The Algorithm made me do it! Technological Transformations of the Criminal Justice System

Oscar H Gandy Jr.


Communication and information scholars have joined others in expressing concern about the impact of algorithmic techniques on the generation of strategic intelligence for corporate and government decision-makers. Their attention to the impact of these systems on policing and the criminal justice system has developed somewhat more recently. This article examines those concerns as they apply to the use of algorithmic systems by urban police, judges, and other central actors within the criminal justice system in the United States, with references to related developments around the globe. Although the use of cameras for the surveillance of target areas within urban centers has been the subject of critical assessment almost from the beginning of their use, much of that work was focused on the behavior of the human monitors that determined what the central focus of those cameras would be, as well as the nature of the behaviors that would trigger the movement of officers to the scene. Increasingly, however, the work of human monitors has been re-assigned to semi-autonomous computer systems, guided by artificial intelligence resources, and updated routinely through the use of machine learning techniques. The development of these enhanced systems involves a number of related functions that are transforming the nature of policing. My critical examination of this development focuses on the following elements: 1) the capture and use of images from mobile cameras, 2) the analysis of social networks, and 3) the evaluative assessment of members belonging to algorithmically classified groups. This article will explore these developments with special regard to their likely impact upon the life chances and well-being of members of racialized population segments. It concludes with suggestions for addressing societal threats to the rule of law as they apply to policing within the Criminal Justice System.

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