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House Bill 118 — Pretrial risk algorithms

House Bill 118 — Pretrial risk algorithms

Phil Haunschild
February 18, 2019

Bill description: HB 118 would ensure that all pretrial risk algorithms are made available to the public.

Rating: +1

Does it in any way restrict public access to information related to government activity or otherwise compromise government transparency or accountability? Conversely, does it increase public access to information related to government activity or increase government transparency or accountability?

With the expansion of algorithms, computer processing, and artificial intelligence, many government entities have begun to find ways where these new technologies can be implemented. From predicting the weather and natural disasters to reviewing applications and cases these technologies have the potential to improve the efficacy of public sector work.

But they could also bring great harm if not implemented effectively. This is apparent as these new technologies are entering public safety and judicial systems, with big-data policing and judicial reviews.

In some major metropolitan areas, police are using analytics to assign threat scores to residents. Many courts use pretrial risk algorithms to provide a judge with a threat assessment that can be a tool in setting bail. In some states, these assessments are used instead of the traditional bail system. These algorithms take numerous factors into consideration that may have a statistical connection with the defendant reoffending or fleeing. For example, some algorithms include information about past criminal activity and background information. Much of the information is the same as what a judge might consider when setting the amount for bail.

However, the information that goes into these pretrial risk algorithms is not readily available to the public. That’s true in some states and even in some counties here in Idaho.  So if a member of the public wishes to challenge the decision of the court to deny them bail, they have no recourse to review the information that went into the pretrial risk algorithm. While past criminal activity is certainly relevant, if the algorithm is putting a high-risk score on an individual based upon their race or gender, then that violates the defendant’s right to equal protection under the law.

HB 118 would require that these algorithms are made available to the public. This allow the public to review the decisions which are being made by the courts and see the information that is being used and to ensure that justice is not being served by the courts differently to different groups. 


Update: This analysis was updated to reflect all amendments made to the legislation.

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