A computer algorithm helped make the call

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

At the time he was released a little before midnight on Feb. 27, a computer had decided Casey Miser was the least likely of about 350 male inmates at the Marion County Correctional Facility to reoffend.

The computer got it wrong.

Less than eight hours later, Miser, a 36-year-old Keizer man, was back in handcuffs on a slew of drug-related charges.

“You do not end up with a specific one-for-one rotation where one inmate takes another inmate’s spot. It is more complex than that,” said Lt. Chris Baldridge of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. “However, we can state that when capacity needs at the jail required a release, Mr. Miser was an inmate with the lowest score (indicating he was the least likely to re-offend) and he was the inmate that had to be released based on the jail capacity management plan.”

On Feb. 16, Miser was arrested after Keizer and Salem police served search warrants on his Keizer home and a business where he worked on Portland Road in Salem.

A copy of the release agreement Casey Miser had to sign before leaving the Marion County Correctional Facility. (Source: OJIN)

The searches resulted in the seizure of 40 pounds of marijuana, 17 pounds of methamphetamine, five pounds of cocaine, a quarter-pound of heroin, 10,000 oxycodone pills, $40,000 in cash, five firearms and two sets of body armor. Miser was charged with delivery of methamphetamine, delivery of cocaine and delivery of heroin. His bail was set at $1.5 million.

Eleven days later, the jail became overcrowded with new arrests and Miser’s risk assessment score resulted in him being put back on the streets as the result of a forced release.

The next morning, Salem police served another search warrant on a home he owns in Salem and found him inside with five more pounds of methamphetamine and illegal marijuana grow.

This is how a two-time drug offender was determined to be a low enough risk to warrant release:

Around 2005, the Oregon Department of Corrections and Oregon Criminal Justice Commission (OCJC) analyzed re-arrest and re-conviction data of 55,000 offenders from 2000 to 2005 for the purpose of developing a tool that allows jails and prisons to assess the risk an arrestee poses to the community if they are released.

After coming up with an algorithm that takes into account factors such as age, the severity of the most recent crime, the number of prior arrests and incarcerations among other factors (race is not one of them), the analysis was applied to all 350,000 offenders sentenced to probation from 1980 to the present.

While the results weren’t perfect, according to an assessment on the OCJC website, the results were accurate about 70 percent of the time.

Currently, the risk assessment tool – which can be viewed and used by the public at risktool.ocjc.state.or.us – lists Miser at a 43 percent chance for a new felony conviction, a 42 percent chance for arrest for a new person crime arrest, and a 74 percent chance for a new property crime arrest. Miser hadn’t been arrested in the previous five years although he had been previously incarcerated.

While it is difficult to ascertain which arrest leads to one specific inmate getting booted from a jail bed, the risk scores of the male offenders booked into the jail the same day Miser was released provide some context. A 33-year-old with a total of 16 arrests in the past five years, was arrested and jailed for interfering with an officer. His risk assessment scores were all well above 90 percent in all categories. A 26-year-old whose risk assessment scores were 100 percent across the board based on 21 arrests in the last five years, was jailed for theft. A 33-year-old arrested for burglary, scored a 98 percent chance for re-offending in a person crime. Another man was jailed for illegal possession of hydrocodone and scored in the mid- to high-90 percentile in all categories. Finally, a 30-year-old was arrested for strangulation and had an 87 percent chance for re-offending with a person crime according to the OCJC risk tool. Several others also scored higher than Miser in a single category or all three.

It’s important to note the Marion County jail houses inmates from throughout the county, not just Salem-Keizer. The jail also houses inmates serving shorter sentences (a year or less) as well as those awaiting trial.

“When our jail neared its budgeted capacity, Mr. Miser was released so that we could hold onto offenders that posed a greater risk to public safety,” Baldridge said.

For the most serious crimes, such as murder, in which suspects are not allowed to be released, the risk assessment tool isn’t used. Such crimes are known as Measure 11 crimes, the result of a statewide ballot measure that set mandatory minimum sentences for crimes like murder, rape, manslaughter, kidnapping and others.

While the system is imperfect, Baldridge said it is the best tool the Marion County jail has for managing limited space.

“We do not have unlimited resources so we have developed a plan that makes the best use of the resources that we have available,” Baldridge said.