Making Sense of Risk

Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1602

38 Behavioral Sciences & the Law 218 (2020)

17 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2020 Last revised: 20 Aug 2020

Date Written: July 31, 2020


Although actuarial risk prediction tools are widely used in the American criminal justice system, the lawyers, judges, and correctional workers who consult these products in making decisions often misunderstand fundamental aspects of how they work and what information they provide. This article suggests that the best way to ensure risk assessment tools are being used in ways that are just and equitable is to ensure that those who use them better understand three key aspects of what information they do—and do not—reveal. Doing so requires clarifying what risk is being predicted, explaining what risk levels signify, and enumerating how risk-related information is and is not relevant to specific criminal justice decisions.

Keywords: criminal justice, actuarial risk prediction tools, risk assessment, risk assessment tools

JEL Classification: K10, K42

Suggested Citation

Klingele, Cecelia M., Making Sense of Risk (July 31, 2020). Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1602, 38 Behavioral Sciences & the Law 218 (2020), Available at SSRN:

Cecelia M. Klingele (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States
608-890-3258 (Phone)

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