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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Algorithms for parole can have serious bias problems | Universities - Futurity: Research News

The risk assessment tools decision makers in the criminal justice system use to help determine the fate of people accused or convicted of crimes can have problems that reinforce bias.

Robert Werth, a senior lecturer in sociology in Rice University’s School of Social Sciences, reviewed research on various methods for assessing risk among accused or convicted criminals. The research appears in Sociology Compass.

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images
Actuarial and algorithmic instruments are among the tools used to assess these risks, along with the professional judgment of personnel such as parole officers, correctional officers, and psychiatrists. Werth says that actuarial risk assessments can reduce discrepancies in how the system assesses and treats individuals. But he says they can also exacerbate existing inequalities, particularly on the basis of socioeconomic status or race.

“These tools make calculations of risk based on what other people have done, which ultimately determine an individual’s punishment or freedom,” Werth says...

What is actuarial science? 
Actuarial science, the calculation and management of risk and uncertainty, was developed in the 18th century as a way to increase profit and minimize risk for commercial ventures. In the 1920s, it made its way into the penal system with criminal offender risk assessments. In the 1970s and beyond, the use of actuarial risk assessment in criminal justice began expanding, and it has proliferated in recent years.

Today it guides an array of criminal justice decisions, such as participation in diversion programs, the delivery of correctional services, and probation and parole case plans. It also informs a growing number of decisions on pretrial detention and criminal sentencing.

Werth says previous research about actuarial risk assessment raises important questions about its constitutionality and ethics. “These calculations can ultimately lead to people being punished for what they might do rather than what they have actually done, which would seem to violate our standard conception of due process,” he says.
Read more... 

Additional resources 
Original Study - DOI: 10.1111/soc4.12659  

Source: Futurity: Research News