Risk Assessment Instruments

The use of risk assessment instruments (RAIs) in the pretrial context is the subject of ongoing debate. Often seen as a way to address flaws in the current pretrial system including excessive reliance on money bail and the disproportionate impact on people of color, concerns exist that these instruments may actually exacerbate and amplify existing disparities in pretrial decision making.

NACDL on Risk Assessment Instruments

Recognizing the important role impacted community and local criminal defense stakeholders play in identifying the needs and best resources to create a fairer system of pretrial justice, NACDL, along with NLADA, the ACCD, Gideon's Promise, and NAPD issued a Joint Statement on Pretrial Risk Assessment Instruments, Updated March 2019, which highlights these concerns and provides a set of checks and balances which should be utilized to reduce unnecessary detention and help eliminate racial and ethnic bias in the outcomes of pretrial decisions.

Read the Statement

The Champion

Making Sense of Pretrial Risk Assessments, Brandon Buskey and Andrea Woods, June 2018
The Siren Song of Objectivity: Risk Assessment Tools and Racial Disparity, Rick Jones,  April 2018

Pretrial Risk Assessment Instruments

Learn about some of the risk assessment instruments currently in use, including Stanford Law School's Policy Lab's Fact Sheets, User Manuals, and Validation and Revalidation Studies.

Fact SheetManual

Colorado Pretrial Assessment Tool (CPAT)

Implemented in 2012, the CPAT is currently undergoing a re-validation study due to be completed in 2020.  

Indiana Risk Assessment System (IRAS)

Developed from the ORAS, used in Indiana courts as part of a pilot project

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Ohio Risk Assessment System (ORAS)

Latessa, E., Smith, P., Lemke, R., Makarios, M., & Lowenkamp, C. (2009). Creation and validation of the Ohio Risk Assessment System: Final report.

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Pretrial Risk Assessment (PTRA)

Implemented as a pilot in 2009, the tool was implemented in all 93 federal districts in 2011. A re-validation study was completed in 2018.

Cohen, T., Lowenkamp C., Hicks, W. (2018). Revalidating the Federal Pretrial Risk Assessment Instrument (PTRA): A Research Summary.
Cadigan, T., & Lowenkamp, C. (2011). Implementing risk assessment in the federal pretrial services system.
Lowenkamp, C., & Whetzel, J. (2009). The development of an actuarial risk assessment instrument for U.S. Pretrial Services.
VanNostrand, Keebler (2009), Pretrial Risk Assessments in the Federal Court

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Featured Products

Public Safety Assessment (PSA)

Developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the PSA is used in approximately 30 jurisdictions, including Arizona, Harris County, Kentucky, and New Jersey.

NACDL's Harris County Bail Manual 
NACDL's New Jersey Bail Manual

RTI International (2018) The Public Safety Assessment: A Re-Validation and Assessment of Predictive Utility and Differential Prediction by Race and Gender in Kentucky
Milgram, A., Holsinger, A., VanNostrand, M., & Alsdorf, M. (2015). Pretrial risk assessment: Improving public safety and fairness in pretrial decision-making.
Laura and John Arnold Foundation (2014). Results from the first six months of the Public Safety Assessment-Court in Kentucky.
Laura and John Arnold Foundation (2013). Developing a national model for pretrial risk assessment
Kennedy, S., House, L., & Williams, M. (2013). Using research to improve pretrial justice and public safety: Results from PSA’s risk assessment validation project.
VanNostrand, M., & Lowenkamp, C. (2013). Assessing pretrial risk without a defendant interview

Virginia Pretrial Risk Assessment Instrument (VPRAI)

Used in Virginia and in California


VanNostrand, M., & Rose, K. (2009). Pretrial risk assessment in Virginia: The Virginia Pretrial Risk Assessment Instrument.
Danner, M., VanNostrand, M., & Spruance, L. (2016). Race and Gender Neutral Pretrial Risk Assessment, Release Recommendations, and Supervision: VPRAI and Praxis Revised.
Danner, M., VanNostrand, M., & Spruance, L. (2015). Risk-based pretrial release recommendation and supervision guidelines: Exploring the effect on officer recommendations, judicial decision-making, and pretrial outcome.

Additional Resources on Risk Assessments 

A Primer on Risk Assessment Instruments for Judges, Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys, Safety + Justice Challenge, MacArthur Foundation (2019)
About Risk Assessments, Pretrial Justice Center for Courts
Q&A Profile Based Risk Assessment for US Pretrial Incarceration, Human Rights Watch (2018)
Risk Assessment Articles, The Marshall Project
Risk Assessments Explained, The Appeal
The Use of Pretrial "Risk Assessment Instruments," A Shared Statemetn of Civil Rights Concerns, The Leadership Conference