Kentucky lawmakers thought requiring that judges consult an
algorithm when deciding whether to hold a defendant in jail before
trial would make the state’s justice system cheaper and fairer by
setting more people free. That’s not how it turned out.
Before the 2011 law took effect, there was little difference
between the proportion of black and white defendants granted
release to await trial at home without cash bail. After being
mandated to consider a score predicting the risk a person would
reoffend or skip court, the state’s judges began offering no-bail
release to white defendants much more often than to blacks. The
proportion of black defendants granted release without bail
increased only slightly, to a little over 25 percent. The rate for
whites jumped to more than 35 percent. Kentucky has changed its
algorithm twice since 2011, but available data shows the gap
remained roughly constant through early 2016.
The Kentucky experience, detailed in a study
published earlier this year, is timely. Many states and
counties now calculate “risk scores” for criminal defendants
that estimate the chance a person will reoffend before trial or
skip court; some use similar tools in sentencing. They are supposed
to help judges make fairer decisions and cut the number of people
in jail or prison, sometimes as part of eliminating cash bail.
Since 2017, Kentucky has released some defendants scored as
low-risk based purely on an algorithm’s say-so, without a judge
Source: FS – All – Science – News
Algorithms should have made courts more fair. What went wrong?