Age, Risk Assessment, and Sanctioning: Overestimating the Old, Underestimating the Young

From Monahan, J., Skeem, J., & Lowenkamp, C. (2017). Age, risk assessment, and sanctioning: Overestimating the old, underestimating the young. Law and Human Behavior, 41(2), 191-201. doi: 10.1037/lhb0000233.

Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2017-27

Posted: 26 May 2017

See all articles by John Monahan

John Monahan

University of Virginia School of Law

Jennifer L. Skeem

University of California, Berkeley

Christopher Lowenkamp

AO US Courts Probation and Pretrial Services Office

Date Written: May 24, 2017

Abstract

While many extoll the potential contribution of risk assessment to reducing the human and fiscal costs of mass incarceration without increasing crime, others adamantly oppose the incorporation of risk assessment in sanctioning. The principal concern is that any benefits in terms of reduced rates of incarceration achieved through the use of risk assessment will be offset by costs to social justice—which are claimed to be inherent in any risk assessment process that relies on variables for which offenders bear no responsibility, such as race, gender, and age. Previous research has addressed the variables of race and gender. Here, based on a sample of 7,350 federal offenders, we empirically test the predictive fairness of an instrument—the Post Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA)—that includes the variable of age. We found that the strength of association between PCRA scores and future arrests was similar across younger (i.e., 25 years and younger), middle (i.e., 26–40 years), and older (i.e., 41 years and older) age groups (AUC values .70 or higher). Nevertheless, rates of arrest within each PCRA risk category were consistently lower for older than for younger offenders. Despite its inclusion of age as a risk factor, PCRA scores overestimated rates of recidivism for older offenders and underestimated rates of recidivism for younger offenders.

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

Suggested Citation

Monahan, John and Skeem, Jennifer L. and Lowenkamp, Christopher, Age, Risk Assessment, and Sanctioning: Overestimating the Old, Underestimating the Young (May 24, 2017). From Monahan, J., Skeem, J., & Lowenkamp, C. (2017). Age, risk assessment, and sanctioning: Overestimating the old, underestimating the young. Law and Human Behavior, 41(2), 191-201. doi: 10.1037/lhb0000233. ; Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2017-27. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2973503

John Monahan (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

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

Jennifer L. Skeem

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

120 Haviland Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7400
United States

Christopher Lowenkamp

AO US Courts Probation and Pretrial Services Office ( email )

689 Union Drive
Hudson, OH 44236
United States
2025270313 (Phone)

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
265
PlumX Metrics