Legal and Ethical Issues in the Prediction of Recidivism

21 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2013

See all articles by Michael Tonry

Michael Tonry

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law

Date Written: September 11, 2013


Use of predictions of recidivism is ubiquitous in American criminal justice systems from pretrial detention to parole release and proceeds largely oblivious to fundamental ethical problems that were widely recognized and examined in the 1970s. They include the false positive problem that most people predicted to commit acts of serious violence would not, and their confinement for that reason is unjustified, that common use of fixed characteristics such as age and gender punish people for matters over which they have no control is per se unjust, that commonly used socioeconomic factors such as marital status, employment, education, and living discrimination, because they are heavily correlated with race and ethnicity, effectively discriminate against members of minority groups, and that use of some of the same socioeconomic factors punishes people for making lifestyle choices that are neither the state’s nor the law’s business.

Keywords: prediction of recidivism, false positives, indirect discrimination

Suggested Citation

Tonry, Michael, Legal and Ethical Issues in the Prediction of Recidivism (September 11, 2013). Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13-51. Available at SSRN: or

Michael Tonry (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law ( email )

229-19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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