Skip to content Skip to navigation

Research & Ideas

Search this site

Sharad Goel: How hidden bias affects the criminal justice system

In-depth statistical analyses show time and again that subtle, unconscious bias is pervasive in the American justice system. The bigger question, however, is what to do about it.

Man walking in rainy weather in front of an illuminated building

A decision maker might think they are evaluating just the data and making decisions free from bias, but is this always true? | Reuters/Mike Segar

Sharad Goel  is an expert in computational social science — that is, using computers and data to examine and address policy issues.

He says unconscious bias is subtle but entrenched in American life, and nowhere are the consequences more concerning than in criminal justice.

Goel has analyzed hundreds of millions of crime records to show, for instance, that black drivers are pulled over more than white drivers and that judges demand bail too often. He says the data suggest that up to 30 percent more people could be released on their own recognizance without adversely affecting crime rates.

Goel is developing risk assessment tools to assist in high-stakes decision making. He cautions, however, that algorithms are an aid, not a panacea. They should be used to inform decision making and to help decision makers to make fairer choices, but not to actually make the decisions.

Listen in as host Russ Altman and expert in social data science Sharad Goel discuss bias and transparency in the criminal justice system. You can listen to The Future of Everything on iTunesGoogle PodcastsSoundCloudSpotifyStitcher or via Stanford Engineering Magazine.