October 21, 2016
Sharon Corrigan, 608.333.2285
County Board

Groundbreaking effort will use data to seek better outcomes


The Dane County Board has launched a pilot project to apply a data-driven assessment to reduce costly jailing of low-risk offenders.


Slated to begin in 2017, the project will allow for a Public Safety Assessment (PSA) at initial court appearances to help determine flight risk or risk of new criminal activity before an offender is sent to the Dane County jail.


Funding for two county clerk positions to handle the pre-trial assessments of offenders is being provided by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation of Houston, Texas. The full county board approved the $167,000 project unanimously at its regular meeting Thursday night.


“Using an evidence-based assessment tool is key to diverting those that should not be held in jail,” says County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan. “It mitigates the negative consequences of jail time on the individual and saves the county money on jail stays.”


The PSA is a nationally-validated, race-neutral tool instrument currently being used in some 30 other jurisdictions. It was created using a database of over 1.5 million cases drawn from more than 300 U.S. jurisdictions.


Earlier this year the Dane County Criminal Justice Council announced a partnership with the Arnold Foundation to reform the county’s pretrial assessment process. In addition, researchers from Harvard University will study how well the county reforms work in practice.


“We are especially excited that our efforts to date in Dane County to reform the criminal justice system are being recognized nationally," said Dane County Supervisor Paul Rusk.  "This helps the entire system move forward and paves the way for further initiatives to do even more to ensure that everyone is treated fairly.”


Recognized as a national leader in entrepreneurial philanthropy, the Arnold Foundation will provide funding for 21 months of the program. After that, the county will have the information necessary to determine if use of the assessment tool will be an ongoing practice within the Clerk of Courts.


Evidence-based assessment is considered a better way to determine who should be jailed compared to professional discretion alone. A recent report titled “Investigating Solutions to Racial Disparities and Mental Health Challenges in the Dane County Jail and throughout Dane County’s Criminal Justice System” called for an improved pretrial system.


Studies have also demonstrated that even a short stay in jail before trial is correlated with a greater likelihood of future criminal activity.  Low risk defendants held in jail for two to three days were 39 percent more likely to be arrested for a new crime than low risk defendants who were released on the first day.


Other jurisdictions using the PSA tool include three entire states—Arizona, Kentucky, and New Jersey—as well as three of the largest cities in the country—Charlotte, Chicago, and Phoenix. Early indications have shown that the tool can help judges increase public safety while reducing jail populations, according to county officials.