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Risk Assessments And Their Use In The Courtroom

On Behalf of | Jun 9, 2016 | Violent Crimes

Are you aware that some jails and courts are using computer programs to predict whether someone is at risk for missing court, committing a future crime or not completing probation or parole? There are multiple programs in courts across the country that use these risk assessments when determining bond or bail amounts, conditions of probation and sentencing.

In Coral Springs, which is a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, two 18-year-old girls grabbed a silver Razor scooter and a Huffy bicycle that were unlocked. They realized the bike and the scooter were too small for them about the same time as a woman approached them and said that the two items belonged to her 6-year-old son. The women dropped the items and walked away, but it was too late; another woman had already called police. Both African-American women were charged with petty theft and burglary. The value of the two items was said to be $80.

The previous summer, a 41-year-old man was charged with shoplifting at Home Depot. He took $86.35 in tools. He had a criminal history that included convictions for attempted armed robbery and armed robbery. He served a five-year prison sentence. He is white.

The computer program provided a score of the risk of future crimes. The woman was listed as high risk. The man was listed as low risk.

Fast-forward two years. The woman has not picked up any new charges. The man is now in prison on an eight-year sentence for burglary and theft. He was convicted of breaking into warehouse and stealing electronics.

The National Institute of Corrections — part of the Justice Department — encourages the use of risk assessments. There is currently a bill in Congress that would require the use of these assessments in federal prisons.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asked the U.S. Sentencing Commission to study the use of the assessments, as he felt that that they “undermine efforts to ensure individualized and equal justice.” No study was done by the USSC.

There have been few studies done to gauge the accuracy rate of the assessments. One study done in 2009, found that the accuracy rate for one type of assessment is only 68 percent. If such a score is used in all phases of the criminal justice system, you should ask your lawyer how you can use the assessment to your benefit.