New criminal justice technology catalog relaunches with over 130 projects

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Jason Tashea

Jason Tashea. Photo by Saverio Truglia.

In early August, I was in Chicago for the 2018 ABA Annual Meeting, and I had the chance to sit down with Brian Hill, the CEO of justice technology company Edovo.

During our wide-ranging conversation, he hit on a lament I’ve heard before: Startup founders don’t do their research.

“Entrepreneurs can often get so excited about their ideas that they forget to even do a fairly basic online search to discover competition,” he told me. “It’s always is a bit painful to have to tell someone almost a year into their development that there are a few other companies already doing the same thing—or that there’s a big graveyard of those who tried.”

This isn’t just a startup problem. Those building technology for government or in the aid of a civic process are constantly reinventing the digital wheel. Academic and nonprofit researchers, as well, can rack up redundant work trying to build or replicate a tool for study.

To save people time and trouble, I’ve updated the Justice Tech Catalog, a repository of criminal justice data and technology projects. Today is its official relaunch.

In a small way, this resource is an attempt to make it easier for founders, civic technologists and justice system actors to be aware of what is happening in the criminal justice and technology space and to build on it.

This isn’t just a list of projects, but a place to find source code and open data portals—where applicable—for projects already underway. Compiling this resource, I hope, will jump-start more experimentation and entrepreneurship in the criminal justice system.

Born out of work I started with the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York in 2015 and inspired by Stanford Law School’s CodeX Techindex, was originally compiled to illustrate the growth of criminal justice tech projects and their need for evaluation.

Since then, the creation of novel tools and datasets has exploded. In the last few years, the database has more than doubled to 133 projects. These projects touch every aspect of the criminal justice system, from smartphone probationer monitoring to county-by-county criminal justice datasets to blockchain applications that help people pay bail.

It’s important to note that inclusion in the catalog is not an endorsement. This resource is meant to be a compendium of projects, regardless of intent or quality.

With that caveat, Pieter Gunst, the creator of the CodeX Techlist, says that projects “that categorize the offerings in one or more verticals of the legal technology landscape bring much-needed clarity and structure to a complex, fragmented and rapidly evolving market, and can help the next generation of legal technology entrepreneurs understand what is out there and what challenges remain to be tackled.”

Categories are broken down into the various contact points of the criminal justice system: corrections, courts, intake and referral, law enforcement, legal, parole and probation, and re-entry.

A user can also broadly search by type of project: whether it is used by a system actor, a data project or a crowdsourcing tool. A growing number of tags allow for a user to further subdivide the collection by subjects as diverse as prosecution, sexual assault and white-collar crime.

This project was completed with the hard work of Lindsey Barrett, a staff attorney at the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown Law Center, and Keith Porcaro, an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and my co-professor at Georgetown Law Center. A generous grant from Koch Industries made this project possible.

While I’m excited to share this site with the larger legal, justice and technology communities, the project will never be complete. It is near impossible for me to stay on top of every new project.

So, going forward, I ask for your help crowdsourcing this information. You can recommend changes to existing entries and new additions through the email address provided on the website. More broadly, I welcome your feedback to grow and improve the Justice Tech Catalog.

With your help, this collective effort can help foster a more robust and better-informed justice technology ecosystem.

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