Oversight Called for On Risk Assessment Systems

Why Many Are Questioning Whether Risk Assessment Programs Are Truly Unbiased

If you have been following the bail reform debate you know that one suggested alternative to having a judge set bail is using a risk assessment program.  These systems use a predictive algorithm to determine whether a person should be eligible for pretrial release.  The pretrial risk assessment programs have come under scrutiny recently, here’s why:

·      Risk Assessment Tools Rely on Inherently Biased Data

Some people fear that risk assessment tools used to determine pretrial release eligibility used inherently biased data to determine if the defendant is a risk to the public at large or whether they will appear at future court dates.  Researchers at Dartmouth published a detailed article questioning the accuracy of the predictive software. 

·      Transparency is Severely Lacking

One consistent criticism is the lack of transparency in the risk assessment software.  The makers of many risk assessment programs refuse to release information on what data is used in their algorithm.  There is little to no regulation over the software and most courts are unaware of exactly how predictions are made.

Needless to say, when discussing someone’s freedom and the safety of the public-at-large we cannot afford guesswork.  As a society we deserve to have information about how these conclusions are being made.  Without proper oversight, risk assessment systems have no place in our criminal justice system.  If there is even a small chance that they use data based on stereotypes or rely on biased information they are doing more harm than good.


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