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New software to determine parole

Many remember the very successful Tom Cruise film "Minority Report" for its dazzling visuals and compelling action. However, the central concept of an automated computer predicting a suspect's crime before it is committed stuck with many as an unsettling, potentially dangerous development in the handling of criminal justice.

However, Hollywood's future may be our present. Already being utilized in Maryland and Pennsylvania, soon to be installed in Washington, D.C., and quite possibly headed for Connecticut as well, new crime predictive software is being used by police and justice authorities to determine the likelihood of a convict's repeating an offense.

Relying on an algorithm whose dataset includes more than 60,000 crimes, the program examines parameters including geography, age, and past criminal record to predict with a real degree of accuracy the statistical probability a repeat offense from a convict who is up for parole and release from prison.

The software has replaced human judgment in some Philadelphia and Baltimore jurisdictions, and was developed by a University of Pennsylvania criminologist who claims the program is specifically geared toward the reduction of murder and homicide rates.

While the program's popularity is rising amongst court and prison officials, some advocates of inmates' rights have taken issue with it as a matter of principle. The software's statistical evaluation of those who have been convicted of a crime may overlook important progress in personal development after the fulfillment of a sentence, and the danger of a false positive prediction could keep a reformed, goodly person from rejoining free society.

The criminal justice system, from police patrols to court paroles, is becoming more and more computerized every year. However, the lessening of human insight and involvement in the process may not always be a good thing, and those who have been charged with or convicted of a crime deserve to have their rights honored. With the help of a criminal defense attorney, a fair and just treatment can be safeguarded.

Source: Wired, "U.S. Cities Relying on Precog Software to Predict Murder," Kim Zetter, Jan. 10, 2013

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