Gender, Risk Assessment, and Sanctioning: The Cost of Treating Women Like Men

48 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2016 Last revised: 2 Feb 2016

Jennifer L. Skeem

University of California, Berkeley

John Monahan

University of Virginia School of Law

Christopher Lowenkamp

Government of the United States of America - Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 18, 2016

Abstract

Increasingly, jurisdictions across the U.S. are using risk assessment instruments to scaffold efforts to unwind mass incarceration without compromising public safety. Despite promising results, critics oppose the use of these instruments to inform sentencing and correctional decisions. One argument is that the use of instruments that include gender as a risk factor will discriminate against men in sanctioning. Based on a sample of 14,310 federal offenders, we empirically test the predictive fairness of an instrument that omits gender, the Post Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA). We found that the PCRA strongly predicts arrests for both genders — but overestimates women’s likelihood of recidivism. For a given PCRA score, the predicted probability of arrest — which is based on combining both genders — is too high for women. Although gender neutrality is an obviously appealing concept, it may translate into instrument bias and overly harsh sanctions for women. With respect to the moral question of disparate impact, we found that women obtain slightly lower mean scores on the PCRA than men (d=.32); this difference is wholly attributable to men’s greater criminal history, a factor already embedded in sentencing guidelines.

Keywords: risk assessment, gender, test bias, disparities, sentencing

Suggested Citation

Skeem, Jennifer L. and Monahan, John and Lowenkamp, Christopher, Gender, Risk Assessment, and Sanctioning: The Cost of Treating Women Like Men (January 18, 2016). Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 10. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2718460 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2718460

Jennifer L. Skeem (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

120 Haviland Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7400
United States

John Monahan

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-924-3632 (Phone)

Christopher Lowenkamp

Government of the United States of America - Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts

One Columbus Circle N.E.
Washington, DC 20544
United States

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