As recent and historical events attest; racial and ethnic disparities are widely engrained into the justice system. Recently, scholars and policymakers have raised concerns that risk assessment instruments may exacerbate these disparities. While it is critical that risk instruments be scrutinized for racial bias, some concerns, though well-meaning, have gone beyond the evidence. This article explains what it means for an instrument to be ‘biased’ and why instruments should not all be painted with the same brush (some will be more susceptible to bias than others). If some groups get apprehended more, those groups will score higher on non-biased, well-validated instruments derived to maximize prediction of recidivism because of mathematics. Thus, risk instruments shine a light on long-standing systemic problems of racial disparities. This presentation will conclude with suggestions for research and for minimizing disparities by suggesting that systems use appropriately validated risk assessment instruments to avoid unnecessary incarceration while also allowing for structured discretion.
Gina Vincent, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the Implementation Science & Practice Advances Research Center (iSPARC) and Co-Director of the Law & Psychiatry Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. She also is President of the National Youth Screening and Assessment Partners (NYSAP), a technical assistance center that works with juvenile justice agencies in their selection and implementation of screening and assessment instruments. Dr. Vincent has received funding from NIMH, NIDA, the MacArthur Foundation, OJJDP, and NIJ for studies relevant to implementation of risk for reoffending instruments, and mental health and substance abuse among youth involved in the juvenile justice system. She has over 70 publications and over 100 presentations to international, national, and local conferences in the areas of violence risk assessment, implementing risk/needs assessment in juvenile justice, adolescent substance abuse, callous-unemotional traits, and mental health symptoms.
At the end of this training, participants will be able to…
- Describe at least three ways in which risk assessment instruments differ.
- Discuss and apply differences between the concepts of racial bias in assessment and racial disparities.
- Identify and scrutinize risk assessment instruments based on their likelihood of having race-related test bias.