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Risk Assessment

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Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross have this column in the SF Chron:

What do Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan and Scott Peterson have in common besides murder?

They are all classified as "low-risk" repeat offenders by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The "low-risk" appraisals are based on everything from their age (in Manson's case, 78) and conduct behind bars to the number of years since their last arrest.

Luckily, an inmate's risk score isn't the only criterion for parole, says Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. "It only predicts the likelihood of reconviction of a felony upon release," she said.

The terms "low risk" - and "non-serious" - and the public's perception of what the terms mean - have become central to the politics and public relations of prison overcrowding.
Reform advocates aren't satisfied with a 40,000-inmate drop in the state's prison population, and are keeping up the legal pressure on Gov. Jerry Brown to make further reductions.

And "low risk" offenders, who make up 43 percent of the population, are one of the targets of groups that have sued the state to reduce overcrowding.

"It's ridiculous for the plaintiffs to say that ... the state can release some of them with no threat to public safety," Thornton said.

She just might have a point, judging by the news last week out of Vallejo that a former Death Row inmate, convicted more than 45 years ago of murdering two teenage girls but later set free, is back in jail after allegedly killing his 90-year-old mother.

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Low risk here is the threat the inmate presents to guards and other inmates, or for escape. It is obviously misleading if the actual crime comitted is not a significant part of the calculation. But many who are not murders, or not arrested for or convicted of murder, are very dangerous in prison. For instance, just being a member of a prison gang brings the level up.

Clearly they have much work to do on this issue, but they do have a fig leaf, not that it is much of an excuse.

Basically you want to have tiny Scott Peterson as a cell mate or Bubba from the Black Guerilla Family, etc.

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