Getting Started

  • Richard Berk


This chapter provides a general introduction to forecasting criminal behavior in criminal justice settings. A common application is to predict at a parole hearing whether the inmate being considered for release is a significant risk to public safety. It may surprise some that criminal justice forecasts of risk have been used by decision-makers in the United States since at least the 1920s. Over time, statistical methods have replaced clinical methods, leading to improvements in forecasting accuracy. The gains were at best gradual until recently, when the increasing availability of very large datasets, powerful computers, and new statistical procedures began to produce dramatic improvements. But, criminal justice forecasts of risk are inextricably linked to criminal justice decision-making and to both the legitimate and illegitimate interests of various stakeholders. Sometimes, criticisms of risk assessment become convenient vehicles to raise broader issues around social inequality. There are, in short, always political considerations, ethical complexities, and judgement calls for which there can be no technical fix. The recent controversy about “racial bias” in risk instruments is a salient example.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Berk
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of CriminologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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