December 12, 2019
Criminal Courts

Civil Rights and Pretrial Risk Assessment Instruments

Logan Koepke and David Robinson


We co-led the Pretrial Risk Management Project of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. As part of this project, we published a critical issue brief on pretrial risk assessment, which focused on two questions.

First: Why do many in the civil rights community oppose the use of pretrial risk assessment instruments?

Second: What concrete reform strategies are available that would avoid risk assessment instruments, or would sharply limit their role?

At the very moment jurisdictions across the United States explore and implement pretrial risk assessment instruments, many in the civil rights advocacy community argue that such instruments should play no role at all in pretrial administration. Where instruments remain in use, advocates have described policies and controls to circumscribe their use. This brief aims to help you better understand this viewpoint and the context for it. As the first critical issue brief in this series observed, “a well-validated tool may not produce the intended results of more accurate, decarceral, and racially and ethnically equitable decisions.” Understanding civil rights critiques of pretrial risk assessment tools may help all participants better engage community partners and align bail reform policies with the twin goals of decarceration and greater racial equity.

Upturn Authors