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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2025
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  3. After a person is arrested and charged with a crime, they may be released on bail and required to participate in a community supervision program while awaiting trial. These 'pre-trial programs' are common throughout the United States, but very little research has demonstrated their effectiveness. Researchers have emphasized the need for more rigorous program evaluation methods, which we introduce in this article. We describe a program evaluation pipeline that uses recent interpretable machine learning techniques for observational causal inference, and demonstrate these techniques in a study of a pre-trial program in Durham, North Carolina. Our findings show no evidence that the program either significantly increased or decreased the probability of new criminal charges. If these findings replicate, the criminal-legal system needs to either improve pre-trial programs or consider alternatives to them. The simplest option is to release low-risk individuals back into the community without subjecting them to any restrictions or conditions. Another option is to assign individuals to pre-trial programs that incentivize pro-social behavior. We believe that the techniques introduced here can provide researchers the rigorous tools they need to evaluate these programs.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 25, 2025
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  6. We introduce a flexible framework that produces high-quality almost-exact matches for causal inference. Most prior work in matching uses ad-hoc distance metrics, often leading to poor quality matches, particularly when there are irrelevant covariates. In this work, we learn an interpretable distance metric for matching, which leads to substantially higher quality matches. The learned distance metric stretches the covariate space according to each covariate's contribution to outcome prediction: this stretching means that mismatches on important covariates carry a larger penalty than mismatches on irrelevant covariates. Our ability to learn flexible distance metrics leads to matches that are interpretable and useful for the estimation of conditional average treatment effects. 
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  7. Sparse decision trees are one of the most common forms of interpretable models. While recent advances have produced algorithms that fully optimize sparse decision trees for prediction, that work does not address policy design, because the algorithms cannot handle weighted data samples. Specifically, they rely on the discreteness of the loss function, which means that real-valued weights cannot be directly used. For example, none of the existing techniques produce policies that incorporate inverse propensity weighting on individual data points. We present three algorithms for efficient sparse weighted decision tree optimization. The first approach directly optimizes the weighted loss function; however, it tends to be computationally inefficient for large datasets. Our second approach, which scales more efficiently, transforms weights to integer values and uses data duplication to transform the weighted decision tree optimization problem into an unweighted (but larger) counterpart. Our third algorithm, which scales to much larger datasets, uses a randomized procedure that samples each data point with a probability proportional to its weight. We present theoretical bounds on the error of the two fast methods and show experimentally that these methods can be two orders of magnitude faster than the direct optimization of the weighted loss, without losing significant accuracy. 
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