Thursday, May 26, 2016

They've got your number ...

or if not, they want to give you one. At Mother Jones there's a terrific Pro Publica report on a ranking system widely used in jails and courts to predict which persons hauled in by law enforcement are likely to re-offend. It will surprise no one who has been paying attention that these "risk assessments" seem to routinely finger Black people as more potentially dangerous than other people.

The practice is becoming ever more common.

Rating a defendant's risk of future crime is often done in conjunction with an evaluation of a defendant's rehabilitation needs. The Justice Department's National Institute of Corrections now encourages the use of such combined assessments at every stage of the criminal justice process. And a landmark sentencing reform bill currently pending in Congress would mandate the use of such assessments in federal prisons.

A company called Northpointe peddles its scoring tool to many jurisdictions. It's rankings seem to routinely rank Blacks as a potential danger to the community.

Northpointe's software is among the most widely used assessment tools in the country. The company does not publicly disclose the calculations used to arrive at defendants' risk scores, so it is not possible for either defendants or the public to see what might be driving the disparity. ...

Northpointe's core product is a set of scores derived from 137 questions that are either answered by defendants or pulled from criminal records. Race is not one of the questions. The survey asks defendants such things as: "Was one of your parents ever sent to jail or prison?" "How many of your friends/acquaintances are taking drugs illegally?" and "How often did you get in fights while at school?" The questionnaire also asks people to agree or disagree with statements such as "A hungry person has a right to steal" and "If people make me angry or lose my temper, I can be dangerous."

It seems pretty obvious what is going in this scoring: a person receives a lower risk number to the extent that he/she provides answers that approximate those of a white middle class suburbanite. This risk assessment testing follows the pattern set by "intelligence testing" -- IQ measurements. As I've explored previously, IQ tests were developed to prove that Southern and Eastern European immigrants were inferior to northern European whites. Later they shored up racial assumptions:

Robert Yerkes, a president of the American Psychological Association, got a chance to test the I.Q. of soldiers drafted for World War I and labelled "89% of negroes" as "feeble-minded." The content of his tests, which essentially measured familiarity with the mores and artifacts of upper middle class U.S. culture in his era, have been described acidly as a "kind of early 20th century Trivial Pursuit."

Nowadays, we're locking people up on the basis of this commercialized pseudoscience.

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