Profiling, Policing, and Punishing in an Actuarial Age
From random security checks at airports to the use of risk assessment in sentencing, actuarial methods are being used more than ever to determine whom law enforcement officials target and punish. And with the exception of racial profiling on our highways and streets, most people favor these methods because they believe they’re a more cost-effective way to fight crime.
In Against Prediction, Bernard E. Harcourt challenges this growing reliance on actuarial methods. These prediction tools, he demonstrates, may in fact increase the overall amount of crime in society, depending on the relative responsiveness of the profiled populations to heightened security. They may also aggravate the difficulties that minorities already have obtaining work, education, and a better quality of life—thus perpetuating the pattern of criminal behavior. Ultimately, Harcourt shows how the perceived success of actuarial methods has begun to distort our very conception of just punishment and to obscure alternate visions of social order. In place of the actuarial, he proposes instead a turn to randomization in punishment and policing. The presumption, Harcourt concludes, should be against prediction.
"Bernard Harcourt has never had an uninteresting thought, or made an argument that does not provoke or engage or delight or enlighten--or do all of those things simultaneously."
"This is a creative, provocative, well-researched argument against current practice in sentencing, parole discrimination, and investigative profiling. Harcourt makes the case that a century of social science-inspired thinking about punishment and profiling should be cast out in favor of randomness. It is a position that will be dismissed by many as politically impractical, if not absurd. But that is often the immediate fate of revolutionary ideas."
"In Against Prediction, Bernard Harcourt stresses that while the benefits of actuarial predictions have been widely touted, certain costs have been largely overlooked. Indeed, actuarial prediction can under some circumstances actually increase crime, and generate morally problematic social wounds on the profiled classes that might outweigh the benefits even if crime is reduced. Once again, Harcourt has challenged the conventional wisdom in criminal justice policy, and offered an indictment to the practice of actuarial prediction that policymakers, scholars and concerned citizens will have to fully consider."