U-Turn Sign Showing Option to Turn Around to Oncoming Traffic

Some people are never happy. Other people never get the message. And some think the will of the people is an absolute joke, a fraud, a bad dream. When 55 percent of voters in California voted No on Proposal 25, they sent a crystal clear message – the state’s cash bail system will live to fight another day. A bondsman in Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County, Denver, or elsewhere in Colorado should be concerned with risk assessment tools in Colorado.

CPAT Deserves Scrutiny

Cash bail opponents, even with the abject failure of Proposal 25 in California, are nonetheless convinced their argument, their philosophy, their notion of justice, is the only way forward. It is a myopic viewpoint, if only because single-mindedness can close your mind to other possibilities.

Closer to home, the Colorado Pretrial Assessment Tool (CPAT) should be open to scrutiny. Its supporters allege its success, but it is emblematic of similar risk assessment tool problems in other jurisdictions. Computer-generated algorithms crunch numbers to determine the risk of flight of other danger posed by a defendant if released pre-trial.

In August of 2020, “Bias against Black people found in Colorado bail reform tool” in Newsline recounted the results from a study where it was discovered the CPAT is not only biased against black people but exacerbates racial disparities. From the article:

“A July study by the University of Northern Colorado found that the most widely used risk assessment tool in Colorado, known as the Colorado Pretrial Assessment Tool, or CPAT, scored Black people higher than white people even though their odds of missing a court date or committing a new offense were nearly the same. It also inaccurately scored people experiencing homelessness higher than other people, the study shows.”

If you read between the lines, the logic sounds eerily familiar to what some Proposition 25 voters in California said after it was defeated at the polls.

Colorado Residents Should Ask Questions

Out in California, opponents of Proposition 25 said the reasons they voted No on the proposal included the racial bias surround the use of pretrial risk assessment tools like CPAT. If you are a bail bonding professional, a law-abiding citizen, or someone who has been on the wrong side of the law in Colorado, we strongly encourage you to ask questions about the continued use of such tools, such as:

  • Are there CPAT alternatives?
  • How can you reliably know if a defendant will skip his or her court date?
  • Do the tools predict recidivism?
  • How do you end racial bias when granting pre-trial bail bonds?

It is worth noting that the panacea of pre-trial assessment tools has begun to lose its sheen. Like fresh copper that once glistened in the sun, it has quickly taken on an earthy green-brown patina from over-exposure. The concept is worthy but needs to be rethought. Many people nationwide, it seems, are having buyer’s remorse due to the racial bias element.

“Academics have been sounding alarms for months. And the Pretrial Justice Institute, a Baltimore, Maryland-based organization that once backed Colorado’s risk assessment tool, now opposes the tools due to racial bias. In light of the Colorado study, Sen. Pete Lee, a Democrat from Colorado Springs who for years has sought to pass legislation to expand the use of risk assessment tools, is having second thoughts.”

“It’s given me pause,” Lee said. “I think we have a big question mark now as to what really works.”

To some people, trepidation or questioning previous decisions is a sign of cognitive weakness or moral failure. When discussing CPAT and the future of cash bail, taking a second look at historical precedent could be the key to repeating a costly mistake. If CPAT is a failure, ask why.

Is Reform An Option?

When looking over collective headlines since California’s Proposition 25 was voted down, there is a palpable sense of disbelief, relief, and a determination to carry the fight. The battle lines, of course, will blend across state borders.

It is interesting to note that supporters of the proposal did what so many narrow-minded activists do nowadays. They played the race card, pinning the fate of all future black defendants on the use of tools they promised would end racial disparities in pre-trial hearings. Pretty typical.

Voters in California, by a margin of 55 to 44 percent, felt otherwise.

One activist told a CBS news affiliate a few days after the vote, “What I think they did say that this was not well thought out and needed work,” said John Lovell, a longtime lobbyist who has worked for law enforcement groups in Sacramento. “I think you’ll find general consensus that yeah, something needs to be done about bail schedules. But that fundamentally, the notion of having some incentive for someone to return for trial, is a sound notion.”

“Now, is that exclusively money? Perhaps yes, perhaps no.”

Are risk assessment tools like CPAT bad? In and of themselves, no. We in the bail bonds industry do not question the spirit of what these tools try and accomplish, but rather how they were designed and implemented. Reform is needed.

According to the Stanford Computational Policy Lab: Risk scores should be assessed by individual predicted outcomes, rather than grouped together; Gender should be considered when necessary; Judges should be required to continue to provide written statements when their decision deviates from a CPAT-like assessment; and case-specific information should always be collected for defendants in regards to risk assessment and release decisions.