A2J Lab “Behind the Experiment”: Dane County Part II

Today we bring you another look at key field partners who have helped make the Dane County PSA RCT one of the A2J Lab’s signature series. Part I covered the work of the County’s two Assessors, who perform the essential work of populating the PSA’s risk factors and generating its recommendations day in and day out.

Our featured civil servants for this post come from the Dane County Criminal Justice Council: Coordinator Colleen Clark-Bernhardt and Research Analyst Noemi Reyes. The Lab has been extremely fortunate to collaborate with both of them. Although all of our partners have been indispensable, Colleen and Noemi have played a unique role in this study, handling the bulk of the week-to-week operational oversight. They are, respectively, our primary contacts for systemic implementation and data collection. Colleen, in her capacity as Criminal Justice Coordinator, has spearheaded the inter-agency adoption of the PSA. Noemi, a SQL coding and all-around data whiz, has shepherded us through the same databases that the Assessors routinely use. We at the Lab have piggy-backed on their expertise to build capacity for tracking study-eligible case outcomes over the next two years.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Colleen and Noemi the day after the RCT’s launch. During our conversation, I asked for their thoughts on the evidence-based sea change in Dane County’s criminal justice system:

Stay tuned for the final installment in this series, in which members of the Dane County bench and the District Attorney contribute their thoughts on the PSA and our study!

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Each morning, the Assessors pour over criminal history data to complete PSA risk assessments.

A2J Lab “Behind the Experiment”: Dane County Part I

Last week, we marked the launch of our PSA RCT in Dane County, Wisconsin. Starting today, I will be pulling back the field experiment curtain, as it were, and introducing some of the A2J Lab’s field partners. These Dane County employees have worked tirelessly for almost two years to make the PSA’s implementation and our concurrent evaluation possible.

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Ready, Set, Launch

Research Director Chris Griffin blogs from Wisconsin:

The day has finally arrived!

At this afternoon’s initial appearance court in Dane County, WI, the A2J Lab begins its evaluation of the Public Safety Assessment (“PSA”). Criminal process in this jurisdiction now includes additional, scientifically based information in a randomly selected subset of cases to inform pre-disposition release decisions. The judicial official–known here as a Commissioner–receives risk scores and a recommendation for release through the PSA and its static criminal history inputs to consider in reaching those decisions. Check out this video starring Lab affiliate Heidi Liu and yours truly to learn more about the science behind this RCT:

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Fear and Loathing over Risk Assessments Part 2

How Should We Think about Racial Disparities?

In a previous post, I considered some of the less convincing critiques of pretrial and sentencing risk assessments that sound in the ecological fallacy. The fallacy argument mistakenly targets risk scores as applying only group inferences to individual case decision-making. The takeaway was straightforward. A comprehensive understanding of actuarial tools must include rigorous counterfactual thinking about a state of the world in which they aren’t available. In this follow-up, I discuss an even more serious claim: that actuarial tools might lead to unjustifiable racial disparities in criminal justice outcomes.