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What Are Judges' Views of Risk Assessments, and How Do Tools Affect Adolescent Dispositions?

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Despite the increased presence of risk assessment tools in pre-sentence hearings, their role has been contentious, and the extent to which they influence dispositions is unclear. This study uses a self-report questionnaire to examine judges' opinions about risk assessment tools, as well as an experimental vignette design to evaluate whether judges' placement and program recommendations for a high- and low-risk adolescent are affected by the presence of an empirically supported tool and accompanying risk rating. It also assesses the influence of tool presence on judges' impressions of the adolescent's treatability and culpability. Participants included 170 judges from 34 American states and two Canadian provinces. The most common advantage of tools highlighted by judges was the additional information they provide, while the most common concern was their potential to obscure bias. Judges' placement recommendations and impressions of the adolescent were not significantly influenced by tool presence, but their program recommendations were more intensive and consistent for the high-risk adolescent when a tool was present than when it was absent.
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