Government Software Predicting if you Will Commit a Crime

Washington is set to begin using computer software to help determine the potential for those newly released from jail to commit murder, as well as a host of other crimes.



For the last several years, officials in Baltimore and Philadelphia have used University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Berk’s software to decide how much supervision a parolee needs based on the probability of that person committing a homicide after release.

And now it is moving to the federal level, reports ABC News.

“When a person goes on probation or parole they are supervised by an officer. The question that officer has to answer is ‘what level of supervision do you provide?'” Berk said.

Berk’s software compares a dataset of more than 60,000 crimes with the records of individual parolees to determine the probability that they will break the law again once free.

In each case, the software’s algorithm compares the life history of the person — criminal record, geographic location, age that crimes were committed — and makes predictions.

“People assume that if someone murdered, then they will murder in the future,” said Berk. “But what really matters is what that person did as a young individual. If they committed armed robbery at age 14 that’s a good predictor. If they committed the same crime at age 30, that doesn’t predict very much.”

Shawn Bushway, a professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Albany, said Berk’s software is “very impressive,” but that it also poses a potential rights problem because of increased scrutiny on inmates and parolees.

The potential, he said, is for the predictions to be wrong.

“You could be punishing people who, most likely, will not commit a crime in the future,” said Bushway. It comes down to a question of whether you would rather make these errors or those errors.”



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