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NCJ Number: 206453 Find in a Library
Title: Risk Assessment and Criminal Law: Closing the Gap Between Criminal Law and Criminology (From Punishment, Places and Perpetrators: Developments in Criminology and Criminal Justice Research, P 41-61, 2004, Gerben Bruinsma, Henk Elffers, et al., eds. -- See NCJ-206450)
Author(s): Ybo Buruma
Date Published: 2004
Page Count: 21
Sponsoring Agency: Willan Publishing
Portland, OR 97213-3644
Sale Source: Willan Publishing
c/o ISBS, 5804 N.E. Hassalo Street
Portland, OR 97213-3644
United States of America
Type: Historical Overview; Issue Overview
Format: Book (Hardbound)
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This chapter discusses some consequences for the legal system of assuming that in the future instruments that predict criminal behavior will have a fair degree of reliability and validity.
Abstract: "Actuarial justice," a term first coined by Malcolm Feeley and Jonathan Simon, is a coherent discourse regarding the prediction of crime and/or individual risk assessments. It involves the calculations of behavioral probabilities as input for criminal justice policy and judicial decisionmaking. The chapter first traces the history of actuarial justice in order to show which types of thinking are its main competitors in law and policy. The focus is on 20th-century Dutch penology. In the Netherlands, the prediction of individualized dangerousness is gaining in importance in policies and decisions about dealing with crime. A possible indication of this is that between 1963 and 1993 in the Netherlands, only four people were sentenced to life in prison; between 1994 and 2001 seven people were so sentenced, and this number remained the same from 2002 to July 2003. Another indication of the influence of actuarial justice in the Netherlands is the recent construction of new so-called long-stay facilities in specialized psychiatric hospitals for criminals. In establishing the probability of dangerousness, actuarial justice might be useful; however, there are two fundamental questions and one major danger to be addressed if actuarial justice is to be a major factor in dealing with crime. First, actuarial calculations that pertain to risk in insurance are based on the probability of unintentional and unplanned injuries, sicknesses, or accidents occurring. Actuarial calculations in the area of crime deal with intentional acts that result from multiple variables that influence the thinking and actions of individuals. As in insurance, the presence of intentional acts in actuarial calculations can increase premiums, i.e., increase penalties for the most prevalent crimes, regardless of severity. A second difficulty with actuarial justice is that predictive conclusions might be scientifically correct, but unacceptable in policy implementation; for example, actuarial justice may accurately indicate that members of certain minority groups have the highest probability of committing certain crimes; however, racial profiling or the concentration of policing resources on minority communities is not acceptable as policy. A third flaw that can accompany the application of actuarial justice is that one factor linked to crime prevalence, such as age, may dominate policy; for example, the fact that young or juvenile offenders are more prolific offenders than older offenders whose criminal careers are waning could lead to longer periods of incapacitation for young offenders without regard to other factors, such as the fact that young offenders are more amenable to treatment, or variations in factors that determine criminal career trajectories. Developing actuarial equations that take into account the multiple factors that determine individual behavior is an elusive if not impossible endeavor. Consequently, the equations of actuarial justice tend to be more simplified and intended for application to broad groupings of offenders. The more groups can be narrowed, the fairer and more effective will be the criminal justice policies toward offenders. The issue that must be addressed in judicial decisionmaking and sentencing guidelines is whether it is acceptable to infer conclusions about individual cases from robust predictions that pertain to groups whose characteristics match some individual characteristics of the offender. The translation of actuarial and predictive calculations, even if reasonably accurate, into policy toward individual cases and even groups of cases is the challenge of the future. Such policies must take into account not only due process rights but also the consequences and effectiveness of preemptive and preventive interventions. 20 notes and 34 references
Main Term(s): Criminology
Index Term(s): Crime prediction; Criminality prediction; Dangerousness; Foreign laws; Netherlands; Prediction; Sentencing factors
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