Researchers have built a computer system that can predict which death-row inmates are most likely to be executed. It consists of 18 computer processors that analyzed data on about 1,000 death-row prisoners, including their sex, age, race, schooling and whether they were ultimately executed or spared. Then the researchers fed it similar information about 300 more prisoners, leaving out whether they had lived or died. The system, using logic it had developed from the first set of data, correctly predicted the outcome for 92 percent of those cases. It found that death-row inmates with the highest chance of being executed are those with the lowest levels of education; neither the severity of the crime nor race could reliably predict a prisoner's fate. The findings, which the researchers hope will lead to a fairer appeals process, appear in the Spring 2008 International Journal of Law and Information Technology.
This article was originally published with the title "Who Will Die?" in Scientific American 299, 3, 36 (September 2008)