Sims Risk Assessment Task Force testifies before PA Commission on Sentencing

PHILADELPHIA, May 25 – State Rep. Brian K. Sims, D- Phila., announced that the Risk Assessment Task Force he created with co-chairwoman Marni Snyder, a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney, testified on Tuesday before the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing.

“I formed this task force due to the growing concern over new guidelines, like the Sentence Risk Assessment Instrument, that are being created,” Sims said. "We cannot have a fair criminal justice system within our state if the guidelines we use are imbalanced and unfair.”

As a Philadelphia native and seasoned attorney, Snyder works on behalf of the Philadelphia court system. Snyder’s expertise has focused on both criminal and special education law.

The task force also includes a diverse field of practitioners, scholars, jurists and advocates within the criminal justice system. During Tuesday's hearing the task force proposed this new guideline would not only be considered unjust towards defendants but could also ignite costs and delays for the local courts.

On March 16, the commission adopted for public comment the Sentence Risk Assessment Instrument. Its purpose is to serve the sentencing court in determining the appropriate sentence within the limits established by law. Specifically, it would aide in evaluating the relative risk that an offender will reoffend and be a threat to public safety. The instrument further determines whether a more thorough assessment would be necessary, or utilized as an aide in determining appropriate candidates for alternative sentencing (e.g., county intermediate punishment, state intermediate punishment, state motivational boot camp and recidivism risk reduction incentive).

Snyder testified, “This assessment, rife with race and gender bias, is likely to negatively impact the people of Philadelphia. We call on the commission to do a comparison study to prove there is a problem that should be addressed and then to prove this tool is necessary to correct that problem.”

Hearings are being held throughout the upcoming weeks and are open to the public. The commission anticipates making a final decision on all proposals by June 1 at its next quarterly meeting and final adoptions would become effective 90 days after publishing.