On Thursday, November 16, Professor Bernard Harcourt gave a talk in the Chicago's Best Ideas series entitled "Against Prediction: Punishing in an Actuarial Age." He has a new book out with a similar title (Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing and Punishing in an Actuarial Age) and presented part of this material to the students. The talk was a very interesting look at law enforcement profiling and whether it works. Professor Harcourt approached this empirically, disussing whether it works on a practical level, injecting a new element in a debate that is traditionally about morals and ethics.
You can listen to the talk here, and view the Power Point slides used in the presentation here. Download harcourt_against_prediction_powerpoint.ppt (The PPT slides will be very helpful in following along, as several charts and graphs are referred to.) The description used for the publicity is below the jump.
From routine security checks at airports to the use of risk assessment in sentencing, actuarial methods are being used more than ever to determine who law enforcement officials target and punish. And with the exception of racial profiling on our highways and streets, most people favor these methods because they believe they’re a more cost-effective way to fight crime. Most, but not all. In this Chicago's Best Ideas, Professor Harcourt challenges the growing reliance on actuarial methods. These prediction tools, he argues, may in fact increase the overall amount of crime in society, depending on the relative responsiveness of the profiled populations to heightened security. They may also aggravate the difficulties that minorities already have obtaining work, education, and a better quality of life—thus perpetuating the pattern of criminal behavior. Ultimately, Harcourt shows how the perceived success of actuarial methods has begun to distort our very conception of just punishment and to obscure alternate visions of social order. In place of the actuarial, Professor Harcourt proposes instead a turn to randomization in punishment and policing. The presumption, Harcourt concludes, should be against prediction.