Photo credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

 

I know this is going to be hard to believe.  But, the Missouri Supreme Court makes the California Supreme Court look lazy and conservative.  At least when our courts harm the public safety, they do it in public and smirk at us.  In Missouri, they do it without input and in back rooms.  That is how the Missouri Supreme Court operates—no need for public discussion or testimony.

“Although a number of other states have embraced bail reform to one degree or another, the new rules in Missouri were conceived and put into effect by the high court in complete secrecy.  Not only was the public locked out of the closed-door proceedings, there was neither input​​ nor approval from the state legislature.  Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have expressed outrage at the Supreme Court overstepping its bounds in setting public policy for the state.

The rules radically change the way in​​ which persons arrested and charged with a crime in Missouri are handled pending trial.  Rather than setting monetary conditions for release, the court now requires defendants be evaluated by a risk assessment algorithm to determine if they represent a danger to society.  The underlying assumption with bail reform is that the vast majority of individuals have only been charged with minor misdemeanors and are inherently low-risk.”

Expect the California Supreme Court to learn bad habits from Missouri.

Although a number of other states have embraced bail reform to one degree or another, the new rules in Missouri were conceived and put into effect by the high court in complete secrecy.  Not only was the public locked out of the closed-door proceedings, there was neither input nor approval from the state legislature.  Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have expressed outrage at the Supreme Court overstepping its bounds in setting public policy for the state.

The rules radically change the way in which persons arrested and charged with a crime in Missouri are handled pending trial.  Rather than setting monetary conditions for release, the court now requires defendants be evaluated by a risk assessment algorithm to determine if they represent a danger to society.  The underlying assumption with bail reform is that the vast majority of individuals have only been charged with minor misdemeanors and are inherently low-risk.

In an address earlier this year, then-Chief Justice Zel Fischer declared that the rule changes would “ensure those accused of crime are fairly treated according to the law, and not their pocket book.”

However, while the new Missouri rules would seem extremely appealing for civil rights groups eager to put an end to the concept of “buying one’s way out of jail,” the reality is actually quite different.  The risk assessment tool, which is a key component of the rule changes, determines whether or not an individual is “safe” or “dangerous.”  If the person is deemed “safe,” they are released for free pending trial.  But if the tool concludes they are “dangerous,” they are kept in jail with no recourse at all.

The problem is that a growing number of studies across the U.S. show that risk assessment algorithms are flawed.  A 2016 ProPublica article entitled, “Machine Bias: There’s Software Used Across the Country to Predict Future Criminals. And It’s Biased Against Blacks” concluded that the deck was stacked against African-Americans.  Missouri’s new rules mean judges no longer have discretion to make their own determinations on whether or not an individual can be released.  The algorithm has the final and only say.

Based on evidence coming in across the nation where risk assessment has been implemented, it is expected that more people will be locked up in Missouri than before the new rules took effect.  There has been considerable pushback against the use of risk assessment algorithms, from among others, the majority of Republicans, as well as a large faction of traditionally liberal organizations, including the national ACLU and NAACP, and more than 100 additional members of the Leadership Conference of Civil Rights Organizations.

Missouri lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are expected to fight the new rules, but because they were implemented just before the state legislature adjourned for the year, any changes will have to wait until at least January when it reconvenes.

By Stephen Frank | California Political Review

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a full-time political consultant.