Artificial Intelligence Will Surveil And Study Released Prisoners To “Reduce Recidivism”

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Artificial intelligence applications are popping up everywhere these days, from our Internet browsing to smart homes and self-driving cars. Now a group of researchers is launching a new AI-led study that will collect data from recently released prisoners. The ultimate goal of the project is to identify – and, ostensibly, one day eliminate – the psychological and physiological triggers that cause recidivism among parolees.

Researchers at Purdue University Polytechnic Institute plan to monitor volunteer parolees using a panoply of AI-powered tools and methods, including smartphones and biometric wearable bracelets. These gadgets will record and analyze a variety of data, such as the ex-prisoners’ biological information (heart rate), photos, and location meta-data.

According to project-leads Marcus Rogers and Umit Karabiyik, the resulting data will assist them in conducting a forensic psychological analysis. While the monitoring will be gauged in intervals – not real-time – they believe it will help build a profile of the risky behaviors and stressful triggers that recent parolees face when returning to the outside world.

Citing a Department of Justice study, the researchers say over 80 percent of prisoners released from state prisons get arrested in their first 9 years and a plurality of those prisoners get arrested in less than a year.

Karabiyik notes: “The major reason recidivism is so high is the parolees don’t feel like they belong in the community. They have a hard time, and they immediately go back to their old criminal habits. Their old criminal communities are very welcoming.”

The study will conscript 250 volunteer parolees – after obtaining their families’ consent, too –  upon their release. Half of them will receive treatment and biometric tracking devices, which will monitor them for four years; the other half will serve as the control group.

The Purdue University research team will partner with the Tippecanoe County Community Corrections, the Tippecanoe County/Purdue High Tech Crime Unit and the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department.

“The goal of the study is to identify opportunities for early intervention to better assist those individuals to integrate back into general society successfully,” Rogers said.

He believes that technology can be used to inculcate coping mechanisms and social skills for released prisoners. By reducing the number of re-offenses, he says caseworkers will be able to manage their jobs better.

“In the end, we want to develop a system that will allow the caseworkers to more quickly identify those individuals that seem to be on a path that would lead to recidivism.” 

This is not the first time an academic team has used electronic surveillance to monitor parolees. In 2017, criminology researchers used smartphones to track released prisoners who were struggling with substance abuse or mental health problems. They used algorithms to study everything from parolee movements to sleep patterns, hoping that such tech could one day allow caseworkers to intervene.

Are new surveillance and artificial intelligence-led research projects a useful scientific collection of data that could ultimately help parolees? Or is it a panopticon-like surveillance application that could end up exclusively in the hands of law enforcement?

While the project carries a certain altruistic resonance, some civil liberty activists worry that such an application could end up being abused as yet another police surveillance tool.