- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Garden State has turned to technology as a way of mitigating racial and class biases at bail hearings.

Judges in New Jersey started using an algorithm on Jan. 1 to determine which defendants should be granted bail and the danger they pose to the surrounding community. The system, called Public Safety Assessment, was created by a Texas nonprofit called the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

Matt Alsdorf, vice president of the foundation’s Criminal Justice Initiative, told Vice on Thursday that fears of the system including its own built-in biases are unfounded. The product — and its data set of 100,000 cases — focuses on conviction records instead of arrest records to determine flight-risks. 

“The strongest predictor of pretrial failure largely has to do with someone’s prior conduct,” Mr. Alsdorf told the website.

Cathy O’Neil, a former Barnard College math professor, told Vice that a better assessment of the technology could be made with publicly available data sets.

“I’m glad to see that they’re making an effort, but they haven’t actually opened up to audit,” Ms. O’Neil said.

New Jersey officials said they are pleased with the technology, but added that it will produce some problems early on.

“For New Jersey’s criminal justice system, this is historic, earth-shaking reform,” Christopher Porrino, the state’s attorney general, told NJ.com on Feb. 19. “Growing pains were expected.”

Advocates for PSA also stressed that judges are not bound to abide by the algorithm’s conclusions.

“The reality is, this is still only a recommendation,” Judge Glenn Grant, the director of the state Administrative Office of the Courts, told NJ.com. “We still entrust to our judges to make informed decisions about what should go on in our courtrooms.”

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