Use of Computer Algorithms in Courts

4 years ago in the state of Wyoming, a young man was arrested by the state police for what they described as using a vehicle that had been used in a recent shooting. The man went by the name Eric Loomis. He didn’t object to the fact that he tried to avoid arrest. At the same time, he didn’t object to driving a car without the permission of the owner. On a normal day, he would be hit with a minor fine as few people had been jailed for such crimes. Nonetheless, the judge had other ideas. He cited that his behavior posed a high risk of what he referred to as recidivism. It was further revealed that the decision to sentence him was generated by a computer program known as COMPAS. This is a risk assessment algorithm that has been in use in the state of Wyoming for quite a while now. While the judge refused to offer the man probation, he ordered the man to serve six years in prison and another five years in extended supervision. In total, the man was jailed for 11 years. At the moment, no particular person knows how the COMPAS algorithm works. In fact, the manufacturer of the program has refused to disclose the proprietary on a number of occasions despite pleas from the affected.

Later on, when Mr. Loomis challenged the sentencing, the Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out his case. He had challenged the use of the algorithm in his sentencing as it interfered with his right of being sentenced individually. This meant that other considerations were put in place such as his gender. Three months ago, the United States Supreme Court said that it would not hear the case. However, the use of the algorithm will have far-reaching consequences. The question that many people still ask themselves is why these judges are relying on a computer program which, as far as people understand, these judges don’t even know how it works. This results to a bias system where the judges have the higher hand in taking advantage of the unchecked power which involves looking into issues that are not related to the case. This makes the case look serious than it is. Some states such as Colorado argue that having a computer system I place will result in judgments that are not biased. However, some experts in law argue that while it might seem like the computers do away with bias, they compound and delegate it further.

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