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"Classified as low-risk"

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Maxine Bernstein has this story in the Oregonian:

A slide shown to the Governor's Public Safety Commission this summer categorized one quarter of the offenders who were sent to Oregon prisons in 2011 as "low risk."
That's fairly typical of the claims we hear all the time from the soft-on-crime crowd, trying to convince us we are wasting money and committing injustice by locking up people who neither need nor deserve to be locked up.  But it didn't sound credible to Clackamas County DA John Foote, and he poked beneath the surface to see how this classification was done.  He got the list and asked his fellow DAs check them out.

The list compiled was chilling: 57 committed a homicide or tried to kill someone; 78 assaulted someone, many in cases of domestic violence; 53 had committed robberies. Two were on death row, and 21 faced life sentences.

The offenders had been deemed low-risk based on a new actuarial tool Oregon adopted this month that's being used to determine an offender's likelihood of committing a new crime. Called the Public Safety Checklist, it considers an inmate's age, gender and adult criminal history in Oregon.  [Emphasis added.]
Wow.  A risk classification instrument that takes no account whatever of crimes committed in other jurisdictions or as a juvenile!

Craig Prins, executive director of Oregon's Criminal Justice Commission, helped create the new risk assessment. He acknowledged it doesn't consider an offender's out-of-state, federal or juvenile convictions. He called it simply one "piece of information" that can assist sentencing decisions.
I used to be general counsel for a company subject to FDA food labeling requirements.  If we had mislabeled our product the way Prins mislabels "low-risk" offenders, our entire inventory would have been confiscated, and we would have been shut down.

This is a serious matter.  Misclassifying criminals so that they are released when they should be locked up can kill innocent people.  Policy makers and the people must not accept the representations of "low risk" at face value.  They must be challenged and examined, and frauds like this one must be exposed.

Three cheers for DA Foote.

2 Comments

Why are so-called public servants producing propaganda on behalf of criminals?

I've worked with sentencing guidelines or risk prediction tools that have excluded foreign convictions(on the theory that defendants may not have the same protections) or prior history with large time gaps(on the theory that a defendant should not be punished for misdeeds from an earlier life.

However, there is no precedent and no responsible rationale to exclude out-of-state or federal convictions. The very presence of a wide-ranging, multi-jurisdiction criminal history is in itself a major risk factor.

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