COMPAS Profiling in Michigan Prisons

Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS)

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorneys - Group

MDOC is Now Using COMPAS Scoring

COMPAS (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions) is a program newly adopted by the Michigan Department of Corrections. It is a program that puts a computer between the offender and the Judge. The COMPAS program is an algorithm that predicts an individual’s likelihood of committing another crime based on 137 questions. The program is currently being used in parole hearings. The MDOC will be adding COMPAS to presentence investigations later this year. COMPAS was never intended to determine the length of a person’s sentence. Criminal defense attorneys must ensure COMPAS scoring is done correctly.

Individual Considerations vs. Statistics

COMPAS is based on a statistical analysis of traits like education and age as they correlate to criminal activity and not based on the individual. Michigan has a long history of cases requiring sentencing based on the individual, not statistics. The failure to adequately consider individual circumstances could exclude the COMPAS program from consideration at sentencing.

Attorney - Michigan - Awards

Is COMPAS scoring accurate?

The COMPAS program has an average accuracy of 76%. The 76% accuracy rate means that one-quarter of the time, it gets its evaluation wrong. A polygraph test is inadmissible because it is considered unreliable at a 10% error rate. The COMPAS error rate is far greater than a polygraph test, so it is doubtful that the results will be admissible in court.


MDOC has decided to add the COMPAS evaluation to pre-sentence investigations without the authority of the legislature or the courts.


Michigan law prohibits sentencing differences based on inherent traits, and past cases have struck down increased jail sentences based on poverty. However, COMPAS explicitly considers gender and age and implicitly considers race and poverty. Additionally, the makers of COMPAS have created separate scales for men and women after finding women consistently scored lower than men. These issues could make the use of COMPAS unconstitutional at sentencing.

Risks of Using COMPAS Scoring in Presentence Investigation Reports

The use of COMPAS (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions) scoring in the Presentence Investigation Report (PSI) has raised several concerns in the criminal justice system. COMPAS is an algorithm-based tool designed to assess the risk of a defendant reoffending and their needs for rehabilitation. Despite its intended role in aiding sentencing decisions, its use has been met with various criticisms:

  • Bias and Fairness: One of the primary concerns is the potential for inherent bias in the algorithm. Critics argue that the data used to train these algorithms may reflect existing biases in the criminal justice system, particularly regarding race and socioeconomic status. This can lead to skewed risk assessments that unfairly penalize certain groups.
  • Lack of Transparency: The algorithms used in COMPAS are proprietary, making it difficult for defendants and their attorneys to understand how a particular risk score was calculated. This lack of transparency makes it challenging to challenge or question the assessment in court.
  • Over-Reliance on Questionable Data: COMPAS assessments often rely on data that can be subjective or unreliable, including information about a defendant’s family history, social environment, and personal relationships. This raises concerns about the accuracy and relevance of these factors in predicting future criminal behavior.
  • Impact on Sentencing Decisions: There’s a risk that judges may over-rely on COMPAS scores when making sentencing decisions, potentially leading to harsher or more lenient sentences based on an algorithm rather than the specifics of the case or the individual’s circumstances.
  • Ethical and Legal Implications: Using COMPAS scores in sentencing raises ethical questions about the role of AI and algorithms in the justice system. It also poses legal challenges, particularly regarding the defendant’s right to a fair and individualized sentencing process.
  • Potential for Misinterpretation: The complexity and statistical nature of COMPAS scores can lead to misunderstandings or misinterpretations by those not well-versed in data analysis, including judges, attorneys, and probation officers.
  • False Sense of Objectivity: There is a concern that using a seemingly objective tool like COMPAS can give a false sense of impartiality in what is essentially a subjective process. Relying on an algorithm might mask the subjective judgments and discretionary decisions that go into criminal sentencing.
  • Implications for Rehabilitation and Treatment: The use of COMPAS in determining the rehabilitative needs of an offender can be problematic if the tool inaccurately assesses the individual’s circumstances, potentially leading to inappropriate or ineffective rehabilitation strategies.

In response to these concerns, LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has called for greater scrutiny, transparency, and regulation in using algorithmic tools like COMPAS in the criminal justice system. Our defense attorneys are keenly aware of these issues and prepared to challenge the use or interpretation of such assessments in court to ensure fair and just treatment of our clients.

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

Michigan criminal defense attorneys with experience in sentencing and with COMPAS

It is vital that you have expert legal assistance if you are faced with criminal charges and the possibility of losing your freedom. The attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have decades of experience representing people charged with violations of the criminal law and facing sentencing. Sometimes, a well-made argument at a sentencing hearing can make the difference between incarceration and probation. LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C.’s attorneys are in the state and federal courtrooms around Michigan daily. Criminal law is all we do.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

Contact Us - Michigan Criminal Defense Attorneys