Risk Assessment in Sentencing Decisions: A Remedy to Mass Incarceration?
Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research Vol. 9 Iss. 2 (2017) p. 155 - 164
11 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2020 Last revised: 26 Jun 2020
Date Written: April 1, 2017
Purpose: The legal system’s use of risk assessment has grown exponentially over the past several decades. Empirically validated risk measures are commonly implemented in parole, bail, civil commitment, and presentence proceedings. Despite their growing popularity, both policy-makers and legal scholars question their moral and legal acceptability, particularly in presentence proceedings. The purpose of this paper is to assess the current role of risk assessment in sentencing through an examination of the instrument currently under construction in the state of Pennsylvania.
Design/methodology/approach: Drawing on the current state of the literature, this paper evaluates the current use of risk assessment in criminal sentencing and discusses its consequences, both positive and negative.
Findings: Four areas for improvement in the use of risk assessment in sentencing were identified. Recommendations for change are proposed.
Practical implications: While the use of risk assessment within the legal system has significantly increased over the past several decades, the incorporation of risk assessment in presentence proceedings is a relatively new practice. This paper provides readers with insight on the appropriateness of using risk assessment in this context and provides suggestions for reducing ethical concerns. Recommendations for increasing the validity and clinical utility of these instruments are also discussed.
Originality/value: Although the literature on the use of risk assessment in legal proceedings is dense, relatively little is written about their use in criminal sentencing. This paper introduces readers to this concept by examining a risk measure proposed for use in the state of Pennsylvania’s presentence proceedings. The authors discuss concerns and propose recommendations for the future use of risk assessment in this setting.
Keywords: Risk assessment, Rehabilitation, Punishment, Corrections, Sentencing, Sentencing guidelines
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation