Philadelphia, Pa. − June 14, 2018 – On Wednesday June 7th, Senator Sharif Street (D- Philadelphia), and members of the PA Sentencing Commission received testimony on the pending vote to adopt a proposal for a new Risk Assessment tool guide judicial sentencing throughout Pennsylvania. Senator Sharif Street had previously met with opponents of the tool to hear their concerns.
Opponents of adoption spent more than a week targeting Commission members: State Rep. Joanna McClinton; Senator Sharif Street, Senator John Rafferty and State Rep. Todd Stephens who are all publicly elected officials. Posts online organized around the Hashtag #MinorityReport, reflecting concerns that racial bias would influence the algorithm as well as an eponym for the movie of the same name starring Tom Cruise; law enforcement targeted individuals for crimes foretold but had not yet occurred, a supposed strength of the new algorithm. With a much maligned “success rate” of 60% at the Philadelphia hearing, a third day of testimony on Wednesday June 13, 2018 in Harrisburg’s Criminal Justice Center opened with the Commission voting to table the vote for adoption for the foreseeable future, pending further public hearings and a reassessment of the tool.
Senator Street, a vocal opponent of the current tool who received testimony during the Philadelphia hearing and was instrumental in delaying the vote said, “The initial legislative mandate of the risk assessment tool was to defray cost, mitigate over incarceration and divert deserving individuals to alternative forms of corrective action. To date, we have failed in meeting that ideal. The professed “quality” of predicting future criminal activity, is not only indifferent to the human capacity for change and redemption, but, with a “success” rate of 60 percent, is a pitiful pantomime of justice. I am encouraged by the PA Sentencing Commission’s patience and prudence in delaying the adoption of this Risk Assessment Tool in the wake of significant public scrutiny and testimony received in Philadelphia. We must develop a tool that meets our legislative mandate to enhance justice without replicating bias. I look forward to working with commission members and staff toward this goal.
Three public hearings (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg) will be held in December 2018 to receive proposals and review changes to the Commission’s current proposal.