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Concept: Criminal law


Algorithms for predicting recidivism are commonly used to assess a criminal defendant’s likelihood of committing a crime. These predictions are used in pretrial, parole, and sentencing decisions. Proponents of these systems argue that big data and advanced machine learning make these analyses more accurate and less biased than humans. We show, however, that the widely used commercial risk assessment software COMPAS is no more accurate or fair than predictions made by people with little or no criminal justice expertise. We further show that a simple linear predictor provided with only two features is nearly equivalent to COMPAS with its 137 features.

Concepts: Algorithm, Risk assessment, Psychometrics, Crime, Criminal law, Evaluation, Critical thinking, Scientific method


Alcohol use patterns that are hazardous for one’s health is prevalent among DWI (driving while intoxicated) offenders and is a key predictor of recidivism. The aim of this program evaluation was to determine the feasibility and usability of implementing a computer-assisted screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment (SBIRT) program for DWI offenders to enable the identification of those in need of treatment services soon after arrest. Our treatment program consisted of a web-based, self-guided screening tool for assessing alcohol use patterns and generating a personalized feedback report that is then used to deliver a brief motivational intervention and if needed, a referral to treatment.

Concepts: Evaluation, Drunk driving in the United States, Need, Criminal law, Driving under the influence, Alcoholic beverage


The list of motives by Kanin (1994) is the most cited list of motives to file a false allegation of rape. Kanin posited that complainants file a false allegation out of revenge, to produce an alibi or to get sympathy. A new list of motives is proposed in which gain is the predominant factor. In the proposed list, complainants file a false allegation out of material gain, emotional gain, or a disturbed mental state. The list can be subdivided into eight different categories: material gain, alibi, revenge, sympathy, attention, a disturbed mental state, relabeling, or regret. To test the validity of the list, a sample of 57 proven false allegations were studied at and provided by the National Unit of the Dutch National Police (NU). The complete files were studied to ensure correct classification by the NU and to identify the motives of the complainants. The results support the overall validity of the list. Complainants were primarily motivated by emotional gain. Most false allegations were used to cover up other behavior such as adultery or skipping school. Some complainants, however, reported more than one motive. A large proportion, 20% of complainants, said that they did not know why they filed a false allegation. The results confirm the complexity of motivations for filing false allegations and the difficulties associated with archival studies. In conclusion, the list of Kanin is, based on the current results, valid but insufficient to explain all the different motives of complainants to file a false allegation.

Concepts: Criminal law, Motivation, Legal terms, Validity, Psychology, Pleading, Computer file


The New York Police Department (NYPD) under Operation Impact deployed extra police officers to high crime areas designated as impact zones. Officers were encouraged to conduct investigative stops in these areas. City officials credited the program as one of the leading causes of New York City’s low crime rate. We tested the effects of Operation Impact on reported crimes and arrests from 2004 to 2012 using a difference-in-differences approach. We used Poisson regression models to compare differences in crime and arrest counts before and after census block groups were designated as impact zones compared to census block groups in the same NYPD precincts but outside impact zones. Impact zones were significantly associated with reductions in total reported crimes, assaults, burglaries, drug violations, misdemeanor crimes, felony property crimes, robberies, and felony violent crimes. Impact zones were significantly associated with increases in total reported arrests, arrests for burglary, arrests for weapons, arrests for misdemeanor crimes, and arrests for property felony crimes. Impact zones were also significantly associated with increases in investigative stops for suspected crimes, but only the increase in stops made based on probable cause indicators of criminal behaviors were associated with crime reductions. The largest increase in investigative stops in impact zones was based on indicators of suspicious behavior that had no measurable effect on crime. The findings suggest that saturating high crime blocks with police helped reduce crime in New York City, but that the bulk of the investigative stops did not play an important role in the crime reductions. The findings indicate that crime reduction can be achieved with more focused investigative stops.

Concepts: Assault, Felony, New York City, Criminal law, Misdemeanor, Theft, Police, Crime


The rate of erroneous conviction of innocent criminal defendants is often described as not merely unknown but unknowable. There is no systematic method to determine the accuracy of a criminal conviction; if there were, these errors would not occur in the first place. As a result, very few false convictions are ever discovered, and those that are discovered are not representative of the group as a whole. In the United States, however, a high proportion of false convictions that do come to light and produce exonerations are concentrated among the tiny minority of cases in which defendants are sentenced to death. This makes it possible to use data on death row exonerations to estimate the overall rate of false conviction among death sentences. The high rate of exoneration among death-sentenced defendants appears to be driven by the threat of execution, but most death-sentenced defendants are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment, after which the likelihood of exoneration drops sharply. We use survival analysis to model this effect, and estimate that if all death-sentenced defendants remained under sentence of death indefinitely, at least 4.1% would be exonerated. We conclude that this is a conservative estimate of the proportion of false conviction among death sentences in the United States.

