AI is Sending People To Jail–and Getting it Wrong

The US imprisons more people than any other country in the world. At the end of 2016, nearly 2.2 million adults were being held in prisons or jails, and an additional 4.5 million were in other correctional facilities. Put another way, 1 in 38 adult Americans was under some form of correctional supervision. The nightmarishness of this situation is one of the few issues that unite politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Under immense pressure to reduce prison numbers without risking a rise in crime, courtrooms across the US have turned to automated tools in attempts to shuffle defendants through the legal system as efficiently and safely as possible. This is where the AI part of our story begins. Police departments use predictive algorithms to strategize about where to send their ranks. Law enforcement agencies use face recognition systems to help identify suspects. These practices have garnered well-deserved scrutiny for whether they in fact improve safety or simply perpetuate existing inequities.

Researchers and civil rights advocates, for example, have repeatedly demonstrated that face recognition systems can fail spectacularly, particularly for dark-skinned individuals — even mistaking members of Congress for convicted criminals. But the most controversial tool by far comes after police have made an arrest. Say hello to criminal risk assessment algorithms.

Microsoft Turned Down Facial-Recognition Sales over “Human Rights Concerns”

Microsoft recently rejected a California law enforcement agency’s request to install facial recognition technology in officers’ cars and body cameras due to human rights concerns, company President Brad Smith said on Tuesday. Microsoft concluded it would lead to innocent women and minorities being disproportionately held for questioning because the artificial intelligence has been trained on mostly white and male pictures. AI has more cases of mistaken identity with women and minorities, multiple research projects have found.

Smith explained the decisions as part of a commitment to human rights that he said was increasingly critical as rapid technological advances empower governments to conduct blanket surveillance, deploy autonomous weapons and take other steps that might prove impossible to reverse. Smith also said at a Stanford University conference that Microsoft had declined a deal to install facial recognition on cameras blanketing the capital city of an unnamed country that the nonprofit Freedom House had deemed not free. Smith said it would have suppressed freedom of assembly there.

On the other hand, Microsoft did agree to provide the technology to an American prison, after the company concluded that the environment would be limited and that it would improve safety inside the unnamed institution.

More jails replace in-person visits with awful video chat products

After April 15, inmates at the Adult Detention Center in Lowndes County, Mississippi will no longer be allowed to visit with family members face to face. Newton County, Missouri, implemented an in-person visitor ban last month. The Allen County Jail in Indiana phased out in-person visits earlier this year. All three changes are part of a nationwide trend toward “video visitation” services. Instead of seeing their loved ones face to face, inmates are increasingly limited to talking to them through video terminals. Most jails give family members a choice between using video terminals at the jail — which are free — or paying fees to make calls from home using a PC or mobile device.

Even some advocates of the change admit that it has downsides for inmates and their families. Ryan Rickert, jail administrator at the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center, acknowledged to The Commercial Dispatch that inmates were disappointed they wouldn’t get to see family members anymore. Advocates of this approach point to an upside for families: they can now make video calls to loved ones from home instead of having to physically travel to the jail. These services are ludicrously expensive. Video calls cost 40 cents per minute in Newton County, 50 cents per minute in Lowndes County, and $10 per call in Allen County. Outside of prison, of course, video calls on Skype or FaceTime are free.

These “visitation” services are often “grainy and jerky, periodically freezing up altogether,” reports Ars. As for why so many jails are adopting them, it has a lot to do with money. “In-person visits are labor intensive. Prison guards need to escort inmates to and from visitation rooms, supervise the visits, and in some cases pat down visitors for contraband. In contrast, video terminals can be installed inside each cell block, minimizing the need to move inmates around the jail.” The video-visitation systems also directly generate revenue for jails.