« More good crime news for first part of 2014 according to FBI data | Main | Did feds just win the drug war?: kingpin twin drug dealers get kingly sentencing break thanks to cooperation »

January 27, 2015

"Back to the Future: The Influence of Criminal History on Risk Assessment"

The title of this post is the title of this timely new paper by Melissa Hamilton now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Evidence-based practices providing an empirical basis for predicting recidivism risk have become a primary focus across criminal justice decision points.  Criminal history measures are the most common and heavily weighted factors in risk assessment tools, yet is such substantial reliance fully justified?  The empirical and normative values placed on criminal history enjoy such commendation by criminal justice officials, practitioners, and the public that these practices are rarely questioned.  This paper fills the gap by introducing and exploring various issues from legal, scientific, and pragmatic perspectives.

As a general rule, a common assumption is that past behavior dictates an individual’s likely future conduct.  This axiom is often applied to criminal behavior, more specifically, in that prior offending is considered a primary driver to predict future recidivism.  Criminal justice officials have a long history of formally and informally incorporating risk judgments into a variety of criminal justice decisions, ranging from bail, sentencing, parole, supervisory conditions, and programming.  A more contemporary addendum represents empirically informed risk assessment practices that integrate actuarial tools and/or structured professional judgments.  Various criminal history measures pervade these newer evidence-based practices as well.  

Instead of presuming the value and significance of prior crimes in judging future recidivism risk, this Article raises and critically analyzes certain unexpected consequences resulting from the significant reliance upon criminal history in risk assessment judgments.  Among the more novel issues addressed include: (1) creating a ratchet effect whereby the same criminal history event can be counted numerous times; (2) resulting in informal, three-strikes types of penalties; (3) counting nonadjudicated criminal behaviors and acquitted conduct; (4) proportionality of punishment; (5) disciplining hypothetical future crime; (6) punishing status; and (7) inadequately accounting for the age-crime curve. In the end, criminal history has a role to play in future risk judgments, but these issues represent unanticipated outcomes that deserve attention.

January 27, 2015 at 05:45 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e201b7c7402fc5970b

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "Back to the Future: The Influence of Criminal History on Risk Assessment":

Comments

" (1) creating a ratchet effect whereby the same criminal history event can be counted numerous times; (2) resulting in informal, three-strikes types of penalties; (3) counting nonadjudicated criminal behaviors and acquitted conduct; (4) proportionality of punishment; (5) disciplining hypothetical future crime; (6) punishing status; and (7) inadequately accounting for the age-crime curve."

Until technology, such as DNA analysis replaces them, these are the best measures if safety is the aim of the decisions.

The best is 123D. Start the count at 14, even though it began at age 3.

If you ask pre-schoolers, who is the bad guy in this class, they will all identify, one child. Twenty years later, he has done a lot of time, and is a catastrophe to everyone around him.

This is frustrating. Preschoolers are doing better than the lawyer dumbass at predicting conduct decades later. Why, are they smarter, or have more information? No. Their jobs do not depend on loosing the criminal onto the victims. The stupidity of the lawyer professional is intentional and in bad faith, for economic self interest.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 27, 2015 7:00:13 PM

The biggest problem with criminal history is that it suffers from extreme selection bias. One doesn't get a criminal history until one gets caught and convicted. So the term "criminal history" is a misnomer because there are criminals who have a history, they just never get caught or convicted. So a person could have an extensive de facto criminal history even though their de jure history is non-existent, leading to a strong underestimation of risk.

Posted by: Daniel | Jan 27, 2015 9:22:54 PM

The average is 200 felonies a year, without specialization. Sex offenders steal. Thieves rape. They are just immoral, selfish, and fearless. Many are impulsive and cannot be deterred. That is because they do not think, or the benefits of crime are fantastic. They know the police is nearly irrelevant, especially in minority areas.

So each conviction has to stand in for a thousand crimes. It is a rare and precious opportunity to prevent Many thousands more through incapacitation. If you would value each at $10000, $millions are saved a year, not counting the value of the atmosphere of fear.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 28, 2015 9:23:30 AM

It is sad and tragic, the lawyer is blind to anything but his lousy $80000 a year salAry and protects the criminal generating his job, including prosecutors and their agents, the police. Try defending yourself, they destroy you, the lawyer traitors.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 28, 2015 9:27:21 AM

"So each conviction has to stand in for a thousand crimes."

Ah, criminal justice as scapegoating. Forget that Christian crap, the Romans used lustration. Much cheaper.

Posted by: Daniel | Jan 28, 2015 12:57:59 PM

" (1) creating a ratchet effect whereby the same criminal history event can be counted numerous times; (2) resulting in informal, three-strikes types of penalties; (3) counting nonadjudicated criminal behaviors and acquitted conduct; (4) proportionality of punishment; (5) disciplining hypothetical future crime; (6) punishing status; and (7) inadequately accounting for the age-crime curve."

Item is important, along with 2 and item 7.
Kids get hooked on drugs at an early age, they constantly get into scrapes. These kick up the history when they get older and go on there own with drugs. Former crimes get counted 2 3 times and hinge on many enhancements.

Posted by: 187Midwest Guy | Jan 28, 2015 10:13:53 PM

Daniel,

I don't believe criminal sentencing to be an area where under-inclusiveness is considered a reason to scrap something, especially when the alternative is nothing at all.

I also fail to see how the system taking note that someone has already had one or more brushes with the courts and yet continues their criminal activity is in any way extraordinary.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jan 29, 2015 10:00:23 AM

"I don't believe criminal sentencing to be an area where under-inclusiveness is considered a reason to scrap something, especially when the alternative is nothing at all."

I am not arguing that it should be scrapped or that we should do nothing. What I am saying is that we should be careful about drawing definitive conclusions from a sample that is biased. The entire universe is all criminal activity. The people who get caught are a subset of that activity. There is no good reason to believe that the sample is representative of the universe.

"I also fail to see how the system taking note that someone has already had one or more brushes with the courts and yet continues their criminal activity is in any way extraordinary."

Perhaps you fail to see because you do not want to see. The major problem with your approach is that it creates what psychologists call path dependance or what people might call a vicious cycle.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Path_dependence

A person makes a mistake. That mistake is held against them. The result is fewer good opportunities and a bigger chance of making another mistake. Then that second mistake is taken as evidence to do something even worse to them, and the result is even less opportunities in the future to do the right the right thing. It should be no suprise that we have career criminals when we have a system that is in many respects designed to produce them.



Posted by: Daniel | Jan 29, 2015 4:29:39 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB