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Cleveland Municipal Court to Use New Assessment Tool in Pretrial Hearings

Cleveland Municipal Court Presiding Judge Ronald Adrine [photo: ideastream]

Starting next year, Cleveland Municipal Court judges will use a new risk assessment system to help determine whether to release or detain a criminal defendant.  

The Public Safety Assessment or PSA system uses nine factors to determine the likelihood that a defendant will commit a crime while out on release and the likelihood they’ll fail to return to court.  The factors include age, prior criminal history, and the pending charge. The assessment does not consider factors such as race, drug use history, or income. 

"So that individuals who are arrested and charged with offenses will have to face those same nine factors regardless of who they are, regardless of how much money they have," says Cleveland Municipal Court Presiding Judge Ronald Adrine.  He adds that too often non-violent defendants who can’t afford bail sit in jail awaiting trial. 

"I’ve noticed that there are people who believe this is all about coddling criminals, but it’s really not.  What it’s really about is trying to get to a point of fundamental fairness."

The private, non-profit Arnold Foundation created the PSA system based on analysis of more than a million and a half cases from around the country.  Matt Alsdorf is the organization's Vice President of Criminal Justice.

"Even just few days behind bars can cause somebody to lose their job, lose their housing, lose custody of their children.  It can have massive impacts on their lives," says Alsdorf.

The foundation is providing the risk assessment tool plus supports free to the Cleveland court. 

"We think that by shifting to a system where decisions are based on an individual’s level of risk rather than her charge, we can help to protect a defendant’s rights, keep the community safe, and work to ensure tax dollars are wisely spent," says Alsdorf.  He notes, "it does not replace judicial discretion. The final ruling always sits with the judge about whether to release or detain a defendant." 

Thirty different jurisdictions in the US use or are in the process of implementing the PSA system including Lucas County, Ohio.  Since it began utilizing the PSA tool in January 2015, Lucas County has increased the number of defendants released without bail and increased the number of people returning to court.

Annie Wu is the deputy editor of digital content for Ideastream Public Media.