When deciding how likely a prisoner is to commit another crime, in the state of Wisconsin, this can be defined by a simple algorithm which goes on to dictate how long a prisoner remains behind bars. Whilst this might sound like something out of a science fiction film, there are prisoners in the states being incarcerated for a period of time as dictated by a numerical score as the result of a survey.

Courts decide on this by using software like COMPAS which stands for Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions that looks at your family history, neighbourhood and even opinions on ethical questions such as “is it always wrong to steal”. There are some obvious implications for the criminal justice system, such as the validity of any given questionnaire and whether ones neighbourhood should ever impact any ethical decision regarding a person’s imprisonment. Potential Jurisprudence or Law Students may want to consider the implications for the justice system when using these methods.

This has in fact led to a number of concerning studies. Julia Angwin of ProPublica did a study into how accurate these algorithm produced scores really are and looks at the scores of 700 people arrested in an area of Florida. She found that if you look at black and white defendents with the same history, same age and gender, the black defendant is 45% more likely to get a high risk score than a white defendant. HSPS applicants and PPE applicants can think about how the use of state control affects a community and ethnic groups.

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