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Efforts to Lower Prison Rates Get Mired in Faulty Questionnaires

The United States has the most prisoners incarcerated than any other country in the world. Further, repeat offenders comprise a large portion of the high prison populations.

To reduce prison populations, lower recidivism and save billion of dollars, the US criminal justice system is analyzing data to see how past actions can improve future results.

One example is the increased use of risk and needs assessment tools: questionnaires that look at more than just criminal history. The assessment is based on surveys of offenders going through the justice system. Unfortunately, an Associated Press examination found several problems with the surveys, which are being used on a very inconsistent basis across the country. They come with their own set of risks, such as a reliance on criminals to tell the truth, and limited fact checking to make sure answers are accurate. In addition, it is difficult to measure the surveys’ efficacy because they are only one part of a broader effort. Some of the surveys have other flaws, such as the potential to punish people for being poor or uneducated by attaching a lower risk to those with higher education levels and steady work.

The surveys can have more than 100 questions and they delve into areas such as the defendant’s education, history of moving, parents’ arrest history and whether or not they have a phone. While the surveys are flawed, many feel they are an improvement on the justice system of the past.

“It is a vast improvement over the decision-making process of 20, 30 years ago when parole boards and the courts didn’t have any statistical information to base their decisions on,” commented According to Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts. The organization is working with the U.S. Justice Department on national changes to the prison system.

If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. Skilled legal representation, from the beginning, is your best chance at a favorable outcome for your case. Contact the seasoned criminal defense lawyers at Bramnick, Rodriguez, Grabas, Arnold & Mangan, LLC for a free initial consultation today.

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