University Study Finds Colorado Pretrial Risk Assessment Tool is Biased Against African-American Defendants

University Study Finds Colorado Pretrial Risk Assessment Tool is Biased Against African-American Defendants

We’ve been hard at work the last couple of years warning state legislators and the Colorado Commission on Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) to stop advocating for statewide pretrial risk assessments and pretrial services because the Colorado Pretrial Risk Assessment tool was invalid and likely biased against protected classes due to the direct inclusion of demographic factors.

We threatened to sue several counties because to continue using such a tool was deliberate indifference to a known and substantial risk that a county program was disparately treating criminal defendants based on their race or gender.  Of course, we were ignored because we could not possibly be right.

But, we were right.

A study released in July, 2020 by the University of Northern Colorado found that the Colorado Pretrial Risk Assessment Tool (CPAT) “scored Black people higher than white people even though their odds of missing a court date or committing a new offense were nearly the same.”  One commentator said that the tools merely “polish racism.”  Of course, the predictive benefits of the tool were underwhelming: “tool’s ability to predict future arrests and missed court dates was a little better than that of a coin toss, according to the study.”

For the last two years, the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, the Governor’s Office, the State Courts, the State Public Safety Director, and the Attorney General have pushed for pretrial risk assessments to be used throughout Colorado.  In fact, they came down to Capitol Hill and told everyone of the benefits of these risk assessments, denied that there was a discrimination or bias problem, and informed everyone how well the risk assessment regime worked in Mesa County – despite the fact the County doubled the jail population since the reforms began, 80% of which are in pretrial status.

Colorado local governments were correct to oppose the CCJJ and its so-called “evidence-based” reforms, especially since counties would be on the hook for any racial or gender discrimination lawsuits.  When those facing discrimination ask why local governments used a discriminatory tool, simply saying “CCJJ’s got this” isn’t going to cut it.

Dear CCJJ: if the tool that you are using is racist, it seems like you may have wanted to figure that out before you advocated for two years to bring pretrial services to 64 counties and use the tool assessing every defendant charged with a crime in Colorado.

Curious which members of the Colorado House of Representatives voted in favor of a statewide risk assessment using the biased risk assessment tool?  Click here.


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