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Arnold Foundation Can’t Handle the Truth

Animation of Arnold Ventures founders holding S.O.S. sign on a sinking ship

In late July, a coalition of more than 100 civil society groups including the NAACP, ACLU and Black Lives Matter published a statement calling for states not to adopt the Arnold Foundation’s pretrial risk assessment tool. The statement also called on the few states that have already adopted it to stop using it. This was an extraordinary step considering these groups were some of the most vocal opponents of the bail bonds system the Arnold algorithm was designed to replace. But it’s also vindication for those who correctly predicted that replacing bail with a computer program would have far-reaching negative consequences.

Let’s look at some of the things those organizations had to say about risk assessment:

“If our goals are to shrink the justice system and end racial disparities, we can’t simply end money bail and replace it with risk assessments.”

-Vanita Gupta - President, The Leadership Conference Education Fund

“Substituting risk assessment instruments for money bail is not the answer.”

-Monique Dixon - Senior Counsel, NAACP

“Presumptively innocent people should be free to return to their communities and fight their cases from a position of freedom, not held in a cage… because of a biased risk assessment instrument.”

-Rachel Foran, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund

“We join the chorus of civil and human rights organizations in calling on jurisdictions to reconsider their use of pretrial risk assessments.”

–Myaisha Hayes, Center for Media Justice

“Our communities need policies and practices that reverse mass incarceration, not… technological ‘solutions’ like risk assessments.”

–Scott Roberts, Director, Color of Change

Ouch!

The Arnold Foundation’s immediate response was to circle the wagons and go on the offensive against the very organizations that it has been claiming to serve. “...the Laura and John Arnold Foundation reaffirms their valuable role in a larger effort to reduce unnecessary and unjust pretrial detention.” What’s especially cringe worthy about that statement is their narcissistic, proclamation that they play a “valuable role” in the fight against pretrial detention. It pretty much confirms what lots of people have been saying about them from the start. That they’re self-obsessed and don’t have anyone’s interests in mind but their own. But it turns out that little bit of misplaced self-congratulation wasn’t the end of things as far as the foundation was concerned.

From Foundation to Venture

After issuing a self-congratulatory statement that demonstrated their inability to deal with the truth, the Arnold Foundation promptly set about distancing themselves from their pet project. They announced two months after the public smackdown that they were changing their name to Arnold Ventures and giving up their non-profit status to become a for-profit company. Shortly after that announcement they unveiled a new 5 point plan to combat bail and, lo and behold, their prized risk assessment algorithm was not part of the new plan.

The Phony Crusade Against the Bondsman Crumbles

The fact that Arnold Ventures, as they’re now called, are distancing themselves from their fatally flawed risk assessment algorithm is a massive step in the right direction. However, it begs an important question: If the organization that developed it no longer believes in the risk assessment algorithm, what happens to those states that have already adopted it as a substitute for bail bonding?

States like New Jersey, Kentucky, Delaware and New Mexico have all seen a spike in crime and a corresponding spike in the number of court no-shows after adopting the Arnold algorithm. And that makes sense. After all, when you eliminate bail the defendant no longer has any incentive to appear because there’s no bail money to lose if they don’t. In addition, the bondsman used to track down no-shows (also known as fugitives) at no cost to the taxpayer. Now those fugitives have nothing to fear because the state can’t afford to send anyone after them.

So Arnold created a coast to coast mess and is now quietly slipping away under an assumed name, hoping no one notices. It’s quite a thing. Fortunately, steps are being taken in states across the country to heed the advice of those 100+ civil society groups and block or reverse implementation of the Arnold Disaster Creation Tool.

The Taxpayer Strikes Back

In a slap in the face to California residents former Governor Jerry Brown signed SB10 on his way out the door in 2018. SB10 called for the elimination of cash bail in California and its replacement by the risk assessment algorithm. SB10 was set to be implemented on October 1, 2019. But California residents struck back at Brown by signing a petition to halt it and put the matter of eliminating bail on the 2020 state ballot.

Other states have also decided enough is enough when it comes to risking public safety. In New Jersey, efforts are underway to repeal aspects of that state’s disastrous embrace of risk assessment. In New York, legislators have introduced numerous bills to postpone, modify or cancel that state’s bail reform measures, set to go into effect on January 1, 2020. Alaska has already overturned their bail reform measure. And here in Jefferson County, Arapahoe County and Denver County we had a close call of our own not long ago.

The bottom line is that the Arnold Foundation has had its day and now it’s up to taxpayers nationwide to undo the damage Arnold has done. It won’t be easy. There are still many challenges ahead. But it finally seems the tide has turned on the phony crusade against bail.

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