criminal justice reform; bail reform; constitutional rights; constitutional law; risk assessment instrument


In recent years, criminal justice reformers have focused their attention on pretrial detention as a uniquely solvable contributor to the horrors of modern mass incarceration. While reform of bail practices can take many forms, one of the most pioneering and controversial techniques is the adoption of actuarial models to inform pretrial decision-making. These models are designed to supplement or replace the unpredictable and discriminatory status quo of judicial discretion at arraignment. This Note argues that policymakers should experiment with risk assessment instruments as a component of their bail reform efforts, but only if appropriate safeguards are in place. Concerns for protecting individual constitutional rights, mitigating racial disparities, and avoiding the drawbacks of machine learning are the key challenges facing reformers and jurisdictions adopting pretrial risk assessment instruments. Absent proper precautions, risk assessment instruments can reinforce, rather than alleviate, modern criminal justice disparities. Drawing from a case study of New Jersey’s recent bail reform program, this Note examines the efficacy, impact, and pitfalls of risk assessment instrument adoption. Finally, this Note offers a broad framework for policymakers seeking to thoughtfully experiment with risk assessment instruments in their own jurisdictions.