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Public Law & Legal Theory


Actuarial methods—i.e. the use of statistical rather than clinical methods on large datasets of criminal offending rates to determine different levels of offending associated with one or more group traits, in order to (1) predict past, present or future criminal behavior and (2) administer a criminal justice outcome—now permeate the criminal law and its enforcement. With the single exception of racial profiling against African- Americans and Hispanics, most people view the turn to the actuarial as efficient, rational, and wealth-maximizing. The fact is, law enforcement agencies can detect more crime with the same resources if they investigate citizens who are at greater risk of criminal offending; and sentencing bodies can reduce crime if they incapacitate citizens who are more likely to recidivate in the future. Most people believe that the use of reliable actuarial methods in criminal justice represents progress. No one, naturally, is in favor of incorrect stereotypes and erroneous predictions; but, to most people, it makes sense to decide who to search based on reliable predictions of criminal behavior, or to impose punishment based on reliable estimates of reoffending.



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