Target: Attorney General of Wisconsin, Brad Schimel
Goal: Stop the State of Wisconsin from using an unfair algorithm to determine defendant’s fates.
The State of Wisconsin uses an algorithm to decide if defendants are high risk. This math is then used to determine bail, sentencing, and parole. In theory, this algorithm is supposed to make sentencing decisions less subjective by eliminating bias or racism from the process, but in reality it creates inequality in the justice system. If the justice system is to be equal then people should not receive different punishments depending on their history.
This system is called Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions or COMPAS. The company that created COMPAS does not share information about how the score is created from the questions, claiming that it is a trade secret. Not knowing how the score was determined makes contesting the score nearly impossible.
The Wisconsin State Supreme Court ruled that using these scores does not violate defendants’ rights, but warned that COMPAS may give ethnic-minority offenders disproportionately high-risk scores. An investigation done by ProPublica found that the algorithm gave black people a 45 percent higher risk rating than whites with the same background. According to the company, the accusation that the score results are race-based, is false.
The problem might be with the questions that the defendants are asked in order to determine the scores. The questions don’t take into account the fact that black people are incarcerated more than whites. If the question, “Were your parents in prison?” is asked, black people would be statistically considered to be more at risk because they are more likely to have had a parent in prison. This system of determining sentencing further supports the racial bias that already exists in the justice system.
Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate of black males in the nation. This method of sentencing might be helping to create unequal incarceration rates. Tension between police and black communities is at an all-time high; If we want to repair the rift between these communities then we need to rebuild trust by making the system fair. Sign this petition to help ensure that our justice system treats everyone equally.
Dear Attorney General Schimel,
The use of algorithms, like COMPAS, to determine sentencing, bail, and parole for defendants is an unfair process that determines life-altering decisions. This system should be abolished. It is wrong to use a person’s history to label them at-risk. Each offense should be punished according to the offense and not according to the person’s history.
This algorithm can perpetuate racial inequality in the justice system. Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate of black males in the nation. The questions used to determine the score are often going to place black people at a higher risk than whites. Statistically, black people are incarcerated more often than whites, so questions like, “Were one of your parents incarcerated?” creates racial inequality by giving them higher scores.
There is no transparency about how the algorithm is applied, which makes it impossible for defendants to understand or defend their scores. The company cannot be held accountable for problems with its scoring because the test is protected under copyright law.
When it comes to something as important as determining the freedom of an individual, as a society we have the obligation to do everything to ensure that the process is fair. You can help to restore trust between citizens and the justice system by making sure that the system is fair by ending the use of the COMPAS system.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: Victor