Accuracy and Bail Amounts: How the Public Safety Assessment Can Help

When you or a loved one is arrested and put in jail, a bail amount may be determined for that person’s release. But how does a judge decide a bail amount? Normally, the judge considers a person’s criminal history, the current charges, and his or her reputation in the community. The judge may also consider if the individual is likely to run or if the person is well established in an area.

These and several other factors help a judge determine whether to set bail and how much the bail should be. While judges are often fair and as unbiased as possible, they’re only human. The system is only as perfect as what the judge can perceive, and it can sometimes be difficult to determine who’s deserving of bail and who’s going to skip the upcoming hearings.

However, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, or LJAF, has developed a way to remove human biases from the process. It’s named the Public Safety Assessment, or PSA, and it uses algorithms to help judges make more accurate bail decisions.

How Exactly Does the PSA Work?

Even if a person is perfectly prepared to return for his or her hearing, he or she may be denied bail because of certain factors, such as place of residence or socioeconomic status. And an individual that is granted bail may commit additional crimes before the hearing, or he or she may leave town to avoid the hearing entirely.

The goal of the PSA is to eliminate problems like these that either deny bail unfairly or assign bail to people who pose a high flight or crime risk.  The PSA is intended to reduce crime and increase the number of individuals released on bail.

To accomplish this goal, the PSA only uses information from prior crimes and the current charge, and it completely ignores information like education level, age, gender, race, and residence. During the foundation’s research, they discovered that such details were useless in determining how likely it would be for individuals to commit new crime, to commit new violent crime, or to fail to show up for their hearing.

What Did It Take to Create the PSA?

Researchers sifted through 1.5 million cases from over 300 jurisdictions to ensure their formula was accurate and true. After analyzing everything to determine what information was most relevant, they developed a simple rating system to effectively show who was a high or low risk to not appear in a court or to commit additional crime if released on bail. It took $1.2 million and two years of testing before the PSA was ready for actual use.

Why is the PSA Important?

As mentioned before, the Public Safety Assessment is meant to reduce crime and increase the number of released individuals. While this is helpful for those who would otherwise be held without bail, this algorithm also provides financial benefits for any jurisdiction.

Some current assessment systems use interviews to gather information from the defendant, but the PSA has determined these interviews are unhelpful and unnecessary. In turn, skipping these interviews will free up more time for law enforcement and save the county money.

Furthermore, because more individuals will be released on bail, the county won’t have to pay for their containment before trial. And if more at-risk individuals are held without bail, the local areas will be safer.

Has the PSA Proven to Be Effective?

In 2014, Kentucky adopted the PSA. The state of Kentucky is not a stranger to research-based assessment systems, and before the Public Safety Assessment, their pretrial services were admired by the nation.

Even as a state so devoted to accurate assessment systems, Kentucky saw remarkable changes in only six months after adopting the PSA. Pretrial crime was reduced by almost 15%, and the average arrest rate of released individuals fell by 1.5%. While crime is going down, the percentage of persons released before trial increased by 2%, and Kentucky didn’t see any reduction in trial attendance.

If this is the data for a state that depended on research-based assessment tools for decades, imagine what it could do for jurisdictions that are still relying on intuition.

Will Everyone Have the PSA Eventually?

Before the development of the PSA, many areas were unable to get any kind of research-based risk assessment because they were financially prohibitive. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation has aimed for the PSA to be affordable so even jurisdictions with low budgets can afford it. However, the LJAF has also mentioned that they are working on making it free for all counties and areas within the next few years.

The goal of the LJAF is not to replace judges and law enforcement officers with the PSA. Instead, the foundation wants to provide the PSA as a tool to assist these officials. Human reasoning should not be taken out of the process, and the PSA is merely meant to provide an unbiased, research-based assessment of risk.


While the PSA can make bail determinations more accurate, bail amounts can be fairly steep for the average American. Should you or a loved one be arrested and face bail, turn to local bail bonds professionals for help. They’ll be able to post bail on your behalf and get you or your loved one released until trial.

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