The last several weeks have called renewed attention to the systemic racism against the Black community in the US and around the world. We wanted to take a moment to offer some reflections from our previous work on this topic and recent commitments to doing more.
We’ve supported racial justice work since 2015, directing $32M and 15,000 pro bono hours to organizations focused on addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Earlier this month, over 14,000 Googlers rallied to raise $10.6M for racial justice organizations through their donations and Googler Gift Match, our largest ever employee giving campaign. Google.org made a commitment of an additional $12M to the topic, which our CEO, Sundar Pichai, shared in an email update to the company. In addition to funding the Black Lives Matter movement directly, many of our grantees in this portfolio are primarily focused on two things:
- Legal representation for individuals unfairly impacted by policing and prosecution and advocacy for a more just criminal justice system: Equal Justice Initiative, Leadership Conference Education Fund.
- Expanding quality data to support equitable and a rights-affirming criminal justice system: Center for Policing Equity, NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
This focus on quality data has been core to our racial justice portfolio since its inception. We have heard time and again from community leaders how incomplete data in the criminal justice system leads to a lack of transparency around bias in policing and sentencing.
Fragmented data makes it tough to compare across different jurisdictions and agencies and to hold systems accountable for harm they are causing to Black communities. Tackling this data challenge is complicated and expensive work, given that it requires cleaning, unifying, and visualizing large and complex datasets. The type of data science talent needed for this work is in high demand across all industries and can be hard for many nonprofits to access. To help address these gaps, we’ve paired many of the criminal justice organizations we support with Google.org Fellows that have a background in data science.
We recently spoke to our Google.org Fellows, including Aria Ashton from Google’s Creative Lab, who worked alongside the Vera Institute of Justice, in order to understand their experience in using data to make real change.
Cleaning up data
There are 3000+ US county jails with different public-facing websites and no standardized data schema. Vera Institute developed tools to collect, normalize, and report on public jail data with support from Google.org Fellows. These tools allowed Vera to release People in Jails in 2019 which sheds light on the increasing incarceration rates in smaller cities and rural counties, and underscores the urgent need to address mass incarceration everywhere. Vera made up-to-date jail population data available to the research community on github, the first time this data has ever been unified and made available publicly.
Making data digestible
Once the data was collected and organized, with assistance from Google.org Fellows, the Vera team revamped the way they presented their data to be more digestible by non-technical audiences. For example, they deployed a new automated reporting dashboard that could be directly shared with policymakers and other key stakeholders, and they also made it easy for non-technical users in counties to upload their data. In this case, both the input and output of data were revamped to be more accessible by the non-technical users who are on the front lines of changing policies and practices.
From data to action
Maps, graphs, or dashboards aren’t inherently useful on their own — they need to lead to action to have real impact. Vera’s team defined the common insights they needed to be able to make persuasive arguments (for example, the percent of those in jail who are nonviolent offenders or can’t afford bail) that would convince counties to close a jail or enact bail reform. At Vera’s request, Google.org Fellows prioritized those insights in creating dashboards and reports. For example, with help from Google.org Fellows, Vera was recently able to offer a set of tools for tracking how Kentucky’s criminal justice system is responding to the COVID-19 crisis. Kentucky entered the pandemic with the second highest rate of jail admissions in the nation and a jail system marked by catastrophic overcrowding. In recent months, judges, public defenders, prosecutors and community members have worked to dramatically reduce the state’s jail population, which — as of June 15 — had decreased by 32.0% since February 29.
If you’d like to join us in contributing to some of the organizations mentioned in this overview, you can donate now here.