Damn liberals. Chief Inspector Andrews had worked miracles in this city. Murders down 90 per cent. Robberies down 80 per cent. Street crime down 85 per cent. Car theft down 70 per cent. But now she was in the dock and all that good work in jeopardy.
Her police authority was the first in the country to implement the newly legalised pre-emptive justice programme. Advances in computing and AI now made it possible to predict who would commit what sort of crime in the near future. People could be tested for all sorts of reasons: as part of a random programme or on the basis of a specific suspicion. If there were found to be future criminals, then they would be arrested and punished in advance.
Andrews did not think the scheme draconian. In fact, because no crime had been committed at the time of the arrest, sentences were much more lenient. A future murderer would go on an intense program designed to make sure they didn't go on and kill and would only be released when tests showed they wouldn't. Often that meant detention of less than a year. Had they been left to actually commit the crime, they would have been looking at life imprisonment and, more importantly, a person would be dead.
But still these damn liberals protested that you can't lock someone up for something they didn't do. Andrews grimaced, and wondered how many she could pull in for testing...
Sources: Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg (2002); 'The Minority Report' by Philip K. Dick, republished in Minority Report: The Collected Short Stories of Philip K. Dick (Gollancz, 2000).
Baggini, J., The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten, 2005, p. 106.
First off, I feel compelled to say that I don't think this sentence could ever be true:
"Advances in computing and AI now made it possible to predict who would commit what sort of crime in the near future."
I'm a philosophical compatibilist who believes in human free will, and as I wrote in my Response to Thought Experiment 9: Bigger Brother, the observer effect alone would be enough to alter any predictions of people's future behaviour. From an evolutionary perspective, we have inherited psychological needs to avoid being too predictable so that predators, cheaters, or rivals cannot take easy advantage of us. So telling someone they are going to commit a particular crime would almost certainly stop them from committing that specific infraction. Going any further with a pre-emptive justice program like the one described here seems highly unlikely to ever be justifiable.
However, as I've noted several times with these posts, this is a thought experiment and the rules of these philosophy games state that we must take any assumptions as they are and try our best to deal with the situation. So, let's say we really can predict future crimes. Where would that take us?
According to criminological theory, there are four different goals one can have for punishments in a criminal justice system: retribution, restoration, rehabilitation, and incapacitation. As I wrote in my thoughts on justice, I believe these goals are best pursued in the following way for the following reasons:
Since justice is a public good, its provider - the government - must have a monopoly on force. Progress is maximized in the long term when there is freedom from oppression and maximum participation (i.e. a minimization of criminals who in essence defect from society). In a cooperative society concerned with the long-term survival of the species, which understands the workings of evolution and therefore insists on tit for tat justice and never allowing cheaters to win, the various means of punishment should be doled out as necessary and appropriate in an escalating order of: restoration, rehabilitation, and finally incapacitation as a last resort. The focus of these punishments is the education of the criminal and the deterrence of future offenses by the populace. Seeking retribution gives way to short-term emotions of vengeance that were useful in nature before the public good of justice was provided for by the state. Now, the emotions of the victim of a crime must not be allowed to override the use of reason to create justice and stability for the long term.
In the case of this thought experiment, the crime hasn't been committed yet, so achieving the goal of restoration isn't possible. As a reminder, Chief Inspector Andrews argued for her pre-emptive justice program by saying, "A future murderer would go on an intense program designed to make sure they didn't go on and kill and would only be released when tests showed they wouldn't. Often that meant detention of less than a year." So the next goal of rehabilitation is being attempted, but from the brief description provided, the pre-emptive program seems to be using an unnecessary escalation to incapacitation. (As an aside, I would have liked to have used the term habilitation in this case since they haven't technically strayed yet, but that word is already taken.) I would therefore agree with the liberals that this pre-emptive program as it stands is an injustice that shouldn't be accepted, no matter how effective the results.
In fact, such a heavy-handed prevention program is likely to backfire. "The crime waves of the 1970s and '80s pushed [U.S.] police departments toward prevention strategies — broken-window patrols, more officer visibility in high-crime areas, stop-and-frisk — and solving crimes became secondary." As a result, "the national 'clearance rate' for homicide today is 64.1 percent. Fifty years ago, it was more than 90 percent....Detroit is an extreme case. When the city was on the verge of bankruptcy a couple of years ago, the murder clearance rate was flirting with single digits....Criminologists estimate that at least 200,000 murders have gone unsolved since the 1960s, leaving family and friends to wait and wonder."
Could better pre-emptive programs be put in its place? Sure. We already do this. We know some predictive factors for committing crimes and we have social programs aimed at (re)habilitating potential offenders. One could argue that education or after-school programs are aimed at this goal. A much clearer example, however, is the Office of Neighbourhood Safety in Richmond, California. From its own website:
"The ONS is responsible for directing gun violence prevention and intervention initiatives that foster greater community well-being and public safety. ONS Street Outreach staff reach out to those most likely to be involved in gun violence, those most resistant to change and chronically unresponsive to help. The Office of Neighborhood Safety helps to provide their stakeholders with credible, customized and responsive opportunities that represent a real alternative to street violence and criminal activity."
Exactly how they go about their mission is quite extraordinary. As this report describes it, ONS is "a city program that takes some unusual steps to prevent gun violence: building close relationships with some of Richmond's most dangerous young men, helping them find jobs and counseling them at City Hall. But there’s another step that raises some eyebrows: Over an 18-month period, if the men demonstrate better behavior, ONS offers them up to $1,000 a month in cash, plus opportunities to travel beyond Richmond. ... To qualify for the stipend, ONS fellows must draw up a 'life map', setting goals for the future. After six months in the program, they can receive up to $1,000 a month if they prove they are working toward those goals. If they start slipping back to bad behavior, they get nothing."
Does this work? "Since ONS’ launch seven years ago, Richmond has experienced a two-thirds drop in homicides. ... Of the 68 at-risk males who have entered the program, 64 are still alive. Richmond officials and criminal experts say that multiple factors have helped reduce the city’s gun violence...but they agree that incentive-based outreach has achieved what decades of heavy-handed law enforcement did not. ... Richmond understands that violence is not just evil acts by evil people. There is a culture of violence that descends on a community and the only way to really bring the rates down is if you change that culture.”
When the goals are clear, the path becomes easier. Inspector Andrews could learn from this example, and so could the rest of American Law Enforcement.