What You Should Know About Pennsylvania's Sentencing Algorithm

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jan 29, 2019 | 0 Comments

Imagine if a computer program could determine your fate after being charged with a criminal offense. This may seem like a far-fetched idea, but it could be a reality much sooner than you think. If the Pennsylvania Commission is convincing enough, decisions made based on an algorithm may be the future of criminal justice reform in Pennsylvania.

Nearly a decade ago, a law was passed ordering the state Commission to develop a risk-assessment algorithm - an instrument that's intended to make criminal sentencing more fair, eliminate judicial bias, decrease guesswork, and drastically reduce incarceration and recidivism rates. It essentially predicts future criminal behavior by factoring in age, sex, race, criminal history, and other relevant characteristics. Based on this information, the instrument produces an estimate of a person's risk - either low, medium or high - of reoffending. The judges from this point on will make a decision based on these results.

The Commission has worked tirelessly over the years to create a version of this instrument that is effective enough to appease the public and win over the support of lawmakers and officials. The latest proposal was recently under review at several hearings, and much like previous versions warranted much scrutiny. Reform advocates, individuals affected by the criminal justice system, attorneys, and lawmakers once again deemed the algorithm inaccurate and racially biased. Ultimately, all of these groups suggested that the Commission goes back to the drawing board, or better yet, scrap the project altogether.

These sentiments have been echoed by PA residents since the instrument's inception. Critics say that treating people in the system as numbers is dangerous, and could prove to be more damaging than the current system in terms of racial bias and inaccuracy. Some have gone as far to label the algorithm as unconstitutional since it's weighted differently for men and women. Since men generally offend more than women, men receive one point in risk assessment for merely being men while women receive zero - explicit gender discrimination, some say.

After the algorithm was compared to an autocorrect function on smartphones, the majority of reviewers have expressed being open to repealing the commission's mandate.

Over a dozen states have adopted a risk assessment tool to be used for sentencing. But most are developed by private corporations who refuse to release to the public how the algorithm works. For many Pennsylvanians, this raises serious concerns.

Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney

A significant part of being adequately prepared for your case entails seeking the help of an experienced attorney. A legal professional who defends criminal defense cases will know the ins and outs of the process and can get you on a course of action that ideally fits your needs. Attorney Joseph D. Lento brings a wealth of experience to the table, as he's successfully handled numerous cases just like yours. But most importantly, his familiarity with the overall process can be a source of comfort for you in one of the most stressful times of your life. For more information about his representation or how he can help you, contact him online or by phone today at 215-535-5353.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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