Implementing Risk Assessment Tools: Benefits and challenges in Santa Clara County and Santa Cruz County

After taking a training on unconscious bias and its effect on decision-making, I became intrigued about validated risk assessment tools meant to offset this effect in pre-trial determinations. These tools have been adopted nationally throughout different counties. I will be comparing and contrasting Pre-Trial Services in Santa Clara County to the Public Safety Assessment Pilot program in Santa Cruz County and their use of validated risk assessment instruments. I then want to determine how the instruments are implemented and analyze to what degree judges deviate from the recommendations of these agencies and why. I want to observe whether the prosecutor influences the judge’s decision to deny or set bail at a certain amount and whether public defenders raise Eighth Amendment “excessive bail” challenges. In the midst of this process, I want to evaluate whether the financial circumstances of the accused are ever considered—in theory or in practice.

My name is Carlos Barba and I am a second year law student at Santa Clara University School of Law. I was born and raised in Watsonville, California, a city in the south part of Santa Cruz County, predominantly comprised of low-income immigrants. I’ve witnessed how our current bail system disproportionately affects low-income individuals and their families, which is why I am interested in criminal justice reform. My goal this semester is to provide new information about common bail practices and assess the effectiveness of these practices in order to influence policy.