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Cathy O'Neil

Big Data Alone Can’t Fix a Broken Bail System

Philadelphia should think twice about its risk-assessment algorithm.
Beginning of a bad experience.

Beginning of a bad experience.

Photographer: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In the U.S., getting arrested can be extremely punishing, even for the innocent. People who can’t afford bail often languish in pre-trial detention for months, missing school, work and other responsibilities crucial to their livelihoods. Some plead guilty just to get out. The burden falls disproportionately on people from heavily policed minority neighborhoods.

Authorities in Philadelphia think an algorithm might help where the human-run system has failed. Actually, it could make things even worse.