Release Or Detain: New Tool Will Help Judges Make Bond Decisions

When someone commits a crime, a judge considers a number of different factors when deciding whether to release or keep them in jail while they await trial. Soon Minnehaha County will have another tool to help make that decision a little easier.

What is the offense? Do they have a prior misdemeanor or felony conviction? Have they previously failed to appear in court? These are just a few of the questions a judge has to ask before releasing a person from jail.

“We have access to criminal history and things of that nature and sometimes we’ve had prior experience with the individuals in question and so we have to take all of that information into account,” said Second Circuit Judge Doug Hoffman.

Come January, they will have one more thing to consider: a public safety assessment. Using data, a defendant will be given two scores based on nine factors. One will predict the likelihood that they will commit a new crime, the other will predict the likelihood that they will fail to show up for future court appearances. It will also flag those who are more likely to commit a violent crime.

“It takes quite a bit of time to pull all of that information together,” said Hoffman. “If you even save a minute or two on each individual case, that gives you proportionately a lot more time to think about the decision you’re going to make and make the best possible decision.”

And the decision is still ultimately up to the judge. But County officials are hoping this tool will help them become more efficient, increase safety and reduce taxpayer costs, by keeping non-violent offenders out of jail before their case goes before a jury.

“The intent here is to keep dangerous people behind the jail walls,” said Minnehaha Co. Sheriff Mike Milstead. “Maybe there’s other opportunities for supervising them in the community and not taking up a $90 jail bed.”

The defendant will be scored on a scale of one to six, with six being the greatest risk. The assessment does not use information that could be discriminatory, such as a person’s ethnic background, income or education level.

The assessment has been or is being implemented by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation across the country including cities such as Chicago, Houston and Charlotte. The foundation will provide the tool at no cost and fund the technical support to get it up and running.