PLBC lauds commission’s delay on risk assessment tool vote

HARRISBURG, June 14 – Members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus released the following statement after the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing voted to postpone action on the sentence risk assessment tool:

“I applaud the members of the commission for delaying their action to vote for a tool that is in no way a crystal ball of predicting whether a convicted offender will commit another crime after they have served their sentence,” said state Rep. Jordan Harris, chairman of the PLBC. “A tool of predictability has no place in the criminal justice system, especially in a program that could end badly for citizens of this commonwealth, particularly people of color. There is certainly no predictability to the degree of accuracy of this tool as a result, so we will continue to see bias against young black males who are incarcerated at a nine-to-one ratio than other races.”

“As a former public defender in Philadelphia, I always encouraged judges to sentence the individuals who were in front of them. I often reminded these jurists that "sentencing guidelines" are simply "guidelines," state Rep. Joanna McClinton said. “Computer statistics should not determine one's sentence because they cannot accurately predict one's ability to be rehabilitated, make positive changes and be properly punished. I do not want to interfere with a judge's ability to fairly administer justice and will not be voting to implement the risk assessment tool.”

“The initial legislative mandate of the risk assessment tool was to defray cost, mitigate over incarceration and divert deserving individuals to alternative forms of corrective action. To date, we have failed in meeting that ideal,” Sen. Sharif Street said. “The professed ‘quality’ of predicting future criminal activity, is not only indifferent to the human capacity for change and redemption, but, with a ‘success’ rate of 60 percent, is a pitiful pantomime of justice. I am encouraged by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing’s patience and prudence in delaying the adoption of this risk assessment tool. We must develop a tool that meets our legislative mandate to enhance justice without replicating bias. I look forward to working with commission members and staff toward this goal.”

Harris added, “Instead of implementing this tool that would label people as high risk for crimes, which would add another layer to an already demonstratively racist system, I encourage members of the commission to join me in generating legislation to help improve Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system and help reduce recidivism in our prison system.”