The World According to AI – Episode 2 The Bias in the Machine
Al Jazeera (2019)
This documentary examines how drone algorithms the US military developed for the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen (see Civilian Drone Strikes: Targeted by Algorithm) are being rolled out by urban police. Because these law enforcement algorithms are based on faulty data, they disproportionately target the poor and minorities. Because these particular zip codes are already over-policed, they provide the vast majority of data used in creating new algorithms.
What the filmmakers find particularly alarming is that many of the same algorithms are used to make bail decisions, sentencing recommendations and credit scores, as well as determining eligibility for state housing and other benefits.
The filmmakers visit Skid Road, the second most policed area in the world, after Baghdad. Owing to the current housing crisis, it hosts a massive homeless population, most of whom are either Black or disabled. The reason Skid Row is so heavily policed is because Skid Row borders on the wealthy Los Angeles financial district. One Skid Row woman has been arrested 108 times for sitting or lying on the sidewalk.
The US military also uses Skid Row population to test new spy software.
Life After Parole is a Frontline documentary about a Connecticut program seeking to reduce mass incarceration rates and prison costs by granting low risk offenders early parole. The film follows four new parolees over a 1 1/2 year period. In each case, it’s clear their risk of re-offending directly relates to the quality of their relationship with their parole officer.
It’s clear from this documentary the effectiveness of this experiment depends largely on the ability of parole officers to shift roles. Instead of mainly monitoring parolees for infractions of their parole conditions, they must learn to play a supportive role in helping former inmates build a new life for themselves. At the moment, they are expected to play both roles simultaneously, and criminologists question whether this is even possible.
Of the four offenders, the sole female is the only one to stay out of prison on the first try. I suspect this relates partly to the nature of her offense (the three men, all imprisoned for drug-related crimes, violate their condition of parole by relapsing), partly to strong motivation to be re-united with her son and partly to a strong relationship with a highly skilled parole officer. The woman, who is African American, has been in prison for ten years for slashing another women with a knife. The length of this sentence for an assault and battery charge is ludicrous. It speaks volumes to the blatant racism of the US criminal justice system.