Minneapolis Mayor is Going to “End Cash Bail” By Hiring Social Workers?

Minneapolis Mayor is Going to “End Cash Bail” By Hiring Social Workers?

Last week, Minneapolis Mayor Frey announced that he was going to “end cash bail” in the city for a wide range of misdemeanors by hiring social workers to manage defendants with a history of failing to appear to court.  This $100,000 taxpayer investment, according to the Mayor, is the first step in eliminating cash bail in Minnesota.

In addition to the mayor’s pie in the sky wishful thinking, defendants will be scored by a computer pretrial risk assessment tool.

“There is a risk assessment tool that the courts developed that we have agreed to that allows people with a low risk to just be released from jail without bail right away, even before their first appearance,” said Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal.

Perhaps the mayor should do some research on pretrial risk tools before bringing them to Minneapolis.  Clearly, he does some research…he cites the misdemeanor New York City model as the model his program is based off of.  What did he miss?  For starters, over 100 civil rights groups, including the ACLU and NAACP, oppose pretrial risk assessment tools for being biased against protected classes and for being non-transparent.  These secret black-box algorithms have also come under fire by many academics, including over 27 of the top think tanks in the country, including MIT, Harvard, NYU and Princeton.

We have closely watched the development and deployment of these tools, conducted research, and carefully studied others’ research. Although pretrial risk assessment tools are often promoted as an essential part of bail reform that can help judges make more informed and objective pretrial decisions, these tools suffer from serious methodological flaws that undermine their accuracy and effectiveness. As a result, pretrial risk assessments do not increase the likelihood of better pretrial outcomes, much less guarantee them. – Shared Statement of Researchers

The mayors misguided approach seeks to address those arrested on “low-level” misdemeanors that have prior failures to appear for court – hence the judge’s discretion of setting an appropriate cash bail in some cases.

To put this in perspective, judges are already releasing low-level defendants without any restrictions whatsoever.  Those defendants that judges determine need another level of supervision are required to post a monetary bond, which are the defendants the mayor is looking to address.  If hiring social workers was going to work, we would have already figured this out.  In fact, the State of Minnesota spends millions upon millions of dollars on criminal justice interventions, using social workers, therapists, counselors, probation and parole officers, and many others to deliver us the current system, where recidivism is rampant and rehabilitation a hollow talking point.  Yet, the Mayor, infected apparently by some version of hubris, is going to decree that spending a mere $100,000 will fix the problem.  We don’t think so.  To imply that judges need to be replaced by a computer in order to hand out get out of jail free cards is preposterous.

We could think of a lot of other programs where $100,000 would serve the community better than a free pass to further thumb your nose up at law and order.  The reality is that substance abuse disorders, mental disorders, and co-occurring disorders are not being properly addressed because we lack the resources to provide the services that courts already recommend.

Criminal justice reform has been all the rage in recent years, and social warriors from across the country have been quick to jump on the bandwagon.  Just as quick as it started, it’s now fading amid claims of racially biased risk assessment tools, a revolving door of injustice, and increases in crime and failures to appear.  Real reforms now slowly take their place…focusing more on procedural fixes within the court system, much of which is outlined in our Fourth Generation of Bail Reform.

Defendants need prompt and complete bail reviews, to be released promptly upon the posting of bail, the ability to exercise their right to personal surety, access to programs to deal with substance and mental disorder issues, and be held accountable for showing up to court.  We agree that onerous conditions of release are inappropriate for first time low-level offenses, however, judges need to be judges and judicial discretion should not be usurped by mandating unaccountable releases for criminal defendants.

Finally, where is the conversation about the victim with the mayor’s new social justice platform?  You’ll have to ask the mayor…he makes no mention of victims in his call to action.  Mayor Frey is grandstanding on a political talking point in attempt to be progressive, while proposing a solution that is going to have little if any impact on reforming the bail system.


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