Judicial Appraisals of Risk Assessment in Sentencing
The assessment of an offender’s risk of recidivism is emerging as a key consideration in sentencing policy in many American jurisdictions. However, little information is available on how actual sentencing judges view this development. This study surveys the views of a population sample of judges in Virginia, the state that has gone farther than any other in legislatively mandating risk assessment for certain drug and property offenders. Results indicate that a strong majority of judges endorse the principle that sentencing eligible offenders should include a consideration of recidivism risk. However, a strong majority also report the availability of alternatives to imprisonment in their jurisdictions to be inadequate at best. Finally, most judges oppose the adoption of a policy requiring them to provide a written reason for declining to impose alternative interventions on “low risk” offenders.