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IBM: An Unlikely Crime-Fighting Superhero

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Despite having recently been cast as the villain of the piece by some high profile members of the Free and Open Source Software community, IBM has just revealed itself as actually being something of a crime-fighting superhero.

The Florida State Department of Juvenile Justice is following in the footsteps of the Ministry of Justice, one of the largest UK government departments with in excess of 95,000 employees and a budget of some £9 billion, by employing IBM predictive analytics tech to assess prisoner re-offending risk and ultimately protect the public at large from the dangers that repeat offenders pose.

With more than 85,000 young offenders entering the Florida juvenile justice system every year, for crimes ranging from drug abuse to robbery, assessing the best positive rehabilitation program is highly complex and hugely important if the re-offending risk is to be minmimised. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice will analyse key predictors such as past offending history and home life environment as well as gang affiliations and peer associations in order to better predict which youngsters have the highest re-offending potential and thus more effectively place juveniles into the best rehabilitation programs for each of them.

Prior to adopting the IBM predictive analytics technology, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice relied upon Excel for basic analysis on projections for the number of delinquency cases they would take in, which rather obviously had somewhat limited functionality.

IBM has invested more than $12 billion to build an analytics portfolio and has assembled 4,000 analytics consultants with industry expertise as well as opening a network of seven analytics centres of excellence. Today, IBM is working with more than 250,000 clients worldwide on predictive analytics, including 22 of the top 24 global commercial banks, 18 of the world's top 22 telecommunication carriers and 11 of the top 12 U.S. specialty retailers.

Mark Greenwald, chief of research and planning at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, said, "The State of Florida believes that if youth are rehabilitated with effective prevention, intervention and treatment services early in life, juveniles will not enter the adult corrections system. Our goal is to ensure juveniles do not return to the system. IBM SPSS predictive analytics will allow our organization to refine our current practice and better intervene in juvenile lives earlier to help them become — and stay — law abiding citizens".

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom, is using the same predictive analytics from IBM in order to assess the likelihood of prisoners re-offending upon their release. The Ministry of Justice is taking an approach of using the tech to analyse hidden trends and patterns within data, helping to identify whether offenders with specific problems such as drug and alcohol misuse are more likely to reoffend than others, for example. In the case of violent crime, the prediction about re-offending has improved from 68 per cent to 74 percent whilst the prediction about re-offending in terms of general offences improved from 76 percent to 80 percent.

The system is now being used across approximately 140 prisons and all probation areas in England and Wales and records information from over 3.4 million prisoner assessments. This includes data on individual offender circumstances such as accommodation, education, relationships, financial management and income, lifestyle and associates, drug and alcohol misuse, emotional well-being, behaviour and attitudes. These records are being used for quantitative analysis which can identify patterns within the data. The resulting intelligence forms the basis for improved measurements of offender risk and need.

"With almost 4 million records on file it simply wouldn’t be feasible to trawl through this data manually in an attempt to identify those factors that may mean a prisoner is likely to reoffend" said a spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice. "SPSS technology gives us valuable insight into offender data helping us predict who may re-offend and enabling us to advise on preventative measures, such as appropriate programs addressing offender behaviour before a prisoner’s release date".

Deepak Advani, vice president of predictive analytics at IBM, said, "Predictive analytics gives government organizations worldwide a highly-sophisticated and intelligent source to create safer communities by identifying, predicting, responding to and preventing criminal activities. It gives the criminal justice system the ability to draw upon the wealth of data available to detect patterns, make reliable projections and then take the appropriate action in real time to combat crime and protect citizens".

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Davey Winder

I'm a hacker turned writer and consultant, specialising in IT security. I've been a freelance word punk for over 20 years and along the way I have seen 23 of my books published, produced and presented programmes for TV and radio, picked up a bunch of awards and continue being a contributing editor with PC Pro - the best selling IT magazine in the UK .

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