Crime Watchdog: New Orleans risk assessment program waste of money

Crime Watchdog: New Orleans risk assessment program waste of money

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The Metropolitan Crime Commission released a report calling the local inmate risk assessment program a waste of money Monday afternoon (July 1).

“The Public Safety Assessment is a tool developed by the Arnold Foundation that is designed to classify felony suspects into five categories of risk with one being the lowest public safety risk level and five being the highest. A PSA report is generated for every felony arrest in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court and presented to judges and magistrate commissioners presiding over bail hearings.” - MCC Report

The report said that free bond releases were recommended for 75 percent of violent felony suspects, and 93 percent of weapons felony suspects.

The report also stated that 33 percent of violent felony, and 29 percent of weapons felony suspects were rated the lowest risk - Level One, which recommends free release with no supervision.

That was the same risk level assigned to two suspects arrested in a brazen shootout at the CVS drug store two weeks ago. MCC President Rafael Goyeneche, blasted the assessment, calling it “a flawed system.”

However, Goyeneche said Monday’s report was already in the works before that incident.

The assessment was allegedly created to reduce the jail population, but the MCC report states if that is indeed the goal, much more needs to be spent on supervision of released suspects.

“If all you want to do is reduce the jail population, you don’t have to waste your time with this program, just tell police not to arrest them,” Goyeneche said.

As another example, Goyeneche cited the case of Theron Glover, who was recently arrested for wounding four people.

“Last week, he was rated a level one on his most recent bookings and he’s got over 100 charges against him,” Goyaneche said.

The report states Glover is not alone. In fact, 33 percent of violent felony suspects and 29 percent of weapons felony suspects were rated the lowest risk level, and are therefore recommended for release without bond.

“At this point it is a waste of money and we better change it,” Goyeneche said.

Though the MCC called the current system is a waste of money, Goyeneche said they are not advocating for its complete elimination. According to Goyeneche, a similar program works well in Washington, DC where inmate supervision and electronic monitoring is a priority.

But those options are not cheap, Goyeneche said.

“In Washignton, DC it’s $65 million, and they employ over 350 pretrial staff members supervising the pretrial population,” he said.

In New Orleans, according to Goyeneche, more than half of the release recommendations call for either no supervision, or one phone call a month. This, he said, is not enough.

Instead, MCC recommends that the pretrial service assessment program be redesigned with the intention of keeping public safety first and foremost.

As for the city, spokeswoman LaTonya Norton said the risk score is only one piece of information, to be used by judges to set bond for pretrial offenders. Norton, issued the below statement following the report’s release.

“The Public Safety Assessment is about using data to inform decisions and improve outcomes. The results of the assessment are considered alongside other relevant information, including all factors required by Louisiana statute, to make a single determination – can the accused individual safely await their trial in the community? In New Orleans and across the nation, most people who are released pretrial come back to court and are not rearrested while they wait for their trial.

We can look at many different factors, such as the crime a person has been accused of, but pretrial outcomes are what ultimately matter. Since the PSA launched in New Orleans, 92 percent of individuals recommended for release by the Public Safety Assessment (risk levels 1-4) have completed their entire pretrial period without being re-arrested. Only 5 percent of individuals whose charges where accepted missed a court date and did not voluntarily return to court at a later date."

FOX 8 also got this response to the report from the Pretrial Justice Institute and CEO Cherise Fanno Burdeen:

"The data provided in the report addresses the first part of that goal – how the PSA rates those charged with felonies. As the report points out, many people charged with dangerous or violent offenses or with multiple offenses are scored in lower risk categories. But the report makes unsubstantiated assumptions about the second part of this study’s goal – how these findings impact public safety.

The report concludes that the PSA “underrates the risk offenders (sic) pose to public safety.” To support this conclusion, the report sites the example of two individuals who were rated as Risk Level 1 (the highest probability of success) who had been involved in a shooting with police. Other than saying that the “PSA consistently recommends free release and low levels of supervision for suspects arrested for offenses that pose the greatest threats to public safety,” the study offers no outcome data showing that those charged with violent offense but rated as lower risk actually engaged in new violent activities while on pretrial release. Moreover, the report’s emphasis on “free release” implies that somehow any threat to the community would be lessened if these individuals pay for their release.

The report also concludes that the levels of supervision provided by pretrial services “are not adequate to provide for community safety,” but again offers no data to back up that claim.

In its recommendations, the report suggests that the PSA be re-designed to match the “[m]ore effective pretrial services assessment tools [that are] used in other jurisdictions [that] seek to identify mental health problems, lack of job preparedness, substance abuse, and other challenges that may be contributors to criminal behaviors.” The fact is that the PSA and other tools that have been thoroughly tested through rigorous research have found that these factors and others like them add nothing to the tools’ ability to assess risks. When, as the report suggests, judges need to consider a broader range of factors than those included in the PSA, there is nothing about the PSA that keeps judges from doing so. No assessment tool can quantify the nature of the offense and strength of the evidence, which is why it is the judge, not the tool, that makes the decision."

To see the full report, go to www.metrocrime.org.

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