All of Indiana’s county courts are expected to use a new assessment tool come January for helping determine bail amounts and whether a person charged with a crime should be released before trial.
The state Supreme Court hosted a recent pretrial summit to help prepare the system for that change.
A new criminal rule says judges should use a risk assessment tool to help make pretrial decisions. The risk assessments examine demographics, criminal history and mental health status, for example. Grant County Judge Mark Spitzer’s courts were part of a pilot program of the tool, one of the first in the state to use it. He says the early results are positive.
“When we got six months in, we started looking at our data," Spitzer says. "Zero percent of our low-risk people had had a pretrial failure.”
Pretrial failure includes failure to show up for court and committing another crime while awaiting trial.
Some experts criticize the assessment tool, arguing it’s ineffective and can be racially biased. But Indiana Public Defender Council head Bernice Corley says she thinks it will move the state towards better outcomes.
“When all the stakeholders are at the table, all the stakeholders are looking at the data, looking at the tool and other factors to advocate for the accused,” Corley says.
Judges stress that the assessment tool is just one piece of the puzzle as they make pretrial decisions.