Is the Prosecutorial Black Box Finally Opening?

It’s not every day the headlines announce government officials releasing mounds of data about their own operations. Actually, the frequency verges on the unprecedented. Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx’s decision to release information on years’ worth of her office’s decision-making is, in that light, astounding. Legal scholars have lamented the existence of so-called “black Read more about Is the Prosecutorial Black Box Finally Opening?[…]

Previewing and Reviewing Pretrial Risk Assessment RCTs

On Tuesday, Jan. 16 pretrial staff in Polk County, Iowa entered their offices with a slightly different charge. They had been accustomed to perusing a list of arrestees scheduled for first appearance and searching for individuals who qualified for an interview and pre-disposition release. That morning, some staff members continued this time- and resource-intensive practice. Read more about Previewing and Reviewing Pretrial Risk Assessment RCTs[…]

Guest Post: Acesso à Justiça: O Grande Desafio / Access to Justice: The Great Challenge

Jéssica Raiane

The A2J Lab receives many comments, inquiries, and questions via the website. Most come from U.S. attorneys and researchers. From time to time, though, we are lucky to hear from others around the world committed to making their court systems more open and their legal procedures more transparent. One such kindred spirit is Jéssica Raiane, an attorney living in Goianésia, Goias, Brazil. She kindly has shared her thoughts on the challenges facing A2J proponents in her home country. The original Portuguese post is followed by an English translation.


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

Today we present a final look at key field partners who have helped make the Dane County PSA RCT one of the A2J Lab’s signature series. Check out Part I and Part II as well!

In this installment, we are fortunate to share reflections from three officers of the court: Judge Juan Colás, Commissioner Jason Hanson, and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.


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.


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.


Fear and Loathing over Risk Assessments Part 1

Or How We Should Be Thinking Counterfactually About Actuarial Tools

Nate Silver’s widely heralded site now tracks more than just presidential elections. He and his colleagues apply statistical modeling or reasoning to everything from the Emmys to ERAs. Just over a year ago, its contributors–in collaboration with the Marshall Project (which itself is funded by the A2J Lab’s sponsor, the Arnold Foundation)–released a feature on the use of pretrial and sentencing risk assessments. So, too, did investigative journalists at ProPublica.

Both pieces raised serious questions about the use of risk scoring mechanisms. Should officials base decisions about individual arrestees or convicted defendants on aggregate data from other cases? Is there any evidence that these tools are racially biased? Former Attorney General Eric Holder previously voiced those concerns, best captured in his statement: “Although these measures were crafted with the best of intentions, I am concerned that they inadvertently undermine our efforts to ensure individualized and equal justice. . . . [T]hey may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities that are already far too common in our criminal justice system and in our society.” […]