Published: Feb. 23, 2024

Chad Topaz, Professor of Complex Systems, Williams College

Data Science for Criminal and Social Justice

Tens of millions of people in the United States have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system, with nearly half the population affected through close familial or social ties. Alongside the direct harm inflicted by the system, an insidious challenge arises: the system's opaque nature makes pinpointing the specific loci of harm complex and elusive. Echoing the words of civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells, who stated that "the way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them," this talk will showcase how data science can be harnessed to expose racial injustice. It will feature case studies spanning various scales and stages of the criminal justice system, including policing in the small municipality of Williamstown, Massachusetts; criminal sentencing across all 94 federal district courts; and incarceration at Rikers Island in New York during the COVID pandemic. These examples underscore the pivotal role of data science tools in fostering transparency and advancing justice.