AG Holder Hesitant on Assessments

In an exclusive interview granted to Time Magazine, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed strong concerns about the equity of empirical risk assessments used to determine how a sentence will be carried out.  His concern is that “static” risk factors (those that are largely unchangeable through rehabilitation like educational attainment and employment history) unduly influence these assessment will lead to young, black males being unfairly sentenced in comparison to more socially successful white collar criminals.

Mr. Holder’s suspicion that empirical risk assessments may exacerbate (or, to give a charitable reading, perpetuate) racial inequality in the criminal justice system is not entirely without merit.  Earlier risk assessment instruments relied heavily on static factors; those which are immutable, unmalleable, and in sum less predictive than those that can be addressed.  Items like criminal history have been suggested to be emblematic of distal racial bias, though do not carry enough weight in the calculation of today’s third and fourth generation for this to be so.

What has been shown to predict recidivism are elements that are largely changeable, such as associating with criminal peers or harboring antisocial thoughts.  These items are more likely to capture the risk of an individual reoffending.  Race, on the other hand, has almost no independent predictive validity.

Perhaps Mr. Holder’s most puzzling comment is of how these risk factors influence sentencing.  Perhaps he’s referring to the body of research that suggests that an individual detained before the trial phase are more likely to be found guilty and receive a custodial sanction, though this has been shown to have little correlation with race.  The adoption of these instruments allows low risk offenders of ALL races and ethnicities to be monitored in the community sooner.

There is little substance or logic to the concerns about “data-driven sentencing” expressed by the sitting Attorney General.  Actuarial risk does not determine guilt.  Actuarial risk does not determine the sentence.  Actuarial risk is used to determine what the most effective, cost-efficient modality for the offender to complete his or her sentence under at the least cost to public safety.

Risk assessment instruments rout out the specter of latent biases in lieu of actuarial probability.  What little interrelation there may be between criminality, risk factors, and race independently is spurious and pales in comparison to the manifold benefit these tools afford those who use them.




“N.J. lags in monitoring inmates upon release”

Marc Levin in on overhauling current parole laws in New Jersey: “It’s definitely important public policy,” he said of the supervision. “It’s holding people accountable, and it makes sense.”

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Right on Crime signatories applaud findings of report “Max Out: The Rise in Prison Inmates Released Without Supervision”

Right on Crime signatories applaud findings of report “Max Out: The Rise in Prison Inmates Released Without Supervision”

Austin, TX — Responding to a new national report showing high rates of prison inmates being released without supervision, Right on Crime signatories today called for policies that ensure offenders receive post-prison supervision and support.

The report, by The Pew Charitable Trusts, finds that an increased number of inmates are “maxing out,” meaning that they are serving the entirety of their sentences behind bars and returning to their communities with no supervision by parole officers or other authorities, thus  presenting a higher risk of committing new criminal offenses. In contrast, the report provides evidence from studies in two states that shows offenders who served sentences that concluded with a period of post-prison supervision were 36 percent (New Jersey) and 30 percent (Kentucky) less likely to return to prison for a new crime than offenders who maxed out their sentences behind bars.

Additionally, polling commissioned by Pew showed strong bipartisan support for shorter prison sentences that transition into a period of supervision.

The following statements were issued by Right on Crime signatories in support of the findings and recommendations of the Max Out report:

“Consideration of cost-effective alternatives to incarceration that have lower rates of recidivism and keep the public equally safe is something that I strongly support, and apparently, so do many other Americans.”

— Ken Cuccinelli, Former Attorney General of Virginia

“This polling data shows popular support for reforms that reduce crime and the tax burden through reducing excessively long prison sentences and increasing post-incarceration supervision through parole or probation.  It is encouraging to see sound policy in criminal justice reform also recognized as good politics.”

— Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform

“Max Out affirms what many believe about corrections.  Longer sentences with limited opportunities for parole have dramatically increased costs while decreasing the prospect of successful rehabilitation.”

— Jim Petro, Former Attorney General of Ohio

“Keeping tabs on offenders in the difficult first weeks of transition from prison to the community makes sense. The probation officer has the opportunity to make sure the offender stays on the straight and narrow, and when combined with education, job training, mentors, anger management, and other preparation for release, will make our communities safer.”

— Pat Nolan, Director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform

“This groundbreaking report demonstrates that states can enhance public safety by moving away from policies that result in the release of inmates without any supervision. We continue our work to address this issue in Texas and other states and are confident this report will greatly aid these efforts.”

— Marc Levin, Policy Director of Right on Crime

Click here to view the full report.


Louisiana looks to Texas to get right on crime

The Pelican Institute points out that Louisiana is out of step, even with conservative states like Texas and Georgia, which have moved away from prison terms for nonviolent offenders to emphasize rehabilitation.

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New poll shows that American support for drug treatment vs. incarceration is on the rise

A survey by Pew Research Center shows that the public is skeptical of sending non-violent drug offenders to prison — and finds that the majority prefer offenders be treated by way of rehabilitative programs. Marc Levin sits down with NPR News to discuss the issue.

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Click here to read more from The Crime Report.