Improving Fairness in Criminal Justice Algorithmic Risk Assessments Using Optimal Transport and Conformal Prediction Sets

Richard Berk, Arun Kumar Kuchibhotla, and Eric Tchetgen

 In the United States and elsewhere, risk assessment algorithms are being used to help inform criminal justice decision-makers. A common intent is to forecast an offender's ``future dangerousness.'' Such algorithms have been correctly criticized for potential unfairness, and there is an active cottage industry trying to make repairs. In this paper, we use counterfactual reasoning to consider the prospects for improved fairness when members of a less privileged group are treated by a risk algorithm as if they are members of a more privileged group. We combine a machine learning classifier trained in a novel manner with an optimal transport adjustment for the relevant joint probability distributions, which together provide a constructive response to claims of bias-in-bias-out. A key distinction is between fairness claims that are empirically testable and fairness claims that are not. We then use confusion tables and conformal prediction sets to evaluate achieved fairness for projected risk. Our data are a random sample of 300,000 offenders at their arraignments for a large metropolitan area in the United States during which decisions to release or detain are made. We show that substantial improvement in fairness can be achieved consistent with a Pareto improvement for protected groups.

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