Parolees are ranked by computer system

    Philadelphia parolees are serving as guinea pigs for a new crime-fighting system.

    Philadelphia parolees are serving as guinea pigs for a new crime-fighting system. Earlier this year the city’s Adult Probation and Parole Department started using a computer to identify parolees as high, medium, or low risk and provide an appropriate level of supervision.

    Listen:
    [audio: 090708lfparole.mp3]

    It can be difficult for the human mind to weigh the dozens of details in a parolees’ file. University of Pennsylvania criminology and statistics professor Richard Berk did the research for the computer program, and wrote the code. He says unlike people, the computer can take into account 30 or 40 factors including a parolees’ gender, age, prior arrests for certain crimes, and neighborhood.

    Berk says the system’s assessment is limited to information in the file, but later on, the findings can be fine-tuned.

    Berk: The probation or parole officer should gather additional information, should talk to the individual, should talk to the family, should determine what the person’s job prospects are and things of that sort.

    Berk says the computer system’s assessment is just a starting point, and he’s sensitive to possible civil liberties and ethical concerns.

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