The holy grail of the criminal justice system is a data base that will determine future criminality or predict violence—I worked on a research program trying to develop violence predictive tools in the 1970s—but it has not yet been found, primarily because human beings possess free will and are moved by the value they perceive as forthcoming from acts they have an opportunity to commit and criminals are almost purely opportunistic; but hope springs eternal, as this story from GCN reports.
The same type of analytics software police use to try to predict where crimes might occur or who is likely to commit them is also being used by prisons to help determine who isn’t likely to commit a crime — thereby hastening their parole.
At least 15 states, looking to cut costs on incarceration, now require their prison systems to use some form of risk assessment tool in evaluating inmates, and many of them are turning to predictive analytics software that looks for patterns based on a variety of factors, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The software programs, intended to complement rather than replace traditional parole assessments, measure factors such as inmates’ age when first convicted, education, whether they think their conviction was justified and whether they’re married, the Journal said. Some programs measure 50 to 100 factors overall, in contrast to the relative handful weighed by parole boards, many of whose members are political appointees without much or any training in criminology.
Adding software-driven assessments — which also can help determine the extent of supervision a parolee will require — appears to be having an effect. The Journal said populations in state and federal prisons fell by 1 percent in 2011 and appear to have fallen further in 2012, according to reports available. And that’s at least partly because of a drop in recidivism: the percentage of parolees going back to prison dropped from 15 percent in 2006 to 12 percent in 2011.
One such program is Compas (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions), made by Northpointe, a criminal justice research and consulting company. Compas, used in Michigan, New York and other states, combines standard risk factors such as criminal history with other dynamic data in calculating an inmate’s probability of breaking parole, according to the company. It also allows for inmate interviews to be included in an assessment.