TX: Tarrant County Judge Ignores Research on Pretrial Risk Assessment Tools with Unsupported Claims

Tarrant County Judge Tells Officials “There is No Evidence” Arnold Pretrial Risk Assessment Tool is Biased—When A New Academic Study Just Found That It Is


In the pursuit of something that is not “bail reform,” Tarrant County officials have decided to adopt the Arnold Foundation Public Safety Assessment, a pretrial risk assessment tool.  Of course, the Arnold Foundation (now “Ventures” since they became a for-profit corporation) has told local officials of the success of this program, and unfortunately are being deceived by Arnold Ventures and its mountains of free cash.

Tarrant County officials actually need to know—this is a bad policy move that will inevitably lead to litigation and the wasting precious criminal justice resources.

Risk assessment tools have been widely criticized as biased, both racially and gender biased, depending on the tool.  Peer-reviewed research (not funded by Arnold Ventures) has also shown that the tools also do not work or achieve what they are supposed to achieve.  Of course, Arnold Ventures funds its own research that always shows the tool works well and it is not biased, and we assume are quick to not tell public officials that there is a national movement to get rid of the Arnold Ventures PSA and all other similar tools.

In a recent defense of the Arnold Ventures tool, however, a member of the judiciary made a misleading and perhaps false public statement: “The PSA does not discriminate. There is no evidence that it is racially-biased or gender-biased.”

To the contrary, there is substantial evidence of bias from credible sourcesA recent article written specifically about the Arnold Foundation’s PSA tool published on December 10, 2020 was titled Study finds crime-predicting judicial tool exhibits gender bias.  The article refers to a study released on December 8, 2020, where a group of five professors and academic researchers from Harvard and the University of Massachusetts determined that the PSA tool is gender biased.  The experts wrote: “we find potentially suggestive evidence the PSA provision may encourage the judge to make more lenient decisions for female arrestees regardless of their risk levels while leading to more stringent decisions for males who are classified as risky.”  In addition, they found that the “PSA provision appears to widen the existing gender bias of the judge’s decisions against male arrestees.”

The really key finding, however, was that the tool just doesn’t do anything other than discriminate.  “We find that the PSA provision has little overall impact on the judge’s decisions and subsequent arrestee behavior.”

Arnold Ventures also doesn’t want Tarrant County Officials to know that 27 Academic researchers from coast-to-coast, not funded by Arnold Ventures, have called for an end to pretrial risk assessment in the United States of America, arguing that the process is fatally flawed and that jurisdictions should “turn to other reforms.”

So, at the end of the day, if judges in Tarrant County need a taxpayer-funded security blanket like the PSA to help them do their job (which research shows they will ultimately ignore), then the County should give it to them.  But County Officials should be aware, a gender-bias lawsuit is viable as is the ultimate fact that nothing, other than more discrimination, is going to happen.


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