Monday, March 30, 2015

Risk Assessments and 'Moneyballing' the Criminal Justice System

Kay Whitlock and Nancy A. Heitzeg of  write about 'Moneyballing the Criminal Justice System." Particularly the role of risk-assessment software programs, already used in at least 20 states. These tools, many of them proprietary and not open to public scrutiny, use statistical analysis of complex sources of data to predict the future crime risk of individuals.
The idea is that dangerous people stay in prison and low-risk non-violent offenders stay out or get out of prison quickly.  All-in-all the state saves money and the streets are safer.  That's the theory but what are the real costs?
These tools are not without criticism. Attorney General Eric Holder has warned that use of predictive data in sentencing is likely to adversely affect communities of color. University of Michigan legal scholar Sonja Starr explains that risk scores are based primarily or wholly on an individual's prior characteristics, including criminal history - some instruments include not only convictions, but arrests and failure to appear in court. Other allegedly criminogenic factors "unrelated to conduct" often include homelessness, "unemployment, marital status, age, education, finances, neighborhood, and family background, including family members' criminal history." Starr asserts that because poor people and people of color bear the brunt of mass incarceration, "[p]unishment profiling will exacerbate these disparities."
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