We have designed a set of three interventions to improve decision-making and reduce racial disparities at the pretrial justice stage.
(1) Objective Information on Misconduct Rates by Race: Our first intervention provides objective information on the pretrial risk of white and non-white defendants to reduce judges’ reliance on inaccurate stereotypes that exaggerate the relative danger of non-white defendants. The goal of this first intervention is to reduce bias in judges’ beliefs about differences in defendant risk by race by providing accurate information on true differences. In particular, we aim to correct mistaken beliefs that can arise if judges erroneously assume that non-white defendants are far riskier compared to white defendants than supported by data. We will create accessible, engaging materials, such as a two- to three-page informational handout, that provide descriptive statistics of evidence-based measures of risk by race using historical data. We will contrast the information on evidence-based risk with “status quo beliefs on risk,” which is defined as the risk that judges must believe in order to justify observed racial differences in pretrial outcomes. For example, we will present a simple bar diagram to show judges what the racial gap in pretrial release rates should be based on evidence-based measures of risk versus status quo beliefs on risk. This information will be based on historical data from the judge’s own local area.
(2) Generalized Benchcard: Our second intervention provides judges with a simple and short “benchcard” to slow down and systematize their decision-making. The goal of this intervention is to prompt the judges to consider different areas important to the bail decision-making process and guide any questions that they might ask. In particular, we aim to highlight the most important features of bail cases in each court system to help judges avoid errors due to forgetfulness and limited attention. For example, we ask the judge to rank the importance of the defendant’s past criminal history, as well as the defendant’s risk of flight and danger to the public. We then ask the judge to rank the importance of employment, housing, and other life circumstances. Finally, we ask the judge to rank the importance of whether there are less restrictive non-cash alternatives in the case. We also ask the judge to list any other factors that are important in the current case.
(3) Individualized Feedback on Release and Misconduct Rates by Race: Our third and final intervention aims to leverage the power of our information and benchcard interventions by providing individualized feedback to judges over time. We will provide judges with individualized feedback on their past performance, including their own release and “success” rates, where the success rate is defined as the percent of released defendants who appear for their scheduled court appearances and who are not rearrested for another crime pretrial. We would start by providing historical information, before providing updated information on a regular basis (e.g., every 3 months) as the experiment progresses.
We will provide judges with a set of performance statistics including what percent of all, white, and non-white defendants they released, as well as the appearance rate, arrest-free rate, and violent arrest-free rate among those released. We will also show where the judge currently stands in terms of their release and appearance rates relative to three points of comparison. The first point of comparison is a “performance benchmark,” or what is theoretically feasible in terms of simultaneously maximizing release and good conduct rates using all the information we can observe about defendants. The second point of comparison is the set of “best judges” in the same area, which we define as the approximately 25 percent of judges who have the highest combined release and good conduct rates. The third point of comparison is the judge’s own historical data, facilitating self-comparisons. This information will be presented in the aggregate and disaggregated for white and nonwhite defendants.