Judicial Reliance on Risk Assessment in Sentencing Drug and Property Offenders: A Test of the Treatment Resource Hypothesis
Criminal Justice and Behavior, 2019, Vol. 46, No. 6, June 2019, 799-810
13 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2019 Last revised: 20 Aug 2019
Date Written: August 12, 2019
For almost two decades, Virginia has used risk assessment to justify “alternative” nonprison sentences for eligible drug and property offenders. In Study 1, we examined how frequently alternative sentences actually were imposed. We found that alternative sentences were given to only 42% of low-risk offenders. In Study 2, we tested the hypothesis that a lack of treatment resources explains why many judges fail to offer alternative sentences. We focused on the availability of mental health and substance abuse treatment resources across judicial circuits. Our findings support the “treatment resource hypothesis” as one explanation for variation among courts and judges in the extent to which alternative sentences are offered to low-risk offenders. To the extent that treatment resources available in a jurisdiction lead to increased judicial use of risk assessment to sentence low-risk offenders to nonjail alternatives, providing these resources will be crucial in reducing mass incarceration.
Keywords: risk assessment, alternative sentences, treatment resources, drug and property crimes
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