LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to accept a $15.6 million grant for a two-year pretrial release pilot program that some criminal justice advocates say relies on racially-biased algorithms.
The motion was approved without comment from the board.
The grant comes from the Los Angeles County Superior Court for a program whose stated objectives are to increase the number of inmates who can safely be released while awaiting trial and use the least restrictive practices to ensure their return to court.
Activists urged the board to reject the money. Though they advocate for pretrial release, they object to the risk assessments to be used by judges in deciding whether inmates warrant release. They say the data used to assess risk — ZIP codes, housing data and employment status — carry inherent racial and social bias.
“Risk assessments ultimately would generate and perpetuate more black and brown people in our jail system,” said Reggie Bunch of Dignity & Power Now.
A coalition of civil rights and community-based organizations — including the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP — oppose algorithmic-based decision-making tools for risk assessment, calling them both biased and ineffective in predicting risk.
Bunch told the board a yes vote would undo the work of community activists who collaborated with the county on criminal justice reform and recommendations for alternatives to incarceration.
“I thought you all heard them, I thought you heard them clearly,” Bunch said.
Others opposed to the program said it contradicts the board’s commitment to a fair pretrial release system and racial equity.
“We’re asking you to be consistent,” said Mark Anthony Clayton- Johnson of the Frontline Wellness Network.
Still others objected to allowing the Probation Department to manage the program.
The money was allocated to court systems statewide to implemental the pilot program while waiting for a November referendum on SB10, which would overhaul the state’s monetary bail system, allowing for non-monetary release conditions for eligible defendants, such as GPS monitoring or home detention with electronic monitoring.
A year ago, the board asked county counsel to hire a consultant to develop other bail reform pilot programs. That project is still in progress, according to the Probation Department motion, which said the work would be complementary with this pilot program.
Nearly 45% of inmates in county jails are awaiting trial, according to the Probation Department’s motion. The department will be responsible for monitoring individuals released under the pilot.
“The pilot provides an opportunity for Los Angeles County to be at the forefront of bail reform and is in line with previous motions by your board,” the motion concluded. “This is an excellent opportunity to gain insight, knowledge and experience in anticipation of SB10.”
The Superior Court expects that the pilot program will be operational by March 1, according to the motion.