One of the hallmarks of the US legal system is that the defendant has key rights. He’s innocent until proven guilty, he has the right to as speedy a trial process as possible, and he has the right to face his accuser in court, among other things. He also has the right to know what evidence the prosecutor is bringing against him, or at least he used to have that right until a piece of proprietary software was allowed to successfully be used to determine sentencing.
To be clear, the use of a program called COMPAS not set up to determine guilt or innocence. The Northpointe product does, however, spit out its prediction about how likely you are to commit another crime based on multiple factors, including gender, previous arrests, socioeconomic indicators, geographic address, friendships with other “pro-criminal behavior” individuals, and more.
A lot of states have metrics they can fall back on to help determine your likelihood of committing another crime; the flip side of that kind of metric means they can also be used to figure out that you’re not a high risk, and therefore give you a lower sentence. The major difference is the metrics used in other states are transparent, and can therefore be challenged in court if they are unconstitutional, such as deciding your fate strictly based on your ethnicity.
COMPAS scores, however, are created based on “secret algorithms” that the company refuses to disclose. While it’s safe to assume there’s complicated “computing things” happening, there is literally no legal proof whatsoever that anything other than throwing a dart at a score chart is involved, leaving the door wide open for prejudicial scoring. One case is already under appeal, as the state relies on COMPAS to tell it if a criminal is a high-risk of committing further crimes in the future; guilty parties are literally being given longer jail sentences based on what a secret computer thinks they might do “someday.”
There have already been some independent reviews of COMPAS, and the results were not positive. This case is currently being sent to the state’s highest court for appeal.
H/t reader kevin a.
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