Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Introducing The Minority Report

As with all advances in technology and statistical analysis, they can be a wonderful tools if used correctly and for the right reasons. Conversely, if used incorrectly and with malice how many 'eggs get broken' in order to convince the public that they are safer.
Software used to predict who might kill
By Michael Matza
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT) via The Kansas City Star

PHILADELPHIA - University of Pennsylvania criminologist Richard Berk, a trained statistician, never met a data set he didn't like.

Now, using fresh data from the Philadelphia probation department, Berk and three colleagues have built an innovative model for predicting which troublemakers already in the system are most likely to kill or attempt a killing....

...The central public policy question in all of this is a resource allocation problem. With not enough resources to go around, overloaded case workers have to cull their cases to find the ones in most urgent need of attention - the so-called true positives, as epidemiologists say.

"If we have 100 probationers I can accurately find the one murderer who statistically will be in that group if I devote resources to all 100 as if they are murderers. The problem is that for that one murderer who is a 'true positive,' I have 99 false positives. We all would agree that's not a good use of resources.

"Now suppose I can identify the 10 at highest risk. For that one true positive I now have nine false positives," Berk said, "and that may be something we choose to live with."
The other unasked question is, what is our criminal justice system for? Is it a rehabilitative system or simply punishment? When one is released from prison should they have a clean slate, the proverbial second chance or do we metaphorically brand them for life.

I am not sure where I fall on this for violent criminals and parolees. We are not talking about some kid who got busted for a dime bag or a purse snatching. When it comes to violent criminal, murderers and extending this to sex offenders, do they or should they get the benefit of the doubt upon release and or parole?

Since most murders are spur of the moment, crimes of passion if you will, is the repeat rate high enough to condone this type of monitoring? In regards to sex offenders,
particurally child molesters, the repeat offence rate may warrant such predictive software.

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