What Will be the Future of Pretrial Assessment?
Colorado’s multi-jurisdiction risk assessment tool faces uncertain future

by Avery Martinez

There are many tools across the country used to assess pretrial risk for criminal defendants. In Colorado, multiple counties take part in what is called the Colorado Pretrial Assessment Tool, also known as CPAT. CPAT was developed for bond decisions and is used to measure a given defendant’s risk of failure to appear or for being arrested again while under pretrial release.

But CPAT has been criticized in the past, and questions remain even among those who use the tool regularly. In July, the University of Northern Colorado released a study about the effectiveness and validation of the CPAT.

“I think this is the end of the CPAT as we know it as a result of this report,” said Jeff Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Coalition. He added that there was a push in the past to make the CPAT a statewide program.

CPAT was created in 2012 and involved a sample of 2,000 defendants from 10 Colorado counties, according to the study. Through analysis of 177 variables, a 12-item CPAT was created with scores range from 0-82 in four categories, indicating risk of failure to appear or reoffend under pretrial release, which are ranked from lowest to highest, according to the study.

The risk factors and scoring include information gathered from the details of a person’s possessions, history of alcohol or drug usage, whether a person has a home phone or cell phone, mental health treatment, age, prior jail or prison time, active warrants, pending cases and history of revoked bond or supervision.

Clayton says that risk factors make CPAT biased toward the homeless population of the state. The U.S. Census website states that in July 2019, solely descended Black or African American population of Colorado was only 4.6%. In 2018, the Homelessness Research Institute estimated 40% of the national homeless population were Black and were overrepresented among people experiencing homelessness.

“Which means we’re hammering African American defendants at the lowest socio-economic level,” Clayton said.

This article appears in the Aug. 31 issue of Law Week Colorado. To read the complete article and others from that issue, order a copy online. Subscribers can request a digital PDF of the issue.