Proponents of criminogenic risk assessment and algorithmic prediction for criminal recidivism have called for its widespread expansion throughout the criminal justice system, including for setting bail, pre-trial detention decisions, sentencing, and even policing. Its success in predicting recidivism is taken as evidence that criminogenic risks tap into the causes of criminal behavior even for first offenses, and that targeting these factors can reduce correctional supervision rates and even prevent crime. However, recent work by Seth Prins suggests that these algorithms for predicting recidivism after release from incarceration cannot be applied wholesale across the various decision points in the criminal justice system. His findings suggest that current risk assessments for recidivism cannot fully distinguish between individuals’ propensities for committing crime and the fact that they have already been criminalized by a runaway criminal justice system. In the era of mass incarceration, the idea that risk factors for staying trapped in the criminal justice system are the same as the risk factors for initial exposure to the system ignores all the social, economic, and policy-related factors that have nothing to do with individual characteristics. He argues that we need to focus on what puts people at risk of criminogenic risk, and one of those things, arguably, is current criminal justice policy.
In related news, Seth and his colleague Brett Story also did an interview with WBAI on how many of the policies and programs proposed in the Green New Deal can also put us on the path to decarceration and healthequity.