months in jail, but faced with family obligations and the uncertainty of how much longer he’d have to spend behind bars awaiting trial, he decided to plead guilty. He was given five years of probation.
“There’s no hands to help, there’s just hands pointing at you,” he said of the risk assessment that helped put him behind bars instead of sending him home. “I felt like I was being convicted before even being convicted.”