Incarceration, Public Safety, Dollars and Big Data

Harvard Black Alumni Society of Chicago
Harvard Club of Chicago

Roseanna Ander, MPH'96, and Jens Ludwig

of University of Chicago Crime Lab

Please join the Harvard Club of Chicago and the Harvard Black Alumni Society of Chicago with Roseanna Ander and Professor Jens Ludwig for a discussion titled “Human Decisions and Big Data: A Novel Approach to Public Safety.” Ms. Ander is the founding Executive Director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab as well as Senior Director of Urban Labs for the University of Chicago. Ms. Ander holds a master’s degree the Harvard School of Public Health. Jens Ludwig is the McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law, and Public Policy at the University of Chicago.  

Over the past 40 years, the primary approach to reducing crime in the U.S. has been to increase the number of people behind bars, causing staggering growth in the jail population. At any given time, over 700,000 people are in jail across the country. Young men of color from low-income families are disproportionately represented among the jail population. These individuals often spend over two months in jail before being tried for a crime, imposing substantial costs for the accused and their families. And there is another side to the problem: fully 40 percent of people released on bail either fail to appear in court or are re-arrested within three months.
How do we address these challenges? Some argue that we should simply expand our corrections facilities to avoid releasing potentially dangerous individuals back into the community, while others suggest targeted social services to help prevent individuals from recidivating. While the relative popularity of these two options has tended to shift over time, they both require large infusions of funding, something that is increasingly in short supply at the local, state and federal levels.

Recent work by University of Chicago economist Jens Ludwig and colleagues suggests that it may be possible to reduce the number of people in jail or decrease the crime rate at no cost. The key insight behind this work is the realization that the decision of who to lock up, at its core, is a prediction problem. Due to substantial caseloads, judges often have as little as 90 seconds to decide whether the accused will be sent home or await trial in jail. This requires two things we know humans are not always particularly good at: thinking probabilistically (answering the question, what are the chances this person will commit a crime or fail to appear in court?) and making high-stakes decisions under time constraints. Ludwig’s work examines how the growing availability of administrative data combined with new techniques from the computer science field of machine learning could simplify this decision-making task. Using these data and techniques, without spending a single extra dollar, the criminal justice system could either improve public safety without increasing the jail population or reduce the jail population without compromising public safety – a compelling new possibility.  

Jens Ludwig is the McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law, and Public Policy at the University of Chicago, non-resident senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), and co-director of the NBER's Working Group on the Economics of Crime. An economist by training, Ludwig was elected in 2012 to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. His work on crime reduction and education interventions has shaped urban policy in Chicago and received nationwide news coverage in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and on NPR. Ludwig also serves as the director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab and Crime Lab New York, and is co-director of the University of Chicago Education Lab.

Roseanna Ander is on the Board of Directors for the Harvard Club of Chicago and serves as the founding Executive Director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab (2008) and the University of Chicago Urban Education Lab (2011), as well as Senior Director of Urban Labs at the University of Chicago. In January 2010, Ms. Ander was appointed to the International Association of Chiefs of Police Research Advisory Committee and she formerly served on the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission. Ms. Ander also served on the public safety transition teams for both Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner. Prior to joining the University of Chicago, Ms. Ander oversaw the Joyce Foundation’s gun violence program. Ms. Ander also served as the developer and lead program officer for the Foundation’s grant making on early childhood education.  Prior to joining Joyce, she was a Soros Justice Fellow with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office where she worked on a range of issues including truancy, domestic violence and consumer protection. Ms. Ander has also worked for the Harvard Injury Control Center, the Harvard Center for Children’s Health, and the Harvard Project on Schooling and Children. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a master’s degree from the Harvard School of Public Health.

DATE: Tuesday, December 8, 2015
5:30 pm Wine & Cheese Reception, 6:00 pm Program
Latham & Watkins LLP
330 N Wabash Ave, Suite 2800, Chicago 60611

$20 for HBAS members and their guests
$20 for HCC members and their guests              
$35 for non-members
Complimentary for HCC Crimson Passport & Crimson Passport Plus Guest Members

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