FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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Sentencing Commission’s Proposed Risk Assessment Algorithm Will Increase Mass Incarceration
HARRISBURG (Dec. 6, 2018) The Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission’s risk assessment tool will put more Pennsylvanians behind bars by relying on racially-biased data and punishing people based on what they might do rather than what they have done. Defender Association Policy Director Mark Houldin shared these and other concerns with the commission in a public hearing today about the proposed assessment tool.
“The current risk assessment algorithm would exacerbate mass incarceration and further crowd our prisons – increasing costs to taxpayers and destroying lives and families in the process,” said Houldin. “One reason for this is the disastrously low accuracy rate. When the tool says someone is “risky” it’s correct only 52 percent of the time. That’s barely more accurate than a coin flip.”
Compounding the inaccuracy of the proposed risk assessment tool, Houldin believes that the results would perpetuate existing racial bias and stereotypes that plague our criminal justice system.
“The Defender Association has been leading the fight against these computer-based predictions for years because they destroy a client’s right to be seen as an individual at sentencing. Creating another one-size-fits-all approach will threaten years of progress to reduce the number of Pennsylvanians behind bars.
“As Defender Association attorneys, we know the people we represent. Our clients have unique stories and circumstances, and we work to make sure decisions that affect them are individualized and fair. The Sentencing Commission’s proposed risk assessment tool would drag the justice system into past practices that the public overwhelmingly rejects.”
Defender Association Bail Navigator LaTonya Myers also testified at the hearing, sharing her personal experience in the criminal justice system to emphasize the ways that the proposed risk assessment tool will overlook individual circumstances and experiences, and preclude the possibility for personal growth and rehabilitation.
The Sentencing Commission’s hearing in Harrisburg was the first of six public meetings across Pennsylvania to hear public input about the proposed risk assessment tool. The Defender Association also plans to participate in the public hearing on Dec. 12 in Philadelphia.
Mark Houldin is the Policy Director of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. The Defender Association is an independent, nonprofit organization that provides high-quality, client-centered legal representation, connection to social services, and re-entry support to adults and juveniles in Philadelphia. Our organization represents more than 60 percent of adults and juveniles arrested in the City of Philadelphia.