Software that predicts whether crims will break the law again is no better than you or me | 1/18/2018 | Staff
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Software that predicts how likely a criminal will reoffend – and is used by the courts to mete out punishments – is about as smart as a layperson off the street.

That's according to a paper published in Science Advances on Wednesday. The research highlights the potential dangers of relying on black-box algorithms, particularly when a person's freedom is at stake.

Software - Question - COMPAS - Correctional - Offender

The software in question is called COMPAS, which stands for Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions. It was designed by Equivant, which was previously known as Northpointe.

It provides “technological solutions” for court systems across America. What that means is, it takes in a load of information about defendants and produces reports that predict their lawfulness, guiding trial judges on sentencing. People condemned by the code to be future repeat offenders are put behind bars for longer, or sent on special courses, and so forth. And no one can see the code.

COMPAS - Maker - Secrets - Tool - Study

How COMPAS works internally is unclear since its maker doesn’t want to give away its commercial secrets. It’s a complex tool that, according to the study's researchers, takes into account a whopping 137 variables when deciding how likely a defendant will reoffend within two years of their most recent crime. It has assessed more than a million lawbreakers since it was deployed at the turn of the millennium.

However, according to the published research, the application has the same level of accuracy as untrained people pulled off the street armed with only seven of the variables. In fact, we're told, the laypeople were just as accurate as COMPAS when the folks were given just two bits of information: a defendant's age and number of prior convictions.

Words - Someone - Justice - System - Reader

In other words, if you took someone with no legal, psychological or criminal justice system training – perhaps you, dear reader – and showed them a...
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