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Risk assessment savvy: The imperative of appreciating accuracy and outcome

This article focuses on two aspects of actuarial risk at sentencing, the accuracy of the instrument and the outcome it predicts. For theoretical reasons rooted in the cognitive decision‐making and sentencing literature, there is a danger that judges and other practitioners might come to overly rely on a “high risk” label or designation without appreciating the accuracy of the prediction or the actual outcome being predicted. Using sentencing and recidivism data from Pennsylvania (n = 10,000), two simple risk instruments are constructed to illustrate the critical importance of understanding accuracy and outcome before relying on the risk tool information.

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