Likelihood of committing more crimes could be included in sentencing in Pa.

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Aug 28, 2015 4:34 AM

(Harrisburg) -- Criminal sentencing in Pennsylvania will soon shift from looking at the past to trying to predict the future as well. The state will become one of the first to incorporate risk assessments into sentencing decisions.

The goal is to determine the likelihood a defendant will commit a crime in the future.

The state might consider past criminal history, a convict's support system, and his or her age, among other factors.

Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel says judges will then be able to use the information in determining a sentence.

"It's not a situation where the risk assessment specifically dictates what the sentence is. But it is a piece, an important piece in my opinion, of objective data, that'll now become a decision-making process for the courts," says Wetzel.

Some critics say a risk assessment can fail to remove all race and class bias, but Wetzel says it's still an improvement over the current setup, which can be very subjective.

"I would ask those folks to look at our current system and compare it to our current system and not the ideal. If you're comparing it to the ideal, some of those arguments are likely legitimate. If you're comparing it to our current system, I think those arguments are pretty hollow," he adds.

Wetzel compares the risk assessment to the formulas auto insurance companies use when determining rates.

The new evaluation is expected to take effect next year.

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