Against PredictionProfiling, Policing, and Punishing in an Actuarial Age

Against PredictionProfiling, Policing, and Punishing in an Actuarial Age

Bernard E. Harcourt

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226316130

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


From random security checks at airports to the use of risk assessment in sentencing, actuarial methods are being used more than ever to determine whom law enforcement officials target and punish. And with the exception of racial profiling on our highways and streets, most people favor these methods because they believe they are a more cost-effective way to fight crime. This book challenges this growing reliance on actuarial methods. These prediction tools, the author demonstrates, may in fact increase the overall amount of crime in society, depending on the relative responsiveness of the profiled populations to heightened security. They may also aggravate the difficulties that minorities already have obtaining work, education, and a better quality of life—thus perpetuating the pattern of criminal behavior. Ultimately, the author shows how the perceived success of actuarial methods has begun to distort our very conception of just punishment and to obscure alternate visions of social order. In place of the actuarial, he proposes instead a turn to randomization in punishment and policing, concluding that the presumption should be against prediction.