Simone Zhang / Pretrial Risk Assessments in the Courtroom / 11.05.21

Simone Zhang is an assistant professor in the department of sociology at the University of Notre Dame. Zhang studies the tools and techniques that institutional actors employ to make decisions that shape people’s access to resources, support, and justice. She is particularly interested in the social consequences of technologies that affect how people are classified and scored. Prior to graduate school, Zhang worked at the Urban Institute and the World Bank on projects related to affordable housing, education, and community development.

Talk: Pretrial Risk Assessments in the Courtroom

Video of this talk is unavailable.

Abstract: Many jurisdictions in the United States have adopted algorithmic risk assessments to guide decisions at various stages in the criminal justice process. This talk will explore the on-the-ground impact of one such tool intended to help judges set pretrial release conditions in a Midwestern county. Building on a pre-existing randomized controlled trial that randomized whether the risk assessment report for a given arrested individual was provided to the court or withheld, I analyze court hearing transcripts and administrative records to investigate how the tool shaped decisions, courtroom dynamics, and professional discretion. I illustrate how courtroom actors use risk assessments as rhetorical resources and evaluate whether risk assessments help prosecutors and defense attorneys secure their requested bail conditions evenly.

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