Professor Bernard Harcourt is a man of many talents. What you may not know is that one of those talents is fluency in French. He recently appeared on a Radio France program called Le Bien Commun, an hour long program which is the leading in-depth talk-show on law and culture in France. The program Professor Harcourt appeared on was titled "La Justice Actuarielle" (or "Actuarial Justice"). The other participant was Gilles Chantraine, who is a sociologist and CNRS member at the CESDIP (Centre de Recherches Sociologiques sur le Droit et les Institutions Pénales). They discussed Professor Harcourt's forthcoming book, Against Prediction: Profiling, Punishing, and Policing in an Actuarial Age. The book and radio program focused on the use of actuarial methods in the field of crime and punishment. Actuarial methods refer to the use of statistical methods on large data sets of offenders to predict future dangerousness and to administer individual criminal justice outcomes. Such methods increasingly permeate the crime and punishment area--from parole decision-making and sentencing of sex offenders and other convicts, to prison classification and police profiling. While a handful of academics decry the rise of the actuarial in criminal justice, many citizens and policy makers today have embraced the trend. To many, it simply makes common sense to base the length of a criminal sentence on the likelihood of future recidivism or to identify which tax filers to audit on the basis of their likelihood of cheating. Professor Harcourt is a critic of the trend and offers, in the book and radio program, three specific critiques of the actuarial turn.
The radio program can be listened to (in French) here. Professor Harcourt's research and forthcoming book on the topic is summarized here. If that's not enough links for you, podcast instructions are here. If you would like to know more about the program Professor Harcourt appeared on and a related conference, information is below the fold.
Le Bien Commun explores issues at the intersection of law and society in France and across the globe. It is hosted by Antoine Garapon, a French judge and the director of the Institut des Hautes Etudes sur la Justice, a prominent think tank on French justice issues. Garapon is also a contributing editor to the French review, Esprit, and author of several books including Juger en Amerique et en France. More information about the program is available here. The radio show coincided with a conference organized by the Paris Center of the University of Chicago and the France Chicago Center on Les Méthodes Actuarielles dans le Domaine Pénal The conference web site is here. The conference explored the new tendencies toward the actuarial both in the United States as well as in Europe and Canada.