Concepts: Prison, Death row, United States, Criminal law, Conviction, Miscarriage of justice, Capital punishment, Crime


There is a notable shift toward more repression and criminalization in sex work policies, in Europe and elsewhere. So-called neo-abolitionism reduces sex work to trafficking, with increased policing and persecution as a result. Punitive “demand reduction” strategies are progressively more popular. These developments call for a review of what we know about the effects of punishing and repressive regimes vis-à-vis sex work. From the evidence presented, sex work repression and criminalization are branded as “waterbed politics” that push and shove sex workers around with an overload of controls and regulations that in the end only make things worse. It is illustrated how criminalization and repression make it less likely that commercial sex is worker-controlled, non-abusive, and non-exploitative. Criminalization is seriously at odds with human rights and public health principles. It is concluded that sex work criminalization is barking up the wrong tree because it is fighting sex instead of crime and it is not offering any solution for the structural conditions that sex work (its ugly sides included) is rooted in. Sex work repression travels a dead-end street and holds no promises whatsoever for a better future. To fight poverty and gendered inequalities, the criminal justice system simply is not the right instrument. The reasons for the persistent stigma on sex work as well as for its present revival are considered.

Concepts: Criminal law, Rights, Prostitution, Human rights, Police, Criminal justice, Law, Crime


Population-based studies on violent crime and background factors may provide an understanding of the relationships between susceptibility factors and crime. We aimed to determine the distribution of violent crime convictions in the Swedish population 1973-2004 and to identify criminal, academic, parental, and psychiatric risk factors for persistence in violent crime.

Concepts: Distribution of wealth, Swedish people, Economics, Crime in the United States, Criminal law, Conviction, Violent crime, Crime


To compare the change in illicit opioid users' risk of fatal drug-related poisoning (DRP) associated with opioid agonist pharmacotherapy (OAP) and psychological support, and investigate the modifying effect of patient characteristics, criminal justice system (CJS) referral, and treatment completion.

Concepts: Criminal law, Clinical trial, Law, Corrections, Punishment, Police, Crime, Criminal justice


Background Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common disorder that has been associated with criminal behavior in some studies. Pharmacologic treatment is available for ADHD and may reduce the risk of criminality. Methods Using Swedish national registers, we gathered information on 25,656 patients with a diagnosis of ADHD, their pharmacologic treatment, and subsequent criminal convictions in Sweden from 2006 through 2009. We used stratified Cox regression analyses to compare the rate of criminality while the patients were receiving ADHD medication, as compared with the rate for the same patients while not receiving medication. Results As compared with nonmedication periods, among patients receiving ADHD medication, there was a significant reduction of 32% in the criminality rate for men (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.68; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.63 to 0.73) and 41% for women (hazard ratio, 0.59; 95% CI, 0.50 to 0.70). The rate reduction remained between 17% and 46% in sensitivity analyses among men, with factors that included different types of drugs (e.g., stimulant vs. nonstimulant) and outcomes (e.g., type of crime). Conclusions Among patients with ADHD, rates of criminality were lower during periods when they were receiving ADHD medication. These findings raise the possibility that the use of medication reduces the risk of criminality among patients with ADHD. (Funded by the Swedish Research Council and others.).

Concepts: Criminal law, Conviction, Crime statistics, Attention, Stimulant, Criminology, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Crime


Brain-activity markers of guilty knowledge have been promoted as accurate and reliable measures for establishing criminal culpability. Tests based on these markers interpret the presence or absence of memory-related neural activity as diagnostic of whether or not incriminating information is stored in a suspect’s brain. This conclusion critically relies on the untested assumption that reminders of a crime uncontrollably elicit memory-related brain activity. However, recent research indicates that, in some circumstances, humans can control whether they remember a previous experience by intentionally suppressing retrieval. We examined whether people could use retrieval suppression to conceal neural evidence of incriminating memories as indexed by Event-Related Potentials (ERPs). When people were motivated to suppress crime retrieval, their memory-related ERP effects were significantly decreased, allowing guilty individuals to evade detection. Our findings indicate that brain measures of guilty knowledge may be under criminals' intentional control and place limits on their use in legal settings.

Concepts: Morality, Criminal justice, Suppression of dissent, Suppression, Criminology, Criminal law, Neuroscience, Crime