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Offenders Risk Assessment and Sentencing

NCJ Number
Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice Volume: 49 Issue: 4 Dated: October 2007 Pages: 519-529
James Bonta
Date Published
October 2007
11 pages
This article discusses whether risk/need instruments have a place in pre-sentencing decisions.
The use of evidence based risk/need-assessment instruments in corrections has exploded in the last decade. All but two Canadian provincial and territorial correctional systems use an empirically defensible offender risk/need instrument, and the remaining two jurisdictions, Alberta and Québec, are in the process of implementing such instruments. The value of risk/need instruments is not limited to decisions around who should be supervised more closely or who should be kept in custody for the protection of the public. Because these instruments also sample criminogenic needs, they can be used to direct rehabilitation services in order to reduce offender risk. The value of object risk/needs instruments is readily apparent to correctional agencies. The question raised is whether risk/needs instruments have a place in presentencing decisions. Canadian corrections are under enormous physical pressure because of high incarceration rates. Canada may not have as high an incarceration rate as the United States, but it is the sixth highest among Western countries. In the United States, there is already one jurisdiction, the State of Virginia, that uses risk assessment and sentencing to select low-risk, prison-bound offenders for a community alternative, in order to avoid incarceration costs. Similarly, the Little Hoover Commission (2007), an independent oversight agency for the State of California, has recommended in an effort to deal with California's prison crisis that judges use a risk tool prior to sentencing to help decide who should be placed on probation and what treatment goals should be set for the offender. Unless judges begin a constructive dialogue with corrections on how risk/needs instruments can be used in a mutually supportive manner, in the future judges may not have a voice, but instead legislative directives on the use of risk/needs instruments for sentencing will decide for them. References