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Innocent Until Predicted Guilty 430

theodp writes "Gizmodo has an angry piece on IBM helping Florida to predict how delinquent your child's going to be. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has decided to start using IBM predictive analytics software to help them determine which of the 85,000 kids who enter their system each year poses the biggest future threat. From IBM's sales pitch: 'Predictive analytics gives government organizations worldwide a highly-sophisticated and intelligent source to create safer communities by identifying, predicting, responding to and preventing criminal activities. It gives the criminal justice system the ability to draw upon the wealth of data available to detect patterns, make reliable projections and then take the appropriate action in real time to combat crime and protect citizens.'"
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Innocent Until Predicted Guilty

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  • by VShael ( 62735 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @09:55AM (#31871178) Journal

    Florida is insane, in the same way that senile demented octogenarians are insane. They never think past tomorrow, because they don't know if they're going to live until tomorrow. All that matters is today, the pudding, and Matlock.

  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @09:59AM (#31871240)
    Uh, this is more like using actuary tables to predict your likelyhood of having an accident and adjusting your rates based on that statistic model. It can probably be used to sort kids into things like soft first time offenders programs, bootcamps, or juvenile detention.
  • Re:Thoughtcrime (Score:5, Informative)

    by res1216 ( 1785928 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:17AM (#31871484)
    Of course, if you'd bothered to read TFA (and were able to ignore the author's histrionics), you'd realize that the idea is to use this technology to differentially sentence offenders based on the likelihood of recidivism. That is, juveniles who have already committed a crime.
  • SPSS since 1968!!! (Score:3, Informative)

    by thijsh ( 910751 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:19AM (#31871524) Journal
    This isn't news. SPSS already exists since 1968, and is now on version 18 of the software. IBM just bought the program in 2009. For those who never heard of the program: it's a souped up Excel with advanced statistics and datamining. Here at my work (public health department in Amsterdam) they use it a lot for scientific studies of health, surveys etc. In fact the use of SPSS in the field of research is so widespread for many years already it's strange they only replaced Excel with it now...

    I'd guess Slashdot geeks would really like it since you can program some nice stuff in a pseudo SQL script language (I don't know the name of it), but if you've ever seen it you'll know that SYSMIS sorta means NULL.
  • by bws111 ( 1216812 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:35AM (#31871746)
    There is nothing about this that is 'pre-crime' or would have 'false positives'. This is about how to determine what to with people who have already entered the juvenile justice system (ie. post-crime), to try to rehab them. So, the question is, can analysis of risk factors for recidivism actual prevent recidivism? I don't know, but it seems silly to just dismiss it out of hand.
  • by Protoslo ( 752870 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:39AM (#31871796)
    Gizmodo breathlessly proclaims,

    "There are no naked pre-cogs inside glowing jacuzzis yet, but the Florida State Department of Juvenile Justice will use analysis software to predict crime by young delinquents, putting potential offenders under specific prevention and education programs. Goodbye, human rights!"

    Now, consider IBM's press release [], which seems to be the only news available on this subject, and is certainly the unlinked source of Gizmodo's fit. Previously, Florida State officials were using Excel macros to sort convicted juvenile offenders into different programs, and now they will use IBM's software to do it. Whether Florida's juvenile prosecutions or unjust or not, whether their programs are effective or not, has no bearing on IBM's part in this.

    IBM has sold Florida some statistical analysis software, which they will (apparently) use to stick heavy offenders into more punitive detention programs, saving the spaces in more rehabilitative programs for newer offenders. You may think that that policy is ill-advised as well--but it is perfectly legal. At least the sorting will be (hopefully) less capricious than it was before. IBM is certainly not enabling Florida to enforce "pre-crimes" or anything of the sort. This is not even affecting the judicial sentences. Everyone being analyzed here has already been found guilty by a court.

    Prior to predictive analytics, the organization used Excel for basic analysis on projections for the number of delinquency cases they would take in, which had limited functionality. They selected IBM SPSS predictive analytics due to the ease of use and the advanced analytic capabilities.

