Campus News

Visiting scholar to speak before symposium in Washington, D.C.

Melissa Hamilton, a visiting criminal law scholar at the UH Law Center, will participate in a symposium before a federal judiciary commission on the use of “risk assessment” in setting federal sentencing guidelines on Thursday in the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington, D.C.

Melissa Hamilton UHLC

Visiting scholar Melissa Hamilton discussed imprisonment discusses the preference for imprisonment in the federal criminal justice system back in 2013. | Courtesy of the Law Center

The symposium is designed to give members of the U.S. Sentencing Commission a broader understanding of the scientific and legal bases of risk assessment as a potential tool that federal judges can use in meting out sentences to convicted criminals.

“Serving on the expert panel gives me a great opportunity to share my knowledge and research results concerning the benefits and consequences of risk assessment practices in sentencing,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton, who holds a J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law, as well as a Ph.D. in criminology and criminal justice from UT, has written extensively on issues related to federal sentencing.

Hamilton has been at the Law Center since 2012, first serving as an visiting assistant professor of law from 2012 to 2013 and then serving as a criminal law scholar.

“I am proud to represent the University of Houston Law Center at the table to discuss the problems with recidivism risk assessment practices, including what causes these problems and their effects,” Hamilton said.

“I also hope to touch on the potential future prospects for risk assessments across the field of federal sentencing. In the end, the choice of whether to incorporate risk assessment into federal sentencing lies with the commissioners. Still, the expert panel will allow those of us knowledgeable in the law and science of recidivism risk to permit the commissioners to make better educated decisions.”

According to a School of Law press release, approximately 12 experts from the U.S. and Canada will appear at the symposium, which will be a nonpublic event, according to Brent Newton, deputy staff director for the commission and a former UHLC adjunct professor.

Commissioners will be able to use the information they obtain from the symposium as they continue to study the use of risk assessment in federal sentencing. The commissioners may later issue their own guidance or make recommendations to Congress. The panelists will discuss a wide array of issues regarding risk assessments, including logistical factors, disparity and discrimination issues, and ethical and philosophical issues.

Hamilton hopes to help educate the federal sentencing commissioners and staff so that they can thoughtfully consider various constitutional, ethical, political and empirical issues with risk assessment methodologies.

“The expert panel offers me a wonderful opportunity to contribute to an important discussion about the benefits and consequences of potentially incorporating risk assessment practices in federal sentencing,” Hamilton said.

“Composed of law professors and scientists, the panel will be able to share their collective knowledge, research results and opinions about recidivism risk methodologies. This national forum should foster a healthy and needed debate about the predictive abilities of risk prediction tools and the potential political fallback that may result.”

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