Syllabus: Criminal Justice Technology, Policy, & Law

Not a guest speaker this term.

Keith Porcaro and I are back at it and teaching our criminal justice technology practicum at Georgetown Law Center. I’ll share our projects in a different post. If you care for our entire syllabus, then DM me here or on Twitter (@jtashea). In the meantime, here’s the classes and associated readings for fall 2018:

8/27: An Introduction to the Course & Projects

In the first hour, we’ll set the tone for the course, and talk about goals and functions of the criminal justice system, trends in thinking about criminal justice, and the recent rise of data and technology.

In the second hour, you’ll hear from the two project partners: the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the Texas Indigent Defense Commission. They’ll introduce the projects, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions.

Read before class

9/3: No Class (Labor Day)

9/10: Asking the right questions

ASSIGNMENT DUE: Project Objectives Mini-Memo

For most of the class, we will run a simulation to give you a sense of the muddled world of criminal justice. Think choose-your-own-adventure meets DnD meets re-entry evaluation.

With the time remaining we will review project goals and how to build good interviews.

Read before class

Read after class (optional)

9/17: Systems and Processes

ASSIGNMENT DUE: Interview Questions

One fundamental approach for this course is systems thinking, but is the criminal justice system a system? (Spoiler: probably not.) We’ll talk about what it means to be a system and the implications of thinking of solutions in a system context.

In the second hour, we’ll do a short training on how to map a process and get you started on your next assignment. Come ready with a few ideas about processes relevant to your project that you might want to map.

Read before class

9/24: Data in the Justice System: Collection & Standardization

ASSIGNMENT DUE: Small process map

In the first hour, we’ll do a brief introduction to computing and data.

In the second hour, we’ll talk about data collection and data standards. If data is the new oil then data standards are the derrick’s blueprints. Due to the confederation of the criminal justice system in the U.S., data collection varies widely county-to-county and state-to-state. We’ll discuss how data standards are foundational to system administration, the development and deployment of justice technologies and next generation justice reform.

Read before class

10/1: Iterating the Fourth Amendment


Technology’s march forward has made surveillance cheaper and more invasive. The Fourth Amendment is working overtime to keep up. Can police use breathalyzer laws to access your texts after an car accident? Have computer crimes brought back the practice of general warrants? Do the police need a warrant for your metadata?

In the second hour, we’ll spend 15–30 minutes talking about the project memo, and resolving lingering questions or concerns that may have come up when drafting. We’ll spend the final 30 minutes on how to evaluate technology tools, in preparation for your next assignment.

Read before class

10/9 (Tues.): Police & Tech: The clash between big data and Big Brother

In the first half, we will discuss how big data is used to inform place-based predictive policing and facial recognition. When police determine where to disperse officers based based on an algorithm are we merely hiding historic racial and class bias behind a digital veil?

In the second half of the class, we will be joined virtually by Cynthia Conti-Cook, attorney at New York Legal Services Society and project manager of the Cop Accountability Program, and Ben Singleton, director of analytics for the New York Police Department. They will discuss how data is affecting their work, which is often at odds.

Read before class

Read after class (optional)

10/15: Encryption meets the Fifth Amendment

ASSIGNMENT DUE: Solution Survey

The first hour will feature a short introduction to encryption.

For the second hour, we will talk about how encryption is being dealt with in criminal cases, especially in regards to the Fifth Amendment. Can a court compel you to decrypt a drive and preserve a privilege against self-incrimination?

Read before class

10/22: Data in the Justice System: Algorithms, Analysis, & Predictions

ASSIGNMENT DUE: Expanded Process Map

In the first hour, we’ll conduct a simulation about algorithmic pre-trial detention.

In the second hour, we will talk about how algorithms are being used to help determine bail and sentencing decisions. We will talk about algorithmic and data bias, due process, and Equal Protection issues among others.

Read before class

Read after class (optional)

10/29: Admissibility, Transparency and IP in the Criminal Justice System

For the first hour, we will talk about how intellectual property is limiting motions and arguments in pretrial, trial and at sentencing. This is an opportunity to build on our discussions around law enforcement hacking techniques and risk assessments. We will also add probabilistic genotyping algorithms to the mix.

In the second hour, we’ll cover expectations for the final presentation and memo. You’ll also have the opportunity to go over questions or concerns about your project.

Read before class

11/5: Data in the Justice System: It never goes away

Wrapping up our lectures for the semester, we will spend the first hour discussing how the internet impacts criminal records and peoples’ lives. Can expungement coexist with the internet?

In the second hour, you will start on a threatcasting exercise, which melds what we’ve learned over the semester, science fiction writing and systems thinking. Simply, this will be an opportunity to think about what threats technology may create for people’s due process in 2028. We will continue this exercise the following week.

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Read after class

11/12: Threatcasting Continued

The entire class will be a continuation of the threatcasting exercise we began the previous week.

11/19: Presentation Practice

Each group will make their presentation to the class and answer questions asked by the audience.

11/26: Final Presentations

In front of a panel of legal, policy and technology experts, each group will present its final presentation and manage a question and answer session with the panel. Dress professionally.