Statement From JustLeaderhipUSA On Pennsylvania Commission On Sentencing’s Consideration Of A New Risk Assessment Instrument

June 13, 2018

“JustLeadershipUSA is inspired by the leadership of Pennsylvanians who are blazing a trail for advocates nationwide to follow in resisting the use of risk assessment instruments at every step of the criminal legal system. Risk assessment instruments replicate or exacerbate human biases against people of color, thereby undermining individualized justice and institutionalizing injustice. These instruments perpetuate a cycle of racialized criminalization as they are dependent on data that exists within the system – data that is already seeped in racial bias due to its having been created by a system that targets Black people, people of color including immigrants, and people who are experiencing poverty.

“The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing must not move ahead with implementation of a risk assessment instrument in the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania’s criminal legal system already leads the nation in disproportionately harming Black and brown people, and the implementation of a risk assessment instrument will further entrench this racial harm.

“Directly impacted people throughout Pennsylvania have organized against risk assessment instruments and have insisted that their voices be heard. Leading up to today’s Commission hearing on this topic, the organizing by this community led to the Commission’s delaying its decision until December. This delay was a victory, and our fight continues until the tool is fully rejected. The Commission has the opportunity to decline implementation of this tool and shift to an approach that prioritizes community-based support. Pennsylvanians demand and deserve bold solutions that recognize human dignity and healing and that will end Pennsylvania’s mass incarceration crisis.”

“At no point should we abdicate our responsibility to provide a fair and just criminal justice process and allow a computer algorithm to make decisions for us with people’s lives and freedom hanging in the balance. A racially biased risk assessment instrument has no place in a civilized society that places emphasis on recognizing humanity and the fair and equitable treatment of all. Our constitution guarantees due process to anyone accused of a crime, and that includes the sentencing phase. That fundamental right to due process should not be infringed upon for the sake of political expediency. Risk assessment instruments do not decarcerate in a real, fair, and just way, and this one will only serve to label some people as ‘high risk,’ subjecting them to longer sentences even though the accuracy of the risk assessments has been challenged. Additionally, we should not rely on a computer algorithm that uses static information that perpetuates racial stereotypes to determine the risk level for the purpose of sentencing.”

Reuben Jones, #CLOSEthecreek Campaign Coordinator, JustLeadershipUSA

“Over the last two years, an undeniable chorus of community members, defense attorneys, police officers and survivors of both harm and mass incarceration united against the clear danger of algorithmic risk assessment in criminal justice decision-making. It is clear to thousands of us that ‘scientific’ advances in criminal justice can bury racism and oppression even deeper into the guts of mass incarceration. We can mark a historic victory in delaying the vote for the risk assessment tool on the table, with even further opportunity for the community to fight to wind down mass incarceration in every community in the Commonwealth. But we can’t rest. The tool currently still under consideration is trained on a racist practice of criminal justice, is too inaccurate to even pretend to predict danger, and could remove the chance of individualized sentencing from thousands of Pennsylvanians. Instead of risk assessment instruments, we will fight to bring far more of our community members home, to meet their needs in ways that make amends for harm they may have caused, to keep them safe by investing in our communities, and to build towards a vision of all of us thriving in the Commonwealth.”

Hannah Sassaman, Policy Director, Media Mobilizing Project

“As a 2016 JustLeadershipUSA Leading with Conviction Fellow and a formerly incarcerated leader working in the state of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia, it is my responsibility to speak out against this misguided and racist risk assessment tool. Those labeled ‘high-risk’ by this tool will certainly receive lengthy sentences that will destroy their family ties, injure our community, and be a detriment to transformation inside and transition upon return. This risk assessment tool is another foundation stone of mass incarceration. If the Commission on Sentencing is truly concerned with crafting a transformative system of criminal justice, this assessment tool would not even be considered a possibility.”

Jondhi Harrell, Founder and Executive Director, The Center for Returning Citizens

“We know hurt people hurt people. We have to address root problems facing people who commit crimes so they can come back into our communities ready to make positive contributions. We need to revamp the current criminal justice system to provide treatment, education, and other alternatives.”

Dorothy Johnson-Speight, Founder and Executive Director, Mothers In Charge

Your donation to JLUSA empowers directly impacted people.

Thank you so much for supporting our mission here at JLUSA! Your donation helps to support our network of leaders working to dismantle oppressive systems and uplift people and families impacted by mass incarceration across the country.

All charitable donations made to JLUSA are fully tax deductible, as allowable by the IRS.