Age, housing, and mental health are the most widely used as variables by tools around the U.S. Age is particularly emphasized. For example, youth appears as three different factors in the pretrial assessment tool New Jersey is using as “age at current arrest,” “current violent offense,” and “20 years old or younger”. The pretrial interview in New Jersey also considers past adult and juvenile offenses, if any, from a person’s criminal history. A 22 year old and younger accused of a new violent criminal activity receives two points for their age and and an additional three points if they have a juvenile record. This individual’s raw score of 5 places them in a high risk bracket and a non-release during pretrial. A juvenile receiving a New Violent Criminal Activity (NVCA) will automatically be placed in a higher risk category than defendant age 22 or older accused of a violent offense.
At least one factor associated with age in used in 50 different counties we found in our research. These factors are phrased as “age at current arrest,” “current violent offense,” and “20 years old or younger.” The Public Safety Assessment (PSA), a tool that assigns a higher risk score to people 20 years of age or younger, the Colorado Pretrial Assessment Tool (CPAT), a tool that assigns a higher risk score to 24 or younger, and ORAS-PAT, a tool that assigns higher risk scores to 33 or younger. Risk assessment tools are conflating age with perceived heightened risk. In addition to relying on age as a factor, young people are also less likely to have advanced degrees, hold steady jobs, or own a home, personal data that would place someone in a higher risk category and are used in many courtrooms to decide pretrial release. One mistake in a person’s youth will follow them indefinitely when this error is embedded into an algorithm and their score. A young person, when examined under these parameters, are inherently considered higher risk even without ever encountering a police officer.
Why is a 21 year old be considered less risky than someone who is 20 years and 11 months old? Why is one zip code considered riskier than a different zip code one block over? Approximately 30% of the tools in our study are using “housing” as a variable. Tools refer to these variables as “Owning or Renting One's Residence,” “Contributing to Residential Payments,” and other similar terminology. Residential factors used in pretrial risk assessments include zip code, residence, and home ownership. Certain neighborhoods have been assigned risk levels since the 1930s. The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) drew maps assigning risk levels to different neighborhoods in cities across the country between 1935 and 1940. Using home ownership intended to restrict internal migration and home ownership policies in the U.S. decades earlier. Including housing factors will codify decades of unjust redlining practices that were in place long before most of us were born.