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Is Tech Ruining Criminal Justice?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on February 04, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In the criminal justice system, a technical difficulty can have life-or-death consequences.

A botched execution. A false arrest. It happens more than you might think. And the more the system relies on technology, the more likely the error.

As one future cop said, people are going to jail who have broken no law. So is tech ruining criminal justice, or it is just a glitch in the system?

Relying on Tech

Court watchers say the criminal justice system is relying on tech to do its job, and that's making everything worse. Automatic license plate readers, facial recognition, and predictive policing have replaced cops on the street.

In the courts, software is steering sentencing decisions and issuing warrants. People have been falsely arrested, unjustly jailed, and even wrongly registered as sex offenders.

In California, the courts didn't have the resources to fix their system-wide computer problem. So the public defender's office filed 2,000 motions challenging legal process due to faulty software.

TechDirt says technologies like predictive policing are really "self-fulfilling prophecies, building on historical crime data to suggest future crimes will occur in high crime areas."


TechDirt points out the fly in the ointment of machine-learning. The algorithms use statistics to find patterns in data.

"So if you feed it historical crime data, it will pick out the patterns associated with crime," TechDirt says. "But those patterns are statistical correlations -- nowhere near the same as causations."

It's the old adage: garbage in, garbage out. But that should be applied to machines, not people.

We still need cops and judges to do their jobs, even with human errors.

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