Time: Holder Opposes Data-Driven Sentencing

Image: Time: Holder Opposes Data-Driven Sentencing (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Thursday, 31 Jul 2014 10:51 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Attorney General Eric Holder opposes the current method of calculating the length of jail time for repeat offenders using statistical analysis based on their criminal history and behavior, Time reported.

Although the data-driven sentencing system has helped to effectively manage prison populations for a decade, Holder has called for a review of the program in his annual report to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Time reported, citing Justice officials familiar with the report.

The system consists of criminal databases containing information that will highlight potential risk factors among convicts who continue to commit crimes despite spending time behind bars, such as prior convictions, hostility to law enforcement officers, and substance abuse.

The data is then employed to rank criminals as being a high, medium, or low risk to commit crimes again, which is passed onto judges, corrections officials, and parole officers to help decide prison sentences, according to Time.

Citing concerns about equal justice for the poor, socially-disadvantaged, and minority offenders, Holder told Time, "I'm really concerned that this could lead us back to a place we don't want to go."

In an attempt to cut increasing prison populations, many states conduct mandatory risk-assessment programs as part of the sentencing procedure.

Although the federal government does not use the method for inmates entering its prisons — currently numbering 200,000 convicts — bipartisan legislation supporting assessments has been introduced in Congress and could reach President Barack Obama later this year, according to Time.

Holder prefers programs that concentrate on behavioral risk factors, or so-called back-end assessments, that can be addressed in prison for both repeat inmates and first-time convicts, such as drug addiction or anger against authority figures.

But former New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram said that Holder’s "back end" criminal justice reform will not succeed in reducing the risk of prison recidivism.

"If you wait until the back end, it becomes exponentially harder to solve the problem,"  Milgram told Time. She works at the nonprofit Laura and John Arnold Foundation creating risk-assessment tools for law enforcement agencies.

With U.S. prisons bursting at the seams with 2.2 million current inmates, Holder hopes his planned review of the assessment system will guarantee that the bills in the House and the Senate are fair to the disadvantaged and minorities.

"Our hope would be to work with any of the senators or congressmen who are involved and who have introduced bills here. so that we get to a place we ought to be," Holder told Time.

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