Fifteen states have their parole boards using risk assessment tools to determine parole decisions. Many of these states are using software to calculate the potential risk of an inmate succeeding or failing parole. The algorithms consider numerous factors about the inmate’s chances of not violating his parole and returning to prison. The states that are using this new age approach are achieving success with their recidivism parole rates.
The algorithms consider factors such as the age of the inmate at the time of his arrest, education level, the inmate’s belief about the fairness of his conviction, behavioral record in prison, and many other factors. Parole boards traditionally considered the severity of the defendant’s crime and remorse as the most important factors to consider when granting or denying parole. However, inmates convicted of violent crimes and who have served considerable prison terms, when paroled, have achieved a higher rate of parole success than other inmates.
Critics of the computer assessments fear that race will trump science with factors such as education and prior record contributing to the final decision. For this reason alone, the parole board will still have to make the final decision and if necessary, overrule the software decision. In the end, the use of software algorithms in determining parole decisions are a welcomed tool for the parole board and will help achieve a standard of fairness that was ignored in the old days of “gut decisions.”