Data & Civil Rights: Criminal Justice Primer
Data & Civil Rights Conference, October 2014
7 Pages Posted: 24 Dec 2014
Date Written: October 30, 2014
There has been some discussion of how “big data” can be used to remedy inequalities in the criminal justice system; civil rights advocates recognize potential benefits but remained fundamentally concerned that data-oriented approaches are being designed and applied in ways that also disproportionately harms those who are already marginalized by criminal justice processes. Like any other powerful tool of governance, data mining can empower or disempower groups. The values that go into an algorithm, and the metrics it optimizes for, are baked into its design. Data could be used to identify discrimination in current practices, or to predict where certain combinations of data points are likely to lead to an erroneous conviction. When algorithms are designed to improve how law enforcement regimes are deployed, the question that data analytics raises is, which efficiencies are we optimizing for? Who are the stakeholders, and where do they stand to gain or lose? How do these applications intersect with core civil rights concerns? Where can we use big data techniques to improve the structural conditions criminal justice system that lead to disparate impacts on marginalized communities? How do we measure that impact, and the factors that lead to it?
Keywords: predictive policing, data mining, data analytics, criminal justice, disparate impact, sentencing algorithms, big data
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