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Against PredictionProfiling, Policing, and Punishing in an Actuarial Age$
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Bernard E. Harcourt

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780226316130

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226315997.001.0001

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(p.1) Prologue
Against Prediction
University of Chicago Press

Today, the actuarial permeates the field of criminal law and its enforcement. Risk-assessment tools are being used to identify whom to search, when to punish more, and how to administer the penal sanction. With the single and notable, but limited, exception of racial profiling against African Americans and Hispanics on the highways, most scholars, criminal justice practitioners, and public citizens embrace the turn to actuarial methods as a more efficient, rational, and wealth-maximizing tool to allocate scarce law enforcement resources. This book sets forth three compelling reasons why we should be skeptical of—rather than embrace—the new actuarial paradigm. First, the reliance on predictions of future criminality may undermine the primary goal of law enforcement, namely reducing crime. Second, the reliance on probabilistic methods produces a distortion in the carceral population. Third, the proliferation of actuarial methods has begun to bias our conception of just punishment.

Keywords:   actuarial methods, law enforcement, criminal law, risk assessment, criminality, punishment, racial profiling, crime

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