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News Scan

Can Computers Predict Human Behavior?  Matt O'Brien and Dake Kang of the Associated Press report that a bipartisan bail reform movement seeking to eliminate the bail industry is promoting the use of computer generated risk assessments to determine how a defendant might behave if released prior to trial or given a short sentence.  One of the biggest promoters of this is the Houston-based Arnold Foundation, which developed the risk-assessment algorithm.  The states of New Jersey, Arizona, Kentucky, and Alaska are now using algorithms, also called evidence-based tools, for bail and sentencing decisions.  Other states, like California, are using them to assess which prison inmates can be released safely on parole.  The New Jersey process uses nine risk factors, including age and past convictions, but excludes race, gender, employment history, and past arrests.  Advocates argue that this eliminates bias.  The story focuses on a young black male arrested in Cleveland for cocaine possession who excels at basketball and might get a scholarship.  The arraignment judge used an algorithm-generated risk assessment to release him on "personal bond," meaning without bail.  Critics wonder if it's a good idea to take a judge off the hook when a defendant he released based on an algorithm kills or rapes somebody.  Who is responsible when this happens?

Texas Murderer Executed:  A man who stabbed his estranged wife to death in 1986 and stabbed his ex-girlfriend to death in 1999 was put to death Tuesday in Huntsville, Texas.  CBS News reports that William Rayford died 13 minutes after receiving a lethal injection.  Among the witnesses were his latest victim's four children, including her son, who at age 11, was stabbed through the lung while trying to protect his mother.  Rayford was sentenced to 23 years for murdering his wife Gail, but was released on parole after serving only 8 years due to prison overcrowding.  Five years later he killed Carol Hall.  In a last-minute appeal, Rayford's defense attorneys unsuccessfully claimed that his sentence was based on racial bias.  On Thursday, The Dallas Morning News reports that Texas is set to execute John Battaglia who, in 2001, shot and killed his daughters, 9-year-old Faith and 6-year-old Liberty, in an act of revenge against his ex-wife.  Battaglia, who is white, was unable to claim racial bias, leaving his attorneys with an unsuccessful attempt to claim he was mentally incompetent.

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