An Open Letter to the Members of the Massachusetts Legislature Regarding the Adoption of Actuarial Risk Assessment Tools in the Criminal Justice System

February 9, 2018

The following open letter — signed by Harvard and MIT-based faculty, staff, and researchers Chelsea BarabasChristopher BavitzRyan BudishKarthik DinakarUrs GasserKira HessekielJoichi Ito, Mason Kortz,  Madars Virza, and Jonathan Zittrain  — is directed to the Massachusetts Legislature to inform its consideration of risk assessment tools as part of ongoing criminal justice reform efforts in the Commonwealth.

In light of the extraordinarily rapid pace of technical development with respect to the sorts of RA tools under consideration; the relatively nascent state of our understanding of such tools and the consequences of their implementation; the far-ranging impacts these tools can have once implemented; the risk that institutional inertia might make it difficult to move away from them once they are adopted; and the complex and multivariate interplay between the use of RA tools and other aspects of the criminal justice system, we submit that the appropriate approach here is not a mandate in favor of adoption. Rather, we believe that the time is ripe for study, reflection, and development of transparent processes and comprehensive best practices.

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February 9, 2018