Meet the Texas Billionaire Quietly Becoming the New George Soros

John Arnold has spent nearly $50 million on progressive criminal justice reforms

John Arnold (Arnold Ventures Facebook)
January 26, 2024

A Texas billionaire is on track to replace George Soros as the largest donor in the fight to remake America's criminal justice system.

Former Enron executive John Arnold has poured more than $46 million into criminal justice efforts since 2019, exceeding the $40 million that Soros has spent over the past decade to elect liberal prosecutors across the country. Arnold's efforts are largely focused on his Public Safety Assessment program, a free algorithm that recommends whether judges should grant bail. Arnold tapped Democratic staffers and Obama administration officials to lead the program, which has a history of recommending bail for repeat offenders.

Arnold's bail tool uses an algorithm to predict the likelihood that a defendant will commit crimes while out on bail from jail and whether the defendant will show up to court if released. If the suspect scores low enough, the tool will recommend that the judge grant bail.

But the tool has a poor track record. In 2017, a New Jersey judge freed a man, Jules Black, who was facing a felony gun charge, based on a favorable score from Arnold's Public Safety Assessment tool. A week later, Black was arrested for the murder of Christian Rogers, whom he shot 22 times.

In 2022, Arnold's tool recommended that a New Mexico judge release Muhammad Syed, who was facing two first-degree murder charges. Though Syed was accused of lying in wait to "hunt" his victims with a scoped AK-47, the tool assessed Syed's risk of committing additional criminal activity on a score of two out of six and his failure to appear a three out of six. The judge rejected the Arnold tool's recommendation.

"The decision to detain defendants before a jury trial should be based on their risk to communities and risk of flight, not on their ability to pay a cash bail," an Arnold Ventures spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon. "In too many instances, people who commit violent crimes can buy their way out of jail, while poor, nonviolent defendants remain incarcerated."

The Public Safety Assessment tool is free to use, a major reason it has been widely employed across the country since its public release in 2018. Five states and 59 counties use the program as of this writing. It is a "non-binding risk assessment tool that courts can choose to use as just one part of a broader decision-making process," according to the Arnold Ventures spokesman.

Arnold tapped Virginia Bersch, who was the chief of policy, research, and training at the Maryland Governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention under former Democratic governor Martin O'Malley, to lead the Public Safety Assessment tool's rollout. Arnold Ventures vice president Juliene James, who oversees Arnold's criminal justice reform efforts, served four years in the Obama Justice Department as a senior policy adviser.

Bersch and James are among the several liberal government staffers whom Arnold has hired to help push his criminal justice reform policies, according to an American Accountability Foundation report.

Arnold in 2019 contributed $39 million to support bail reform efforts, according to Fox News. Much of that money went to New York groups that supported former governor Andrew Cuomo's (D.) bail reform law, which eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony cases. Arnold in 2022 pledged an additional $7.4 million to "rigorously study prosecutor office policies" with the aim of making the criminal justice system "more racially just and equitable."

The full extent of Arnold's contributions to support criminal justice reform efforts is unclear. Unlike most private foundations—which are required to publicly report their finances—Arnold Ventures is an LLC and as such is not required to disclose information about its finances.

Until recently, Arnold Ventures on its website disclosed detailed information about the grants it provides.

An Arnold Ventures spokesman told the Free Beacon the grant database was taken offline as part of efforts to improve the organization's website "as a resource for grantees, prospective grantees, and other website visitors."