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Inmate challenges use of risk-assessment tool in sentencing

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court could decide whether judges are violating the rights of criminal defendants by using a sentencing software program that assesses their potential risk to reoffend.

The Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions program, or COMPAS assessments, is routinely used by Wisconsin judges, according to the state Department of Corrections. The program is intended to help judges determine the risk a defendant presents to the community as well as potential recidivism. Judges use it to help decide whether a defendant should be sentenced to prison or an alternative, such as probation.

Eric Loomis was convicted in La Crosse County in 2013 of driving a vehicle without the owner’s consent and fleeing from police. A judge decided against probation for Loomis after using COMPAS and sentenced him to six years in prison, according to Gannett Wisconsin Media.

Loomis is challenging the scientific validity of the assessments in his appeal.

His attorneys argue the tool, created by Northpointe Inc., was not developed to assist in sentencing decisions, but to determine an offender’s needs. The defense also said use of the tool’s gender specific questions violates federal civil law.

An appeals court has asked the higher court to take the case, to decide whether using the tool violates defendants’ rights, either because defendants are not allowed to challenge the scientific basis of the assessments or because gender is taken into consideration.

“There is a compelling argument that judges make better sentencing decisions with the benefit of evidence-based tools such as COMPAS,” the Court of Appeals wrote in a Sept. 17 filing. “Yet, if those tools lack scientific validity, or if defendants cannot test the validity of those tools, due process questions arise.”

The higher court hasn’t indicated yet whether it will take the case.

One comment

  1. I’m very familiar with COMPAS. It’s the worst assessment tool I’ve ever used with offenders. An audit in California resulted in it being pulled. I believe other stares dumped it as well.

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