Risk factors and formula

A growing number of jurisdictions are moving away from a reliance on money bail and providing their judicial officers with more comprehensive information to support their pretrial release decisions. Often as part of a wider effort to improve their pretrial policies and practices, jurisdictions are incorporating an actuarial assessment into their pretrial decision-making processes.

The Public Safety Assessment (PSA) was designed by Arnold Ventures to provide judicial officers with information to help them assess a person's likelihood of returning to court for future hearings and remaining crime free while on pretrial release.

Risk Factors

The nine factors used by the PSA relate to a person’s age, current charge, and criminal history. The PSA does not rely on factors such as race, ethnicity, or geography. The table below outlines the nine factors and illustrates which factors are used to predict three different pretrial outcomes—Failure to Appear (FTA), New Criminal Activity (meaning a new arrest) (NCA), and New Violent Criminal Activity (meaning a new violent arrest) (NVCA).

Risk FactorPretrial Outcome
FTANCANVCA
1. Age at current arrest
2. Current violent offense
2A. Current violent offense and 20 yrs. old or younger
3. Pending charge at the time of the offense
4. Prior misdemeanor conviction
5. Prior felony conviction
5A. Prior conviction (misdemeanor or felony)
6. Prior violent conviction
7. Prior failure to appear in the past two years
8. Prior failure to appear older than two years
9. Prior sentence to incarceration

Factor Weighting

Each of the risk factors is weighted and assigned different points, according to the strength of the relationship between the factor and the specific pretrial outcome. The total points assigned to FTA and NCA are converted to two separate scales that range from 1 to 6, with lower scores indicating a greater likelihood of pretrial success. The total points assigned to NVCA are converted to a yes-no “violence flag,” the presence of which indicates an elevated likelihood of being arrested for a new violent crime.

The tables below illustrate how points are assigned to the risk factors for each pretrial outcome and how the total points are converted to the scaled FTA and NCA scores, as well as the NVCA flag.

Judicial Discretion

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. The Decision Framework is designed to support justice professionals in making decisions that align with the law, and the Release Conditions Matrix is structured to help judicial officers associate the PSA scores with the appropriate supports that may benefit a person while on pretrial release. Ultimately, the PSA and these policy frameworks can help a jurisdiction achieve its pretrial justice goals and assist judicial officers in making more informed, more consistent, and fairer decisions for the person before them.

Transparency

Unlike many other pretrial assessments, the PSA can be scored without interviewing the defendant. The nine PSA factors, weights, and method of calculation are fully transparent and publicly available. Jurisdictions are encouraged to make an individual’s PSA scores available to the person charged as well as to defense counsel and prosecution. The information should be used and openly discussed at pretrial court hearings. The PSA is available to jurisdictions at no cost.

Learn the background of the PSA