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

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The promise of risk assessment tools is the promise of data-driven decision-making: less reliance on personal whims and prejudices, and more uniform results. But while data-driven decision-making is possible, uniformity is another story.

Assessment tools in use across the U.S. assign scores to defendants or convicted offenders based on the likelihood they’ll recidivate, or fail to appear at a pretrial hearing or commit a crime before that hearing.

Certain scores will correspond to low-, medium- or high-risk designations, and in the case of Risk and Need Assessment (RNA) tools, will also highlight what factors contribute to that risk as well. Scores are calculated by looking at multiple predictive factors—often concerning a person’s characteristic traits, socioeconomic situation, and criminal history—which researchers test to accurately predict recidivism or pretrial outcomes.

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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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