As the level of incarceration continues to rise and the courts struggle to deal with the high number of defendants, many States have resorted to risk assessment tools to streamline the processing of defendants (Harcourt, 2007). Multiple states have already implemented this tool in their criminal justice systems. A risk assessment is a system of using particular characteristics of a prisoner or defendant like family background, age, employment status, location, and sex to establish the likelihood of his/her continued participation in criminal behavior (Epperson, 2017). Risk assessment is designed to help the courts objectively measure a prisoner’s or a defendant’s risk to the community. The courts and the probation department use these tools to decide whether one should be sentenced, put on probation, or imprisoned.
Algorithm is a risk assessment tool that has gained massive traction in most States. Algorithms use evidence-based modeling and empirical big data to identify a defendant’s chances of engaging in crime more accurately unlike judges could on their own. Algorithms collect an array of personal factors which allow the courts to accurately predict defendants who are downright risks, moderate risks and good release risks (Harcourt, 2007).
This tool undeniably benefits the community, the criminal justice system and the courts. It helps to shorten the period of prison incarceration and reduce the number of pre-trial defendants who would otherwise be left to languish in prisons (Epperson, 2017). Also, it reduces system costs and time spent on court hearings. Further, it increases prisoners’ or defendants’ ability to keep their jobs and families together. In the long run, it improves safety within the community. However, despite these benefits, this tool has some limitations. It is believed that algorithms cause systemic bias directly associated with the nature of their design. It replaces the court’s bias with a type of discrimination based on quantitative information.
The duty to warn is a relatively new concept in the criminal justice system. The court bears a duty to use reasonable care to give the community essential warnings to avert predictable danger arising from released defendant or prisoner (McNiel et al. 1998).
Epperson, M. W. (2017). Smart decarceration: Achieving criminal justice transformation in the 21st century. Oxford University Press.
Harcourt, B. E. (2007). Against Prediction: Profiling, policing and punishing in an actuarial age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McNiel, D. E., Binder, R. L., & Fulton, F. M. (1998). Management of Threats of Violence under California’s Duty-to-Protect Statute. American Journal of Psychiatry, 155, 8, 1097-1101.