PRECOGS

Posted in Quick Hits on August 13th, 2014 by Ed

This is such an amazingly, staggeringly terrible idea that it is hard to believe anyone would even try it. I mean, it's essentially the plot of Minority Report. Then you think on it for a moment and realize that this is exactly the kind of thing that we were bound to try at some point:

Risk-assessment advocates say it’s a no-brainer: Who could oppose “smarter” sentencing? But Mr. Holder is right to pick this fight. As currently used, the practice is deeply unfair, and almost certainly unconstitutional. It contravenes the principle that punishment should depend on what a defendant did, not on who he is or how much money he has.

The basic problem is that the risk scores are not based on the defendant’s crime. They are primarily or wholly based on prior characteristics: criminal history (a legitimate criterion), but also factors unrelated to conduct. Specifics vary across states, but common factors include unemployment, marital status, age, education, finances, neighborhood, and family background, including family members’ criminal history.

Such factors are usually considered inappropriate for sentencing; if anything, some might be mitigating circumstances. But in the new, profiling-based sentencing regimen, markers of socioeconomic disadvantage increase a defendant’s risk score, and most likely his sentence.

It's pseudoscience at its most dangerous, with the false precision of tables and formulas and point systems coming together to create a matrix of your criminal future. Funny how reactionary assholes are rabidly anti-science and anti-intellectual until someone at the right think tank cooks up a Rube Goldberg machine that produces the exact results they want.