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.

20 thoughts on “PRECOGS”

  • Assistant Professor says:

    I love how libertarians (Of a Certain Sort) can discover their love of state power when it's being deployed against people with more melanin and how conservatives can discover their lover of social sciences when they're being deployed against people with more melanin. WHY COULD THIS BE?!?

  • This is preposterous – one step above eating the poor, or Soylent Green. The institutionalisation of despair: you are poor and out of work, therefore you will stay behind bars for longer.

    I would guess that, under these metrics, a stay behind bars is a further risk factor and will ensure you a longer sentence next time.

    And I didn't think the American prison racket could get any worse.

    And don't get me started on the misuse of science here.

  • That's pretty fucking jaw-dropping. But it does have the silver lining of really REALLY tying in nicely to your post a couple days ago about the inevitable percentage of Totally Fucked People in our new Gilded Age economy.

    Look: We're not going to have large groups of starving, filthy people living in the streets of our major cities. (We will tolerate such people on an individual basis only.) Yet their numbers continue to swell, as they must when employment is made increasingly dependent on an education they never received (and the dwindling willingness of employers to ignore the color of their skin–Racism! It's Pretty Much OK Again, America!)

    So what to do with all of these permanent beggars? Why, incarcerate them of course. The difference between us and other 3rd-world nations is that we have that amazing gulag archipelago of prisons–huge, massive sources of profit, profit, profit! They are, and will always be, the one governmental institution (apart from the military) that everyone will always vote to support (just enough to make the contractors rich, but never enough to actually treat the incarcerated as even potential human beings.)

    It's a perfect synergy of public policy–get the underclass off the streets and out of sight by labeling them "inevitable criminals," thus insuring that they will continue to feed the coffers of the prison-makers/providers. We are literally turning these people into a source of sustainable income, in which the profits they generate are withheld entirely by their "keepers".

    And the fact that most of these people are black or Latino is just fucking *gravy*.

    In other words:

    Welcome to the new slavery, America–you had to give it up for over 150 years, but congrats on finally finding the workaround.

  • Gee, even more justification for putting young black men in jail. Like they needed another one. Why don't they just abandon the pretense and add "being black" as a risk category?

  • They already have a very simple model:

    Black and Brown = high risk
    Poor White = moderate risk
    Other White = low risk

  • What system of judicial discretion is this foolishness attempting to replace?

    Right now when convicted defendants are faced with a range of penalties in both duration and kind, some rationale is used by Judges.

    Is there any publicly known generally followed policy? Or is the proposed system just lipstick on the pig we already own?

    Based on complaints over the decades, I would tend to believe yes….


  • And now that we are moving towards a future where humans need not apply, I imagine that employability as well as employment status will be a factor too. After all, a person who becomes unemployable through no fault of his or her own is not going to sit and cheerfully starve to death, especially when there are children who need to eat.

  • I think bb is probably right on this one. This is just quantifying what goes on anyway.

    Not that I'm in any way defending this, or the way it's done now.

  • My unscientific guess is that the outcomes will still come startlingly close to the usual racial results we've always had. You know, disproportionate amounts of poor black and brown folks getting the pre-approved amount of punishment while whitey walks away with nary a bruised wrist.

  • I sometimes wonder if the people who come up with this crap are actually being serious, or trying to see how far into the absurd they can go before someone calls their bluff.

    Some of the policy statements they've been making over the years are almost as if they're either taking the piss or trolling the voters.

  • If this was only applied after the sentence was sent down as a possible way to reduce a sentence, and not lengthen it, I would not be opposed. But let's face it that won't happen. Moreover if it did, my guess is the result would be judges deciding to impose harsher sentences figuring that this method would correct their errors. The end result would probably longer average sentences being handed down.
    It's kind of like the death penalty, I'm not opposed to it in principle, but there seems to be no way to implement it in a fair, just, or competent manner.

  • oh, no, they're going to mess up the wonderful system we now have where all punishment is fair and proportionate, never uses any of those variables described to differentiate, and relies on the wisdom of much more subjective presentence investigations by probation officers and the superiority of judicial "gut," a la Stephen Colbert. so thank God we're going to resist these efforts to make the process more transparent and amenable to better analysis to be able to identify injustices when they happen.

  • Our great corporate fathers already do this type of profiling with hiring and promotion schemes to take the risk of judgement away from HR people. Is there any reason to think the models wouldn't spread to other areas? Like maybe college admissions? Or credit scores? Or setting CEO compensation, rent deposits or interest rates? Big money in helping people figure how to do what they want to do anyway, under the cover of rational statistical analysis. The creativity and ambition of business development and sales forces is well known.

    It's also possible that XYNXEE has it. As Lou Reed sang "somewhere a landlord is laughing 'til he wets his pants." No surprise that many states are already doing this and does anyone want to guess which ones?

  • Given that their predictions probably come from recent decades in which no effort has been made to treat drug problems or psychiatric disorder and rehabilitative programs have disappeared, these would , at best, reproduce the current shitty system. Beyond that, there is no mention of the limits to prediction or the contribution of factors outside the person, like family, neighborhood, etc. predictions have error and that is blithely skipped here. Clearly, there is a pre-existing agenda here as well as a complete inability to use research. M guessing that the panel has a lot of holdover appointees from the Bush era. There's also a plug for private prisons in the report with no mention of how badly that's gone for all parties concerned except the corporations.

  • Evidence-based sentencing, huh? Another instance of a catchy name to sell a bad idea. The sentencing system is anything but based on evidence, evidence being relevant and material facts that are not prejudicial. Some law-and-order types once bemoaned that judges were too lenient and howled that the punishment must fit the crime. Now they want the punishment to fit the crime that has not yet and may never be committed.

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