It is too early to settle the debate about whether actuarial risk assessment helps or hinders the crisis of mass incarceration. What is beyond dispute is that a rapidly increasing number of jurisdictions are using such instruments to inform consequential decisions over pretrial release and sentencing. To that end, this contribution from four of our researchers to Smart Decarceration: Achieving Criminal Justice Transformation in the 21st Century from Oxford University Press offers three general principles to advance the science and practice of risk assessment.
The first—Maximized Accuracy and Transparency—urges jurisdictions to maximize the accuracy of instruments they employ while making every effort to eschew secret recipes and black boxes. The second principle—Judicious Implementation—cautions jurisdictions to pay equally careful attention to how risk assessment instruments are implemented, taking into account both the varied logistical challenges and the broader need for culture change. Finally, the third principle—Decarcerative Purpose—holds that risk assessment instruments should be affirmatively used to both increase and broaden the identification of candidates for alternatives to pretrial detention and incarceration. In light of the known criminogenic effects of incarceration and the demonstrated efficacy of rehabilitative intervention, the authors advise jurisdictions to maximize the safe and appropriate use of community-based alternatives.