Identifying effective arrest & prosecutorial policies

Current arrest procedures are flawed. Police have the power to arrest anyone they suspect of wrongdoing. The arrest is booked, and the person is taken immediately to jail. However, it may take days or weeks before a prosecutor sees the case in court and decides if it’s a case that can be prosecuted. We found up to 40% of arrests are dropped by prosecutors in court for not meeting the facts of the law. It’s a waste of time, money, and lives.

Our Solution

SciLaw has built mobile software that takes racial bias out of arrest decisions. We stop discrimination and injustice before the police officer books an arrest. With our Intake system, whether someone is arrested or not is a matter of the facts and the law, instead of being left to the sole discretion of an officer who can have a range of emotions or prejudices. The effect is a colorblind ‘arrest or release’ decision. When an arrest IS made, it is based on law, not bias.

Before every arrest is booked, the officer must call a prosecutor who decides if the arrest will meet legal standards. Typically, this is a 3 minute call about the facts that may or may not lead to an arrest. The prosecutor does not know the age, gender, or race of the person in question. If the facts support the charge, only then is the arrest authorized and the person is brought to jail.

This is a proven system used for nearly 50 years, and it just may be the biggest game changer in criminal justice.

Supporting successful Reentry programs

We support Harris County’s cutting-edge Reentry Program by tailoring our risk prediction tool to enable better targeting of criminogenic deficits that heighten the risk of reoffense.

In 2013, Reentry Services were started inside the county jail. The 90-day, case management-based programs are designed to target vulnerable populations of incarcerated men and women. The program began with Project EVOL-VE, which assists victims of sex trafficking and prostitution to develop skills and identify resources to provide the victims safety and empowerment. The program has since expanded to include three other subprograms: Mentoring Moms (pregnant and postpartum women), Stars & Stripes (veterans), and Freedom Project (people struggling with addiction).

The programs seem to work, because participants have reoffense rates much lower than the national average. We are helping them by evaluating their four subprograms to quantify impacts on reoffense rates, employment, disciplinary history, and mental health.

Using our NCRA, we directly measure decision-making and identify specific criminogenic needs. Working closely with social workers and mental health professionals, we are developing carefully targeted individual treatment plans in the hopes of getting the programs to yield even lower reoffense rates.

Health and crime

Our Criminal Records Database is used to evaluate whether the Clean Air Act’s reduction in lead levels caused reduced criminal activity when the children became adults 20 years later.

It is well-established that childhood lead exposure leads to decreased brain volume and adverse behavioral effects. These effects appear to adulthood and may manifest as criminal behavior. Using EPA lead measurements and our CRD, do childhood air-lead measurements correlate with crime committed later as young adults?

Our preliminary work suggests there is a strong relationship between serious criminal activity as a young adult and air-lead exposure at birth.

Evaluating reduced penalties for possession of marijuana

Across the country, there has been a wave of reforms targeting marijuana possession. The impact on criminal justice is currently unknown; the impacts of marijuana decriminalization are only beginning to be studied by independent researchers.

Harris County’s (Houston, TX) District Attorney’s office has implemented a major reform: the pre-charge diversion of all arrests for possession of marijuana under 4oz. The reform has the potential to produce large impacts on crime by eliminating criminal charges for petty marijuana offenses.

We alongside the local prosecutors to evaluate the impacts of marijuana diversion on crime rates, incarceration rates, reoffense rates, and the county’s financial bottom line. Specifically, we seek to answer three research questions:
(1) What are the impacts of marijuana diversion on criminal activity?
(2) What is the cost-benefit analysis of the diversion effort?
(3) What can be learned from implementation? What works well? What can be improved?

Together, we are developing a body of evidence quantifying impacts on crime rates, incarceration rates, and re-offense rates.