The prisoner risk algorithm that could program in racism

Domiciliary Prisonsource: TBIJ News
published: 14 November 2019

A new algorithmic tool for categorising prisoners in UK jails risks automating and embedding racism in the system, experts and advocacy groups have warned.

The tool draws on data, including from the prison service, police and the National Crime Agency, to assess what type of prison a person should be put in and how strictly they should be controlled during their sentence.

Critics told the Bureau that the new system could result in ethnic minority prisoners being unfairly placed in higher security conditions than white prisoners. This would exacerbate long-standing problems of discrimination exposed in an excoriating review two years ago by the Labour MP David Lammy.

Higher category prisoners have fewer opportunities to develop skills and work towards rehabilitation compared with those held in open or lower security jails.

Responding to the Bureau’s findings, Lammy said: “This new information paints a damning picture of a criminal justice system that problematises people based on the colour of their skin.

“The way in which offenders are categorised has a huge impact on the opportunity they have for rehabilitation.”

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