Who will commit a crime in the future?

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Criminologists are starting to apply modern statistical methods to the study of recidivism:

It should come as no surprise that the best predictor of future crime has always been past crime, and that older people are less likely to reoffend than younger ones. But some of the tools do suggest an array of surprising insights: that people whose victims were women should be considered lower risk than those whose victims were men, for example. Other tools reflect research which says that, although prison therapists might not like to hear it, a criminal’s emotional health — whether he or she is depressed, anxious, or suffers from low self-esteem — does not help predict future behavior.

The key strength of such statistical methods seems to be that they take “expert” opinion out of the equation:

The consequences of getting such high-stakes decisions wrong can be devastating, as was made tragically plain last Christmas when police say a fellow officer from Woburn was shot and killed by 57-year-old Domenic Cinelli, a career criminal who had been paroled in 2008 while serving three concurrent life sentences for armed robbery.
Cinelli’s record on these points was almost cartoonishly alarming. He was a heroin user starting at the age of 15 and had committed multiple armed robberies by the time of his arrest in 1976. He also tried to escape from prison, not once but twice, robbing a jewelry store and shooting a security guard the first time and stealing a gun from a sheriff the second. According to the state’s review of the case, COMPAS, the tool now used by the Massachusetts parole board, would have assigned him a risk level of nine out of ten.


  1. Borepatch says:

    Well, the Massachusetts parole system is a bad joke, but that’s because of the appointed hacks running the system, not this tool.

    You’re right about the data, although we have to keep in mind that if you torture the data long enough, with the right statistical tricks, it will confess to anything.

  2. Red says:

    Progressives are always telling us we need to take right X (guns, drugs, booze, etc.) from normal law-abiding people because of crime. It’s however very clear that banning criminals would reduce crime to almost nothing. They never seem interested in taking away all rights from a criminal and never letting them out again.

  3. Bruce G Charlton says:

    This is an excellent example of the operations of political correctness. The thought process is that although someones past history of behaviour is a highly reliable guide to their future behaviour, to act on this basis is to be prejudiced against that person, and prejudice is evil since that person might have changed. “Therefore” the ethical person ought to avoid judging a person on their past behavior. Therefore experience is not (should not be) a guide to decision making.

    Because experience is sometimes wrong — and leads to prejudice — experience is evil. We should evaluate each person without bias, and disregarding experience.

    The truly virtuous person therefore treats everybody as equal — because to do otherwise is to be prejudiced against some people, or to open that possibilty.

    Since prejudice is the worst of all sins, then no real world outcome can affect this policy.

    After all, real world outcomes are just another kind of experience, and experience may be misleading.

    Since evil people can reform, any specific evil person might have reformed, therefore we ought to treat everybody (evil or good) as if they had reformed.

    Because to do otherwise would be to encourage prejudice; and that is the worst thing.

    In other words this is a PC moral inversion. Humans cannot be neutral, and if people unilaterally seek to avoid prejudice at any cost as their highest morality, they will unilaterally favour those whom prejudice would naturally disadvantage: such as serial killers or rapists.

    Or, at least, they will strive to do this, and will strive to overcome their own natural fears and scruples — which is of course much easier to do if you yourself are not taking the consequences for your decision. In a mass society the bad consequences of reverse-prejudice will almost certainly fall on somebody else: whereas freeing an habitual criminal in a small village would mean a high probability of suffering the consequences personally.

    In other words, this is a form of moral parasitism — getting the self-esteem of indulging one’s own reverse prejudices but having the costs borne by others, unknown others.

  4. Isegoria says:

    Indeed. I might go so far as to say that punishing the innocent — for self-defense — and not punishing the guilty — for unambiguous crimes — is the canonical example of progressive moral inversion.

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