Science to Reform Criminal Justice in Yolo County

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By Christopher Bryson

According to the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, the computational policy lab at Stanford University has developed an innovative tool for maintaining balance on the scales of criminal justice.

The lab’s executive director, Alex Chohlas-Wood, worked to address concerns that prosecutors may harbor implicit or explicit bias when determining whether to charge a suspect with a crime and as to which charge fits the facts of the crime.

The Race-Blind Charging Program utilizes a redaction technology that prevents prosecutors from viewing a suspect’s name and hair color, race of the suspect and victim, the neighborhood in which the crime occurred, and the responding officer’s name.

The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office reached out to Chohlas-Wood after a concept demonstration in 2019. Yolo County DA Jeff Resig plans to implement the program countywide and allow the community to view how the program affects decisions related to charging crimes by reporting relevant data through a “transparency portal.”

Resig’s office also worked with a citizen advisory group called the Multi- Cultural Community Council. The group’s chair, Tessa Smith, said, “This is what trust and accountability look like, what transparency looks like. This is how trust and relationships are built between a district attorney’s office and the community that it serves. We know that color can color perception of what is true, what is just, and what is equitable.”

“More counties need to apply it,” said Mule Creek State Prison resident Robert Mansfield of the program. “It allows the criminal justice system to be fair and legitimate. I am from San Bernardino County, and it has very race-based profiling.”

Ajay Dev is another Mule Creek resident, who was arrested in Yolo County and has been fighting his case for 12 years while maintaining his innocence. “This is a good thing,” he said. “Stereotypes are a major problem in the criminal justice process.”

Certain crimes are exempt from inclusion in the program, such as homicide, domestic violence, and sex crimes. According to Carolyn Palumbo, supervising deputy district attorney, exclusionary criteria are based on her office’s intention to evaluate a suspect’s rap sheet, which provides the criminal history of a suspect prior to charging them with certain crimes.

Davis Deputy Police Chief Paul Doroshov said, “We believe in this program and we believe in anything that will help eliminate bias from the system.”

Moving toward that ultimate goal, Chohlas-Wood described another function of the race-blind charging program. “Our next strategy is to try to select officers that have clear historical evidence of disparate treatment in the charging decisions so we can see if it actually reduces it.”

This redaction technology provides a glimpse into the potential future of criminal justice. Is it possible that, one day, a set of facts and circumstances about a crime will be input into a computer and the computer will determine the appropriate action? Is it possible that, in a trial, a computer will generate its own examination and cross-examination questions of a defendant on the stand by using its unbiased and infallible memory?

For now, this tool is just one method used to allay concerns of impropriety in charging criminal defendants, a tool that has been entrusted to the Yolo County DA’s Office to demonstrate its effectiveness to the rest of the country.

Originally Published in the Mule Creek Post

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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