Shades of Gray
“The problems with racial profiling … are not problems of profiling, with race being merely an example,” Frederick Schauer writes in Profiles, Probabilities, and Stereotypes. “Rather … the problem is about race and not about profiling.”1Many people, perhaps even most people, agree and as a result favor criminal profiling in general.
But the exact opposite is true: the problem with racial profiling is about the profiling, not about race. The problems relate to the actuarial method more generally, not simply the racial category. As the analysis in chapter 7 demonstrates, the problems relate to comparative elasticities, relative offending rates, and the ratchet effect—factors that plague criminal profiling schemes more generally, not just racial profiling. In the context of racial profiling on the highway, the central problems are the likely adverse long-term effects on overall drug use and the likely ratchet effect on minority communities. These are concerns that can undermine any profiling scheme, whether based on race, gender, wealth, class, or physical demeanor. Although practically everyone in the criminal justice field endorses criminal profiling as a law enforcement technique outside the racial profiling context, the fact is that criminal profiling advances the larger interest of crime reduction only under very specific circumstances.
What about the cases, then, where the uses of actuarial methods seem to have benefited society and promoted a public interest? What about the prediction of parole violation, or better yet, of violent sexual predation? What about the use of actuarial measures that clearly benefit poor and disadvantaged communities? How should we analyze these apparent victories of the actuarial turn, and what do they tell us about the force of the three critiques presented in this book? As a foil to racial profiling, let's