The criminal-justice system could operate much more efficiently if police and sentencing policies were guided by a “Crime Harm Index” that carefully assesses the seriousness of crimes and better calculates the risk that a criminal will reoffend, contends criminologist Lawrence Sherman of the Universities of Pennsylvania and Cambridge (England). Speaking yesterday at the National Institute of Justice in Washington, D.C., Sherman lamented that U.S. prisons are full partly because of the “over-prediction of high risk” in extreme cases like Willie Horton, the Massachusetts murderer who did not return after a weekend furlough in 1986, and the next year raped a Maryland woman after knifing her fiancé.
“Most people in prison are not Willie Hortons,” Sherman said, adding that at the same time many dangerous people are granted probation and parole. States increasingly are using risk-assessment methods to help make decisions on who should be in or out of custody, but such techniques should be used much more to save scarce criminal-justice resources, Sherman argued. His presentation will be posted within 10 days on the National Institute of Justice website, www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij