Risk Assessments at Sentencing in Pennsylvania

Season 1, Episode 44 | Kate Vander Wiede and Collin Hayes

In 2010, the Pennsylvania State Legislature mandated that the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing create a risk assessment tool to be used at sentencing. Since then, the Commission has worked to create a tool that meets this mandate and addresses public concerns about fairness, bias and the criminal justice system itself.

In this episode, Kate Vander Wiede and Collin T. Hayes talk to several experts – from the legislature (Representative Todd Stephens), the Commission (Executive Director Mark Bergstrom) and Heinz (Dr. Daniel Nagin and Dr. Mike Skirpan) – about the risks and benefits of using data in the criminal justice field, about how the risk assessment tool has changed since the commission started work on it, and about what’s next for a tool that no one seems to love.

Learn about the Risk Assessment on the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing’s website.

The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing: The Commission is an agency of the General Assembly, charged with assisting in the development, maintenance and coordination of effective, humane and rational sentencing policies, as well as parole and correctional practices in the Commonwealth.  As part of its responsibilities, the Commission is required to adopt guidelines for sentencing, re-sentencing, parole and re-commitment, and to monitor compliance with these and other statutory provisions.  Learn more about the Commission here.

Representative Todd Stephens: Before Todd Stephens was elected to Pennsylvania State House, he spent ten years working as a prosecutor in Montgomery County, mostly prosecuting sex crimes and crimes against children. Rep. Stephens sits on the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing and has served in the State House since 2011 representing District 151 (part of Montgomery County). Learn more about Rep. Stephens on the State House website.

Executive Director Mark Bergstrom: Mark Bergstrom has worked on the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing for 28 years, and spent 20 of them as the executive director. He has worked with a variety of national groups on criminal justice related matters and also teaches as an Associate Teaching Professor of Sociology & Criminology at Penn State and an Adjunct Professor of Law at Duquesne. Learn more about Mark Bergstrom on the Commission website.

Dr. Daniel Nagin: Dr. Daniel Nagin received his PhD from Heinz College at CMU in 1976, and returned to Heinz to teach the next (several) generations of Heinz students. Dr. Nagin’s research has focused on the evolution of criminal and antisocial behaviors over a person’s life, as well as the deterrent effect of criminal and non-criminal penalties on illegal behaviors. An expert in his field, Dr. Nagin was the recipient of the  Stockholm Prize in Criminology in 2014, and has been honored in a variety of ways throughout his career for his contribution to the criminal justice and statistics fields. Learn more about Daniel Nagin here.

Dr. Mike Skirpan: Dr. Skirpan has a special faculty appointment at CMU’s Department of Philosophy, where he focuses on designing curriculum that can teach ethics in computer. With a PhD in Computer Science, Dr. Skirpan’s research focuses on topics like technology ethics, classroom design, design fiction and engineering ethics pedagogy.  He is also the executive director of Community Force, a vibrant Wilkinsburg-based community center. Learn more about Dr. Skirpan here.