Predictions of Dangerousness in Sentencing: Déjà Vu All Over Again

Crime and Justice—A Review of Research, Forthcoming

64 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2018

See all articles by Michael Tonry

Michael Tonry

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law

Date Written: December 7, 2018

Abstract

Predictions of dangerousness are more often wrong than right, use information they shouldn’t, and disproportionately damage minority offenders. Forty years ago, two-thirds of people predicted to be violent were not. For every two “true positives,” there were four “false positives.” Contemporary technology is little better: at best, three false positives for every two true positives. The best-informed specialists say that accuracy topped out a decade ago; further improvement is unlikely. All prediction instruments use ethically unjustifiable information. Most include variables such as youth and gender that are as unjust as race or eye color would be. No one can justly be blamed for being blue-eyed, young, male, or dark-skinned. All prediction instruments incorporate socioeconomic status variables that cause black, other minority, and disadvantaged offenders to be treated more harshly than white and privileged offenders. All use criminal history variables that are inflated for black and other minority offenders by deliberate and implicit bias, racially disparate practices, profiling, and drug law enforcement that targets minority individuals and neighborhoods.

Keywords: prediction of dangerousness, violence prediction, retributivism, utilitarianism

Suggested Citation

Tonry, Michael, Predictions of Dangerousness in Sentencing: Déjà Vu All Over Again (December 7, 2018). Crime and Justice—A Review of Research, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3297789

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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