Precognition software used to predict which prisoners will murder

Minority Report style systems might seem creepy, but they're no more flawed than human parole officers

Topics: precognition, Murder, Prison System, criminal, minority report, ,

Precognition software used to predict which prisoners will murder (Credit: Joe Belanger/Shutterstock)

When a prisoner goes on parole, a parole officer determines the level of supervision the individual requires based on the perceived likelihood of his committing a crime again. In a number of states, these determinations are being increasingly taken out of the flesh and blood hands of parole officers, settled instead by algorithms.

Precognition software, already in use in Baltimore and Philadelphia, determines how likely a prisoner is to commit murder and thus how much parole supervision he should receive. Wired explains how the algorithm works:

To create the software, researchers assembled a dataset of more than 60,000 crimes, including homicides, then wrote an algorithm to find the people behind the crimes who were more likely to commit murder when paroled or put on probation. Berk claims the software could identify eight future murderers out of 100.

The software parses about two dozen variables, including criminal record and geographic location. The type of crime and the age at which it was committed, however, turned out to be two of the most predictive variables.

Of course, the software produces false positives and will thus condemn a number of parolees with no likelihood of committing murder to heavy supervision. This sort of Minority Report-reminiscent precognition system rightly raises concerns about criminal profiling based on all too few variables. Shawn Bushway, a professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Albany, noted the software could result in “punishing people who, most likely, will not commit a crime in the future.”

You Might Also Like

However, in this instance directing concerns at the technology itself is misplaced. This would assume that parole officers don’t also base their decisions on which parolees remain “criminal risks” on limited, flawed and highly problematic variables, and also punish people accordingly. As the software’s creator told Wired, the algorithms simply replace the ad hoc decision making done by parole officers. As long as parole boards employing the software don’t view it as some perfect predictor of criminal futures, the precognition technology is no more troubling than the vagaries of human decision making in our prison systems.

Natasha Lennard
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 8
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Sonic's Bacon Double Cheddar Croissant Dog

    Sonic calls this a "gourmet twist" on a classic. I am not so, so fancy, but I know that sprinkling bacon and cheddar cheese onto a tube of pork is not gourmet, even if you have made a bun out of something that is theoretically French.

    Krispy Kreme

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Krispy Kreme's Doughnut Dog

    This stupid thing is a hotdog in a glazed doughnut bun, topped with bacon and raspberry jelly. It is only available at Delaware's Frawley Stadium, thank god.


    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    KFC's Double Down Dog

    This creation is notable for its fried chicken bun and ability to hastily kill your dreams.

    Pizza Hut

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Pizza Hut's Hot Dog Bites Pizza

    Pizza Hut basically just glued pigs-in-blankets to the crust of its normal pizza. This actually sounds good, and I blame America for brainwashing me into feeling that.

    Carl's Jr.

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Carl's Jr. Most American Thick Burger

    This is a burger stuffed with potato chips and hot dogs. Choose a meat, America! How hard is it to just choose a meat?!

    Tokyo Dog

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Tokyo Dog's Juuni Ban

    A food truck in Seattle called Tokyo Dog created this thing, which is notable for its distinction as the Guinness Book of World Records' most expensive hot dog at $169. It is a smoked cheese bratwurst, covered in butter Teriyaki grilled onions, Maitake mushrooms, Wagyu beef, foie gras, black truffles, caviar and Japanese mayo in a brioche bun. Just calm down, Tokyo Dog. Calm down.


    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Limp Bizkit's "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water"

    This album art should be illegal.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>