When Algorithms Take the Stand

The Atlantic
Megan Garber

In February of 2013, Eric Loomis was found driving a car that had been used in a shooting. He was arrested; he pleaded guilty to eluding an officer and no contest to operating a vehicle without its owner’s consent. The judge in Loomis’s case gave him a six-year prison sentence for those offenses – a length determined in part not just by Loomis’s criminal record, but also by his score on the COMPAS scale, an algorithmically determined assessment that aims, and claims, to predict an individual’s risk of recidivism. Law enforcement in Wisconsin, where Loomis lived at the time of his arrest, rely on COMPAS and algorithms like it to augment human intuition and analysis with, they claim, a more objective approach to justice. Loomis’s score suggested that he had a high risk of committing another crime; thus, his six-year sentence.


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