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The United States of Risk Assessment: The Machines Influencing Criminal Justice Decisions

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While there’s been a lot of focus on how risk assessment tools treat different racial demographics, little attention has been paid to another issue that may be just as problematic: how gender factors into risk scores. Researchers say accounting for the differences in gender ensures that risk assessments are more accurate, but exactly how they do so may run into constitutional challenges.

Legaltech News found one gender-specific risk assessment tool currently implemented in at least two states: the Women’s Risk and Needs Assessment (WRNA), which like the the Ohio Risk Assessment System (ORAS), was created by the University of Cincinnati. Kansas uses the WRNA to assess parolees’ risk in a women’s prison in Topeka, while Montana deploys it for women on probation or parole throughout its Department of Corrections.

Amy Barton, a spokesperson for Montana Department of Corrections, explains that while the WRNA uses gender-neutral risk factors, it also looks at more “gender-responsive factors,” including “relationship support and conflict, parental involvement and stress, self-efficacy, prior physical and sexual trauma, housing safety, mental health and anger/hostility.”

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Rhys Dipshan

CT-born, New York-based legal tech reporter covering everything from in-house technology disruption to privacy trends, blockchain, AI, cybersecurity, and ghosts-in-the-machine. Continually waiting for law to catch up with tech. (It's like waiting for Godot, but without the clowns)

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