Recidiviz uses open-source data to create a fairer criminal-justice system
12-02-2020 08:27am

Recidiviz uses open-source data to create a fairer criminal-justice system

Less than two years ago, Clementine Jacoby co-founded Recidiviz — a nonprofit technology company that uses data to create a fairer criminal-justice system. With a team of technical talent hailing from Google, Apple, and Dropbox, and a full roster of advisers, Recidiviz has already made an impact on individuals and communities.

Jacoby’s interest in criminal justice grew during her undergraduate years at Stanford University. Through a Stanford class, Jacoby taught dance at a local prison. When she took a year off from her studies to join a circus in Brazil, she taught in the circus’ gang-diversion program.

“It struck me that circus school was clearly a better crime deterrent, and a more powerful tool for behavior change, than incarcerating kids” says Jacoby. “I walked away from that experience feeling like the U.S. juvenile justice system was a pretty bad approach to helping kids stay out of trouble.”

After graduating, Jacoby joined Google. Recidiviz began as a side project, but the founders launched it as a stand-alone organization in February 2019.

Recidiviz aims to drive smart decarceration and lower recidivism rates in the U.S. American Action Forum estimates that the social and economic cost of our current criminal-justice system could be as high as $1.2 trillion. In addition to a high price tag, the status quo undermines equal rights, harms communities, and disproportionately contributes to racial injustice.

Recidiviz contributes to solutions through shrewd data collection and analysis. For example, during a weekend this spring, the company created a tool that helps prison administrators make decisions about emergency releases in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It wasn’t hard to do the math and see that overcrowded prisons could turn deadly,” says Jacoby.

Recidiviz’s tool projected the rate of infection spread, and resulting ICU bed usage, under different policy scenarios, demonstrating to corrections officials the impact of their policy decisions. Within 48 hours, every state had downloaded the tool, and the National Governors Association encouraged officials to take advantage of the free data offering.

The 34 states that relied on the tool were able to recommend more than 44,000 people for early release. Data is preliminary, but indicates that individuals released during COVID have had similar outcomes in the community than those released under normal procedures.

Jacoby believes this experience demonstrates that fast, safe decarceration is possible and that data can help achieve it. “There is a mundane data problem that is getting in the way of this incredible, monumental bipartisan effort to improve our criminal-justice system,” said Jacoby. “We want to help solve that problem.”

In December, Recidiviz, the Charles Koch Institute (CKI), and Stand Together Ventures announced a partnership that will allow Recidiviz to expand its work with state departments of corrections in up to 15 states. This partnership reflects the commitment of CKI to invest in practical solutions and demonstrates a better way to address our nation’s toughest challenges.

“This, I hope, is a once-in-a-lifetime moment for criminal-justice reform. This grant will help states cover the startup costs of data collection at a time when actionable data is desperately needed, and will offer those leaders the tools they need to steer the system towards a more just, equitable baseline,” Jacoby said.

The Recidiviz platform empowers states with real-time analysis, reports, alerts, and dashboards powered by case-level data. These tools are designed to help leaders modify policies and practices in ways that reduce incarceration, improve re-entry outcomes, and conserve taxpayer dollars.

Recidiviz has also begun using its platform to help states make criminal-justice data publicly available. This August, Recidiviz and the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (NDDOCR) launched a dashboard that gives policymakers and the public access to real-time information on their state’s criminal-justice system — including pages on sentencing, prisons, probation, parole, and racial disparities.

“This represents a big step forward in transparency and timeliness,” Jacoby explained, “Usually key metrics are available at a months or even years-long lag, which makes it very hard for policymakers, academics, and the public to understand what’s working.”

At the outset of its partnership with Recidiviz, NDDOCR set six ambitious, measurable goals for improving outcomes, including reducing recidivism and increasing time-at-liberty for people on probation and parole. A year later, NDDOCR hit five of six goals. Along the way, officials have been able to spot counties, districts, and even individual staff members that were outliers and to use that information to chart a course forward. The state also has used data to prioritize early releases during COVID, to track how people released due to COVID are doing in the community, and to address racial disparities in its system.

“What if every state could use their data to set and hit measurable goals? What if governors and lawmakers could easily track whether legislation was having its intended impact?” asked Jacoby. “That’s where states would like to be, and we think we can help them get there.”

“Bringing criminal-justice data to light will spark conversations about how to improve our criminal-justice system for the benefit of all,” said CKI Executive Director Derek Johnson. “By working alongside corrections departments, Clementine and her team have proven it is possible to make changes that save lives, save money, and produce better outcomes for communities. We’re excited to support their efforts.”

At the Charles Koch Institute we invest in creating real, tangible, and scalable solutions to our country’s most pressing problems. We strategically support social entrepreneurs with deep knowledge of our nation’s challenges and help them build new approaches, models, and solutions with the potential to improve the lives of millions of Americans. To learn about our support in criminal-justice reform, click here. 

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