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Recidivism Risk Scores Used to Determine Sentencing Found to Be Unreliable

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Wisconsin defense attorney, Wisconsin criminal sentencing reportWhen an individual is convicted of a crime in Wisconsin, prosecutors use a risk assessment score to determine their probability of recidivism (committing a future crime). This risk score can affect the sentencing process and, in some cases, may even nullify plea deal. Unfortunately, the algorithm used to determine this risk score has been found to be highly inaccurate. And that can mean serious trouble for your criminal defense case.

How the Assessment Is Used to Determine Risk

Developed by the for-profit company, Northpointe, the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Sanctions (COMPAS) assessment tool analyzes defendants on nearly two-dozen theoretic criminology factors, including “criminal personality,” “residence/stability,” “social isolation,” and “substance abuse.” The system then places the defendants into a low, medium, or high category. The higher their purported risk, the higher their propensity of committing a violent or subsequent crime is supposed to be.

Unfortunately, an ProPublica analysis of the algorithm found the system to be largely inaccurate. What is more, there is real-life evidence that suggests that the system may be faulty. Only 20 percent of all those who were said to be at high risk for violent crimes actually went on to commit such a crime. And recidivism accuracy amounted to no more than a coin toss, with the system being wrong approximately 40 percent of the time after two years’ time.

According to ProPublica, the problem rests within the algorithm. Someone who is homeless may likely have a higher risk score of someone who has a permanent residence, regardless of the crime they committed. Individuals with substance abuse problems or mental illness will have a higher risk score than those that do not. And black defendants will have a higher risk than their white counterparts, even if they are facing charges for a lesser crime.

Risk Assessment Not Intended for Sentencing

While the risk assessment tool could, in theory, help determine whether or not a dangerous individual should be released back into society, it was never meant to be used as a sentencing tool. In fact, its intended use is to help determine whether or not a parolee or defendant would be eligible for probation or a treatment program in lieu of jail time. Sadly, this is not all it has been used for.

In Wisconsin, the COMPAS assessment tool is considered an integral part of the prison system. It is used statewide and at every step of the criminal process, from sentencing to parole. Some counties have even used it to determine whether or not a defendant should be eligible for bail prior to their trial. But the most disturbing use of this system is when it is used to determine a defendant’s sentence.

An investigation from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel allegedly found numerous cases in which the judge cited the defendant’s score in their sentencing decision. Investigators also reportedly found cases in which the judge had completely thrown out a plea bargain because of the defendant’s risk score. In short, this inaccurate system is being used for purposes it was never intended for, and Wisconsin residents are often paying the price.

Get the Aggressive Legal Representation You Deserve

The only way to avoid having your life derailed by a criminal risk assessment is to have your charges dropped. The skilled Milwaukee, Wisconsin criminal defense lawyers of Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP will do everything in their power to increase your chances of that happening. A skilled and diverse team, we will give your case the attention it deserves and aggressively represent your rights and best interest in the case. Get the legal representation you deserve. Call us at 414-271-1440 and schedule your consultation today.




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