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Making sense of risk

Although actuarial risk prediction tools are widely used in the American criminal justice system, the lawyers, judges, and correctional workers who consult these products in making decisions often misunderstand fundamental aspects of how they work and what information they provide. This article suggests that the best way to ensure risk assessment tools are being used in ways that are just and equitable is to ensure that those who use them better understand three key aspects of what information they do – and do not – reveal. Doing so requires clarifying what risk is being predicted, explaining what risk levels signify, and enumerating how risk‐related information is and is not relevant to specific criminal justice decisions.

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