The Risks of Pretrial Risk Assessment Tools: Policy Considerations for Michigan

May 2023
Ember McCoy, School for Environment and Sustainability Ph.D. ‘25

In the United States, many jurisdictions are turning to pretrial risk assessment tools as an alternative to cash bail. More than 60 risk assessment tools are in use throughout the country today, at both the federal and state level and in multiple stages of a person’s process through the carceral system. In what follows, we analyze risk assessment tools for their claims of providing objective, empirical evidence to inform decisions around pretrial release and detention. We find serious concerns with their ability to generate accurate, valid, reliable, and unbiased outcomes and to address root causes of pretrial violence and flight risk. While often suggested as an alternative to cash bail, we find substantial evidence that pretrial risk assessment tools replicate the racial and socioeconomic disparities that bail reform seeks to address. We conclude that risk assessment tools should play no role in pretrial administration. Instead, jurisdictions seeking meaningful improvements to the pretrial process should invest in broader, more fundamental changes to the bail system.

A bill package on pretrial release determinations was introduced to the Michigan Legislature on May 24, 2023 (House Bills HB 4655 – 4662 and the Pretrial Services (PTS) bill (HB-4657)).  

Read the full policy brief here