Despite the increased presence of risk assessment evidence in sentencing proceedings, its role has been contentious, and judges’ use of this evidence is unclear. This study examines judges’ opinions about risk assessment tools and assesses the influence of tools on judicial sentencing decisions. Specifically, it uses an experimental vignette design to evaluate whether judges’ impressions of a hypothetical offender or their sentencing recommendations are affected by the presence of an empirically-supported tool and accompanying risk rating. Participants were 170 judges from 34 American states and two Canadian provinces. The most common advantage of tools highlighted by judges was that they provide information that is helpful for making decisions, while the most common concern was their potential to obscure bias. Judges’ impressions and placement recommendations were not significantly influenced by tool presence. Judges’ program recommendations, however, were more intensive and consistent for the high-risk offender when a tool was present.
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Thesis advisor: Viljoen, Jodi L.
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