Across the United States, judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, lawmakers, and community leaders are working to create a fairer, more efficient pretrial justice system. The Public Safety Assessment (PSA) is a research-based assessment that helps judges make more informed pretrial decisions. Using a pretrial assessment such as the PSA is a component of a more effective pretrial justice system.
The PSA uses nine factors to predict a person’s likelihood of success while on pretrial release. The factors include the person’s current age, prior convictions, pending charges, and prior failures to appear in court pretrial. The PSA generates a score ranging from 1 to 6 on two separate scales – new criminal activity (i.e., arrest) and failure to appear in court. The assessment may also generate a flag to indicate whether a person presents an elevated likelihood of being arrested for a new violent crime if released during the pretrial period. The PSA does not direct a judicial officer to release or detain a person or decide any conditions of release. To help judicial officers make use of the PSA scores in their pretrial decision making, local stakeholders develop policy frameworks (the Decision Framework and Release Conditions Matrix) that reflect local statutes, court rules, and policy preferences.
Arnold Ventures, which funded the development of the PSA, engages independent researchers to continuously subject the PSA to rigorous evaluation. Independent evaluators are validating the PSA in jurisdictions across the country to maximize predictive accuracy and minimize disparities.
The results of the studies completed to date demonstrate that the assessment is predictive across different jurisdictions and, in combination with additional system improvements, is often associated with decreases in the use of money bail and increases in pretrial release rates. Further, these studies indicate that in jurisdictions where pretrial release rates have increased, new criminal arrests and missed court appointments have not increased. All studies to date have shown the PSA does not exacerbate racial disparities.
A jurisdiction that aims to improve its pretrial justice system must examine a broad set of improvements that impact different pretrial decision points; implementing a pretrial assessment alone is not the answer. The pretrial phase of the criminal justice process begins as soon as a law enforcement officer suspects an individual of violating the law. From that moment until the final disposition of a case, there are a series of important decision points, at which justice system officials determine whether the accused person should remain in the community or be detained in jail pending trial.
The PSA Implementation Guides are designed to help criminal justice professionals successfully incorporate the PSA into their jurisdiction’s pretrial system. The guides enable local leaders and their implementation team to plan, integrate, test, and launch the PSA. The Guide to PSA Readiness can help criminal justice leaders determine whether the PSA is the right assessment for their jurisdiction.
Dozens of jurisdictions in the United States have adopted the PSA, including the states of Arizona, Kentucky, and New Jersey, and some of the largest cities in the country, such as Phoenix, Chicago, and Houston.