Oregon begins using new actuarial tool to determine risk level of convicted felons

This month, probation and parole officers throughout Oregon began using a new actuarial to predict the probability of recidivism among those convicted of felony offenses who are released from prison. The tool, which will replace an assessment the state has used for over 30 years, uses the age, gender and criminal history of offenders to come up with its measurements.

One of the purposes of the actuarial tool is to determine how much the state will pay each county to supervise offenders, based on their risk level. Higher risk offenders receive more supervision than lower risk ones. Efforts are currently being made to determine whether the tool will be useful for judges at sentencing, prosecutors and defense attorney in negotiating plea deals, and prisons in determining who to release from custody pending trial or amidst overcrowding. Some of these potential uses for are concerning.

From a defense perspective, use of the device within the criminal process itself is misplaced. It isn't only defense attorneys who are worried about the new actuarial tool, though. Some prosecutors are concerned that the tool is faulty and could misidentify dangerous offenders as low risk. Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote makes the well-stated point that the tool would be inappropriate to use in sentencing, and that young offenders, for example, could potentially be targeted for harsher sentences simply because of their age.

Foote correctly notes that the purpose of criminal sentencing is to provide a proportional punishment reflecting the seriousness of the crime for which the defendant was convicted, the specific facts of the case and the criminal history of the defendant.

In our next post, we'll continue looking at the topic of recidivism and criminal defense.


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