    The organization will now utilize the new predictive analytics system as a component in many of the performance measurement analyses conducted and distributed to agency staff throughout the year. These reports assess the future of delinquency cases to evaluate what juvenile crime trends may look like in the immediate future. This information will help the organization to better plan and project staffing and other resource needs.

    IBM recently also announced that the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom uses predictive analytics to assess the likelihood of prisoners reoffending upon their release to help improve public safety. With predictive technology from IBM, the Ministry of Justice is analyzing hidden trends and patterns within the data. IBM SPSS predictive analytics has helped identify whether offenders with specific problems such as drug and alcohol misuse are more likely to reoffend than other prisoners.

    It sounds like the Ministry of Justice might have something a bit more Orwellian (notice "public safety") in mind, but that will be a story for another day. Now take a deep breath, and control yourselves next time Kdawson posts a link to an inflammatory and ill-informed opinion piece. A worthier title for this event might have been "IBM enables Florida Juvenile Detention System to Become Slightly Less Cruel and Arbitrary."

  • Re:Just hope... (Score:3, Informative)

    by decoy256 ( 1335427 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @11:25AM (#31872436)

    Except most juvenile cases are decided before a judge, not a jury.

    In addition, IAAL and I've done plenty of Juvenile defense cases and I can tell you that some of these kids need extra help as early as possible. Far too often, the reason a kid stays in a life of crime into adulthood is because the juvenile justice system is ill-equipped and has their hands tied in how to properly deal with these cases.

    I see this as a potentially positive thing... and this is coming from a juvenile defense attorney.

  • by nyquil superstar ( 249173 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @11:39AM (#31872624)
    Okay, I was *really* hoping that this would get crosslinked, because I'm an avid reader of Gizmodo as well as Slashdot. I also never comment in the wasteland that is the Gizmodo comment section. I also happen to have worked in Juvenile Justice for about 12 years, and (disclaimer) currently work for a major player in the exact "analytic" space that the article describes.

    Let me get this off my chest first: Jesus Diaz (the Gizmodo writer) is an idiot of the most supreme caliber. His MO on the Gizmodo is to write ill-researched inflammatory articles. Over time I have figured that these must be written solely to stir up internet frenzy and increase page views. More power to him, but it automatically disadvantages his opinions for me.

    Now that the ad-hominem is out of the way, let me get to the meat of it. The conclusions here are 100% wrong. What we do is provide Juvenile Justice departments (which is almost always Juvenile Probation) with tools, in the form of academically validated models, that help them determine which kids are at highest risk to re-offend. We're also able to determine, with a high degree of accuracy (thank you academia!) what the kids biggest needs areas are.

    So how does all of this information actually get used? It turns out that it's used in amazingly great ways. It helps keep children placed in their own homes, not in residential treatment, juvenile hall, or the state's Youth Authority. We've had jurisdictions report out-of-home placements drop by 50% after implementing our tools. It also means that a Probation Officer can focus on kids that are at a high risk to re-offend, and have minimal contact with kids that are at a low risk to re-offend. As it turns out, the PHds that come up with these tools are able to determine that having lots of contact with the criminal justice system is bad for kids that are low risk - so it really helps to know the kids that minimal intervention is the best path for. Another benefit of this sort of classification scheme (which works just as well for adults) is that the officers (who are time constrained) are able to spend more time with their higher risk kids because they aren't spending as much time with their low risk kids. This probably seems obvious to most readers, but I'm surprised by the number of commenters that don't get that last point.

    My final point is that these kids are already getting put into treatment programs, like anger management, or drug counseling, or teenage parent classes. That happens regardless of whether or not a jurisdiction uses software like ours. What this type of analytic software does is help take away the "gut instinct" part of program placement and give the officer a little more guidance into what programs will be most effective. If you can only send a kid to one program, why make it an anger management class when, after an assessment, you are able to determine that it's actually his drug use and poor school attendance that are his biggest risk factors?

    So in the end, this isn't about pre-crime, or thought-crime, or any sort of Orwellian conspiracy. It is, quite literally, about helping place minors (and adults) that have already committed crimes against people or their community, into programs that have the statistically best chance of helping them not commit another crime. The best part is, the followup data from jurisdictions using this type of software suggests that it works, with fewer placements and less recidivism.

