Risk Assessment in Sentencing: An Evaluation of the Virginia Experiment

Fred Cheesman II, National Center for State Courts
Randal M. Hansen, National Center for State Courts
Matthew Kleiman, National Center for State Courts
Brian J. Ostrom, National Center for State Courts

In 1994, Virginia abolished parole and developed truth-in-sentencing guidelines for all persons convicted of felonies. As art of this reform package, the General Assembly required the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission (VCSC) to recommend a method for diverting 25 percent of non-violent, prison bound offenders into alternative sanction programs using risk assessment to identify offenders posing the lowest risk to public safety. The VCSC created a risk assessment instrument for use by judges at the sentencig stage and initiated a pilot test of the tool in six judicial circuits. This paper will be an overview of an evaluation conducted by the National Center for State Courts in conjunction with the VCSC. It will address the following issues: (1) the validity and reliability of the instrument; (2) methodology for measuring recidivism (survival analysis); (3) predictive covariates related to recidivism, and; (4) risk assessment versus needs assessment. We will use the results from this evaluation to better understand the factors associated with recidivism, the judicial response to risk instruments, and the policy implications of using assessment instruments at sentencing to divert non-violent offenders from incarceration.

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Updated 05/20/2006