The Dangers of Evidence-based Sentencing

States predict inmates’ future crimes with secretive surveys

”…Across the country, states have turned to a data-driven movement to drive down prison populations, reduce recidivism and save billions of dollars. One emerging practice is the use of risk-and-needs assessment tools, which are questionnaires that explore issues beyond criminal history. They are based on surveys of offenders making their way through the justice system.”

The article highlights two problems with evidence-based sentencing models. On the one hand, they are based on the results of surveys filled out by inmates, and can be gamed. On the other hand, they might punish people merely for being poor or uneducated, or not being part of the “right” groups.

A bigger issue is that there is no regulation of the features being used to make these prediction, which raises issues of bias and disparate impact.


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