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Race

Faculty Scholarship

Law Enforcement and Corrections

2010

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Risk As A Proxy For Race, Bernard E. Harcourt Jan 2010

Risk As A Proxy For Race, Bernard E. Harcourt

Faculty Scholarship

Today, an increasing chorus argues that risk-assessment instruments are a politically feasible way to resolve our problem of mass incarceration and reduce prison populations. In this essay, I argue against this progressive argument for prediction: using risk-assessment tools to decrease prison populations would unquestionably aggravate the already intolerable racial imbalance in our prison populations and will not address the real source of mass incarceration, namely the admissions process. Risk has collapsed into prior criminal history, and prior criminal history has become a proxy for race. This means that using risk-assessment tools, even for progressive ends, is going to significantly aggravate ...