Thursday, April 15, 2010

Computers will predict juveniles' future crimes ... what could possibly go wrong?

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has just bought state-of-the-art IBM software that they hope will help them identify juvenile criminals who are likely to commit future crimes.

This software will crunch the kids' criminal history, home life, drug habits, gang ties and peer associations -- and more -- in a scientific attempt to predict which juveniles are more likely to be future problems. The idea is that the hard cases can be separated from the rest and given more intensive rehabilitation. Florida officials stress the software will be just one way they try to zero-in on the most dangerous young offenders and tailor rehab and punishment more suitably to all the 95,000 young criminals they get every year.

"Predictive analytics gives government organizations worldwide a highly-sophisticated and intelligent source to create safer communities by identifying, predicting, responding to and preventing criminal activities," said Deepak Advani, a predictive analytics expert at IBM. "It gives the criminal justice system the ability to draw upon the wealth of data available to detect patterns, make reliable projections and then take the appropriate action in real time to combat crime and protect citizens."

Similar systems are already in use in the United Kingdom with adult prisoners. No data on the effectiveness is yet available.

Although it sounds a lot like the plot for "Hal 9000 Gets a Job as a Profiler," it will be hard to argue with this high-tech crystal-balling if it can be shown to reduce juvenile crime and recidivism. I mean, all we had before was Father Flanagan's intuitions. Questions remain (in my mind, anyway) about what kind of a computer-concocted, digitized, and possibly errant "permanent record"might follow these young offenders around for the rest of their lives, even if they never offend again. I also wonder about the unproven effectiveness of these robotic analysts to really see into a human heart. Thoughts from you expert crime-watchers?

Bestselling true-crime author Ron Franscell's haunting study of 10 mass-murder survivors, DELIVERED FROM EVIL, will be released in January 2011.

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