The state of Pennsylvania is considering using a new computer program that will give criminals harsher sentences for crimes they may commit. This program, which is designed to predict future criminality, takes race into account when deciding how much of a risk a criminal is and its results will be used to determine a judge’s sentence.
The program is call a Risk Assessment Tool, or RAT.
Veteran trial lawyer Troy H. Wilson explained the program, saying it “is a statistical model designed to basically ‘predict’ whether or not a person from a group of similarly situated persons will commit a crime in the future. If this model forecasts that the person has a high likelihood of committing a crime sometime in the future, that person will be placed in the ‘high risk’ category and therefore will receive a much harsher sentence for his/her present crime.”
Keir Grey of the Defender Association described it as an algorithm “to identify patterns of behavior based on certain characteristics … [that] would label people ‘low,’ ‘medium’ and ‘high risk.” Grey added the program is far from perfect, and currently has “an error rate of 30 to 40 percent.”
Grey also said the program takes race into account when deciding how much of a risk a criminal is.
According to the Defender Association, the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission has said in the program
“individuals who are black will be predicted to recidivate 11 percent more than whites with the same history and charges.”
This suggests RAT would dole out harsher sentences to black people than it would white people.
Wilson isn’t here for it, and has referred to RAT as “a racist version of the 2002 Minority Report science fiction film starring Tom Cruise.”
The Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission has yet to implement the tool, and will hold a public hearing about its adoption on June 6. Pennsylvania residents who have signed up to testify ahead of time by calling 814-863-5729 will be allowed to share their opinions on RAT.
Based on these public testimonies and its own calculus, the commission will decide whether to implement RAT or not.