Virginia Non-violent Risk Assessment
Virginia Non-violent Risk Assessment (NVRA) is a method for diverting 25 percent of non-violent offenders into sanction programmes other than jail and prison, such as rehabilitation outpatient drug or mental health programmes. The risk assessment aims to identify the lowest risk offenders.
Developed by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission (VCSC), the system was introduced in 2002, partly in order to avert a 'fiscal collapse' of the state prison system, partly to 'expand alternative punishment/treatment options for some non-violent felons.'
In November 2019, the Washington Post reported that a George Mason University and Texas A&M analysis of sentencing in Virginia revealed that the state’s risk assessment system increased sentences for Black and young defendants.
The study showed that defendants younger than 23 were 4 percentage points more likely to be incarcerated after the risk assessment was adopted, and that their sentences were 12 percent longer than their older peers.
The researchers argue that part of the reason for the results is that judges did not follow the algorithm’s suggestions in most cases because they had not been trained to use the tool, said no alternative programmes had been available, or did not use risk scores when senctencing.
'Virginia’s nonviolent risk assessment reduced neither incarceration nor recidivism; its use disadvantaged a vulnerable group (the young); and failed to reduce racial disparities,' the study authors concluded.
Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission. Re-validation of the Nonviolent Offender Risk Assessment Instrument: Study Update (pdf)
Stevenson M., T., Doleac J. (2019). Algorithmic Risk Assessment in the Hands of Humans
Picard-Fritsche S., Rempel M., Tallon J. A., Adler J., Reyes A. (2017). Demistifying Risk Assessment - Key principles and Controversies (pdf)
Kleiman M., Ostrom B. J., Chessman II F. (2016). Using Risk Assessment to Inform Sentencing Decisions for Nonviolent Offenders in Virginia
Ostrom B. J., Kauder N., B. (2013). The Evolution of Offender Risk Assessment in Virginia
Investigations, assessments, audits
Virginia Criminal Justice Reform Project (2018). Non Violent Risk Assessment in Virginia Sentencing (pdf)
News, commentary, analysis
Published: March 2023