We use big data to sentence criminals. But can the algorithms really tell us what we need to know?


Today, judges across the U.S. use risk assessment tools like COMPAS in sentencing decisions. In at least 10 states, these tools are a formal part of the sentencing process. Elsewhere, judges informally refer to them for guidance. I have studied the legal and scientific bases for risk assessments. The more I investigate the tools, the more my caution about them grows. The scientific reality is that these risk assessment tools cannot do what advocates claim. The algorithms cannot actually make predictions about future risk for the individual defendants being sentenced.

(2017) The Conversation
Melissa Hamilton

Dr Melissa Hamilton is a member of the Hub and a Professor at the School of Law.