    Oh, and Jesus Diaz is a idiot (man that feels good.)

  • Re:Just hope... (Score:5, Informative)

    by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @12:01PM (#31872870)

    If you raise them correctly, it isn't an issue.

    Well, that's a chicken/egg deal, isn't it? Since you can't seem to imagine how uncertainty could exist in parenting, I'll assume you're not a parent. Personally I wonder if I'm too hard, too soft, too indifferent, too strict, too inconsistent. All parents would. There's not a play-book for everything an intelligent kid will throw at you, so a lot of time you're running no-huddle. Sometimes you screw up, and you roll with it and move on. Just like anything else, really.

    That said, I'm not so consumed with hubris to believe that I, personally as their father, am the only influence on their lives. It could well be that I need to do something specific to counteract an influence that I'm not aware of, or that I trust isn't having a negative impact. I don't follow them to school, but I do talk to them after. But that only tells me what they think I want to hear, because they're humans.

    Knowing if a computer thinks one or both of your kids may be prone to certain behavior should not affect how you raise your children.

    Why exclude points of data? Again, you only have what you can take in through your own eyes and ears to work with. It isn't as if you get a report daily of all the things your kid doesn't want you to know about.

    For example, my oldest son may or may not be walking laps around the playground by himself at this very moment, or helping the playground teachers enforce the rules on the other kids. We've discussed how important it is to not ostracize his friends, and I think he really does get it that now isn't the time to worry about being a teacher's aide. I'm encouraging him to have fun with his peers while he still can. In a few short years those carefree times on the playground will be gone.

    Two questions:

    1) What are my opportunities here? Or better put, how should I have predicted it and how can I correct it?

    2) How do I know if he is taking my advice, or simply ignoring it? I'm at work, and can't directly supervise him daily. In the end, I'll have to take his word for it. Except he is just a kid. He doesn't really have the life experience necessary to identify what he is losing out on here.

    There aren't really any clear answers in situations like this. If I push him too hard, he'll not want to be honest with me. If I ignore it, he'll probably make it into a fine mess for himself. He may come back in later years with a 'you were right, dad' but I don't want that. I want him to take advantage of every resource, as any father would for a kid he loves.

    This is just one tiny facet with only one of my sons.

    Parenting isn't easy, and it isn't innate. Criticize if you want to, because that's a chique thing to do on Slashdot, but I'm certain that I'm doing the best I can do, and it will never be good enough for my sons. You're going to have a tough time topping that much criticism. However, I'm also confident that neither you nor anyone else would do much better. It just isn't as easy as it looks on TV.

    Raising a child right is raising a child right no matter what label IBM slaps on them.

    Again, by what metric?

    Which brings me back to...

    You said "I'd either work like hell to change them or spy on them be the first to rat them out."

    Bad parenting! You should never be concerned with "spying on and ratting out" your children

    If I was made aware of a risk that I hadn't had the opportunity to intervene over, I'd do so in short order. If that didn't work, I'd try another method, or try harder. If THAT didn't work, I'd get help. If THAT ALSO doesn't work, I'll turn them over to the authorities myself.

    It goes to control. If they are a risk to others, I'll use my resources against that risk. Police are amongst those. I just don't see where the gap lies here. Please clarify your sources, and share your insights.

  • Re:Jeeze (Score:2, Informative)

    by tpg0007 ( 1376925 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @02:01PM (#31874528)
    Well they had a prior history... [] Based on their prediction system the likelihood of IBM collaborating with Nazis again is not negligible.
  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @02:50PM (#31875224) Journal

    Let's see. His treatment of prisoners has been ruled unconstitutional on multiple [] occasions []. He has raided [] an office of his own county without a warrant of any kind in order to seize emails that are to be used against him in court. His destruction of records has netted him a contempt [] sanction, and the FBI is investigating him for civil rights violations, intimidation of witnesses, etc.

    These aren't idle accusations. They're at least serious enough to get the justice department involved. Even judges [] aren't immune from this mans corruption.

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