Assessing Risk-Based Policies for Pretrial Release and Split Sentencing in Los Angeles County Jails

Assessing Risk-Based Policies for Pretrial Release and Split Sentencing in Los Angeles County Jails

By
Mericcan Usta, Lawrence M. Wein
PLOS. December
29, 2015, Vol. 10, Issue 12

Court-mandated downsizing of the CA prison system has led to a redistribution of detainees from prisons to CA county jails, and subsequent jail overcrowding. Using data that is representative of the LA County jail system, we build a mathematical model that tracks the flow of individuals during arraignment, pretrial release or detention, case disposition, jail sentence, and possible recidivism during pretrial release, after a failure to appear in court, during non-felony probation and during felony supervision. We assess 64 joint pretrial release and split-sentencing (where low-level felon sentences are split between jail time and mandatory supervision) policies that are based on the type of charge (felony or non-felony) and the risk category as determined by the CA Static Risk Assessment tool, and compare their performance to that of the policy LA County used in early 2014, before split sentencing was in use. In our model, policies that offer split sentences to all low-level felons optimize the key tradeoff between public safety and jail congestion by, e.g., simultaneously reducing the rearrest rate by 7% and the mean jail population by 20% relative to the policy LA County used in 2014. The effectiveness of split sentencing is due to two facts: (i) convicted felony offenders comprised 45% of LA County’s jail population in 2014, and (ii) compared to pretrial release, split sentencing exposes offenders to much less time under recidivism risk per saved jail day.