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Algorithms and Numbers: Technology is Gradually Changing Bail Bonds

One of the responsibilities of being a judge is deciding whether a suspected criminal should be allowed to post bail. A crucial part of this decision is deciding just how much the bail amount should be. As a Santa Ana bail bonds surety provider might tell you, the judge will consider a range of factor
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s to arrive at this figure, including criminal history, stature in the community, and financial capacity, to name just a few.29

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At the end of the day, however, such a determination is still, in effect, an educated guess. That is, the judge looks at the facts available to the court and makes the best decision based on that data. As such, the process is neither foolproof nor infallible.

But what if technology can help? In recent years, more courts are relying on an algorithm that supposedly gives a much more accurate assessment of a person’s likelihood of not appearing in court, thereby taking the guesswork out of bail amount determination.

All About Algorithms

First, here’s some background on the algorithm. Developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, it is currently used in jurisdictions such as Chicago and San Francisco. The algorithm draws upon 1.5 million case histories of incarcerated people to deduce how they behave after being released on bail.

It identifies 10 key factors—including age and history, the same indicators that a judge considers—and delivers a risk rating according to two parameters: their likelihood of appearing in court and the potential danger they pose should they be released on bail.

Bias Free?

However, this paradigm shift in assessment has been met with some criticism. One of the most common is an alleged tendency to mete out more severe ratings for minorities—the very bias that an algorithm is supposed to eliminate.

That said, jurisdictions such as Charlotte, NC, which was originally skeptical about the technology, said that combined with face-to-face interviews, this algorithm was able to reduce the number of its incarcerated people by 20%.

Algorithms have become an important part of daily life, powering everything from Facebook timelines to Google searches—and now even setting bail amounts. Hopefully, such advances in technology evolve to ultimately deliver fair bail estimations for all arrested individuals, eventually lessening undue financial burden. However, if the figure remains beyond a person’s financial capability, posting bail bonds in Santa Ana is a viable option.


San Francisco is testing an algorithm that sets bail, engadget.com

Judges Replacing Conjecture With Formula for Bail, nytimes.com

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