This article develops a sociological analysis and critique of including socioeconomic factors such as education, employment, income and housing in risk assessment tools that inform sentencing decisions. In widely used risk assessment tools such as the Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R) (Canada, US), the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) (US), the Offender Assessment System (OASys) (UK) and the Recidive InschattingsSchalen (RISc) (the Netherlands), socioeconomic marginality contributes to a higher risk score, which increases the likelihood of a (longer) custodial sentence for underprivileged offenders compared to their more privileged counterparts. While this has been problematized in relation to gender and racial/ethnic bias, the problem of socioeconomic bias in itself has received little attention. Given the already marginalized position of many justice involved individuals and longstanding concerns about such disparities, and the adverse effects of imprisonment on socioeconomic opportunities, it is essential to evaluate the unintended social consequences of assessing socioeconomic marginality as ‘risk factor’. Elaborating on earlier critiques, I conceptualize risk-based sentencing as a meaning-making process through which (access to) resources and recognition are distributed among offender populations. Through tracing in detail two cultural processes – stigmatization and rationalization – I analyse how risk assessment is likely to produce sentencing disparities as well as to reproduce, and possibly exacerbate, social inequalities more generally.

Additional Metadata
Persistent URL,
Journal Punishment and Society
van Eijk, G. (2016). Socioeconomic marginality in sentencing: The built-in bias in risk assessment tools and the reproduction of social inequality. Punishment and Society, 19(4), 463–481. doi:10.1177/1462474516666282