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February 27, 2021

"Reprogramming Recidivism: The First Step Act and Algorithmic Prediction of Risk"

The title of this post is the title of this paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Amy Cyphert.  Here is its abstract:

The First Step Act, a seemingly miraculous bipartisan criminal justice reform bill, was signed into law in late 2018.  The Act directed the Attorney General to develop a risk and needs assessment tool that would effectively determine who would be eligible for early release based on an algorithmic prediction of recidivism.  The resulting tool — PATTERN — was released in the summer of 2019 and quickly updated in January of 2020.  It was immediately put to use in an unexpected manner, helping to determine who was eligible for early release during the COVID-19 pandemic.  It is now the latest in a growing list of algorithmic recidivism prediction tools, tools that first came to mainstream notice with critical reporting about the COMPAS sentencing algorithm.

This Article evaluates PATTERN, both in its development as well as its still-evolving implementation. In some ways, the PATTERN algorithm represents tentative steps in the right direction on issues like transparency, public input, and use of dynamic factors.  But PATTERN, like many algorithmic decision-making tools, will have a disproportionate impact on Black inmates; it provides fewer opportunities for inmates to reduce their risk score than it claims and is still shrouded in some secrecy due to the government’s decision to dismiss repeated calls to release more information about it.  Perhaps most perplexing, it is unclear whether the tool actually advances accuracy with its predictions.  This Article concludes that PATTERN is a decent first step, but it still has a long way to go before it is truly reformative.

February 27, 2021 at 11:14 PM | Permalink


I disagree, the whole Federal process including the PATTERN score, from beginning to end, punishes people who have served time in the past, whether it's relevant or not to their current charge. The person has already paid their debt to society in the past but in the Federal system, they serve the time again and are punished by not receiving early release because of it. (most drug offenders are in a low security Prison, but the PATTERN gives them a MEDIUM or HIGH Score, doesn't sit well with me) The whole federal system needs to be reconstructed. From arresting people on words of another, to making them do prison time again for past crimes, especially people doing time for ghost dope or any drug crime which longer than most rapist, murderers, and pedo's. It's time for a change

Posted by: Lisa Sciretta | Feb 28, 2021 2:29:49 PM

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