We are facing a new social problem in this unfettered distribution of criminal justice data. Over the past few decades, there has been an enormous expansion of criminal justice operations. We’ve also witnessed the transformation of criminal justice paperwork into digital information. While we have some understanding of the information revolution and a grasp on the consequences of criminal records, little attention has been paid to how these forces interact. In a forthcoming book, I argue that unregulated distribution of data inflicts important - yet often unmeasured - criminal punishment outside of the formal legal system.
I have written about digital punishment in Contexts, the Scholars Strategy Network, the ANNALS of American Political and Social Science, Law and Society Review, Punishment & Society, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. This research has also been covered by the New York Times, The Guardian, NPR, and The Marshall Project.
Big Data & Criminal Record Accuracy
This project examines the accuracy of criminal record data across public and private platforms. Criminal records carry enormous consequences for individuals, yet we largely take for granted the accuracy and completeness of any given person’s record. I am currently directing a multi-site research study of the production and accuracy of public and private criminal record data. This research is funded by the National Institutes of Justice New Investigator/Early Career Program in the Social and Behavioral Sciences and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
With collaborators Elizabeth Webster, Robert Stewart, and Juan Sandoval, we evaluate the integrity of criminal record information from various public and private sources through a comparative analysis of criminal record databases. We show how even minimal criminal justice contact creates, maintains, and exacerbates existing social inequality through permanent, publicly-available information. We are also testing new methodological schemes for analyzing the accuracy of criminal records using novel data matching techniques. Our goal is to shed light on who is impacted most by these errors and will trace where the resulting inequalities are most concentrated.
Criminal Records & Employment Policy
Together with Professors Chris Uggen and Mike Vuolo, I study the use of criminal records in organizational settings, the effects of criminal justice contact on employment, and how this differs by race. Results from our field experiment on the effects of low-level arrests on employment are published in Criminology, and a related interview-based study of the audited employers appears in Law and Social Inquiry.
We are currently studying the construction of criminal record questions on job applications and implications on Ban the Box, recently published in Criminology and Public Policy.
This mixed methods study of courts and legal representation includes an examination of millions of criminal convictions and legal representation records, a study of attrition in public defender's offices, and fieldwork with attorneys. Along with Valerio Bacak and Kathleen Powell, we aim to understand broader social and economic forces that shape the indigent defense profession, the availability of legal aid to defendants, and the challenges public defenders face in their work.