Preventing Interactions with the Juvenile Justice System

Reza Borhani, Yaeli Cohen, Onyi Lam, Hareem Naveed, Kevin H. Wilson, Chad Kenney, Rayid Ghani

tl;dr: The authors created models that predicted whether students in the Milwaukee Public School systems would interact with the criminal justice system. These models could help facilitate early-intervention programs to prevent future interactions with the criminal justice system.

The Problem

The Approach

Results and Analysis

Contextualizing the Study

The authors use of a random forest greatly exceeds MPS’s heuristic model at predicting future interactions with the criminal justice system. In particular, the reduction of false positives is promising, as it would lead to a decrease in needless interventions. Presumably, interventions were occurring in the time frames considered in the dataset. It would be useful to extend the model such that it incorporates these interventions.

It is important to note that consideration of interactions with the criminal justice system cannot occur without contextualizing those interactions with the systemic and historical racial disparities exhibited by the criminal justice system. These racial disparities extend beyond criminal justice, such as in disciplinary actions within K-12 public schools [1]. Riddle & Sinclair, PNAS, 2019. The dataset that was used to train this model will be impacted by the very biases that lead to the racial disparities in the first place.

Therefore, an analysis on how the algorithm treats people of color specifically is imperative before depoyment. While the authors state that race is not one of the most important features used, there is an abundance of work demonstrating that protected variables can still impact machine learning algorithms, even if they don’t do so directly [2]. Hardt, Price, & Srebro, NeurIPS, 2016.

Additionally, an assumption built into targeted interventions is that the students must be changed rather than the criminal justice system or the education system itself. This is not to say that targeted interventions are not capable of preventing future interactions with the criminal justice system. Rather, the impact of targeted interventions must be assessed. First, do they in fact decrease future interactions with the criminal justice system, and second, are they the most cost effective way of reducing the interactions?