DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Judges in central Iowa are using a new pretrial risk assessment tool that may reduce bias and inequality when releasing individuals or setting bonds after an arrest.
Polk County officials began using the new assessment system last week to try decreasing the number of individuals awaiting trial in jail, the Des Moines Register reported . The tool scores each person based on factors that help determine whether they’re likely to commit another crime or appear at their court date. Some factors include age, past criminal convictions and past failures to appear.
Advocates argue that the assessment reduces bias by not considering factors like race or gender. Advocates also said that it will treat low-income people more fairly in a cash bail system where many are stuck in jail because they can’t afford to pay.
“I think this is a really positive change,” said Kimberly Rodgers Smith, a Polk County public defender. “We all kind of give lip service to the idea that you shouldn’t be in jail just because you’re poor, but the reality is that that happens.”
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Individuals that score low on the risk assessment might be released with fewer monitoring requirements, though a judge retains full discretion over the decision.
Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said his office will push for stricter recommendations depending on the case and whether someone is deemed a safety or flight risk.
Kenny Nulph, owner of Kenny’s Bail Bonds, said he’s concerned that more people would skip court under the new system.
Three other Iowa counties are piloting the program, which may expand to a statewide initiative. Arizona, Kentucky and New Jersey are also using the assessment tool.
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com