In DepthCriminal Justice

Are algorithms good judges?

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Science  19 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6373, pp. 263
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6373.263

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Every day, judges across the United States face an important decision: Should they jail a defendant awaiting trial—whose innocence or guilt has not yet been determined—or should they release the person on bail back into the community, where they might commit a crime? Increasingly, courts are turning to computer-based tools to help make those decisions, lured by the promise of complex algorithms that use an array of factors to spit out risk scores. But a new study suggests that at least one widely used algorithm produces risk assessments that are no better than those reached by online volunteers given just a few key pieces of information about a defendant.