“Moneyballing” Criminal Justice: Anne Milgram Is Fighting Crime with Data Science

anne-milgram-1Anne Milgram, HAS 16 opening keynote presenter, often uses the 2011 movie Moneyball to illustrate the power of data analytics to drive improvement and success. The film recounts the story baseball team the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, who used one key statistic—a hitter’s on-base percentage—to make signing decisions. The practice transformed baseball, adding data-driven indicators to the historic process in which managers relied solely on their experience and instinct when filling their rosters.

“We all know that change can be difficult,” Milgram explains, “Yet data, technology, and analytics have shown that we can change the way we do business in faster and more impactful ways.”

As the Former New Jersey Attorney General, Senior Fellow at NYU School of Law, Vice President of Criminal Justice, Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Milgram’s area of expertise isn’t baseball but criminal justice. She has, however, taken a similar approach to Beane’s in her work to transform the justice system and improve public safety. In this talk, Milgram will describe her to bring the best of the modern world—data, technology and analytics—to bear in an effort to transform the American criminal justice system. She’ll also discuss parallels between the criminal justice and healthcare systems and the significant overlap between high utilizers of these systems.

Similar to baseball before Beane’s contribution, Milgram observed that experience and instinct drove major decisions in the criminal justice system, such as which criminals were likely safe to release and which ones were more likely to offend again if released. Just as smart statistical analysis could help win baseball games, Milgram posited that broad use of analytics technology in criminal justice could drive significant shifts in the field.

Specifically, she saw need for improvement in criminal sentencing practices in the United States—including decisions about whom to arrest, whom to cite, and whom to simply give a warning. Without data, the criminal justice system has no guidelines for whether they’re making the right decisions when it comes to who stays behind bars and who goes free. The results are heavy financial burdens for governments to house low-risk individuals, a system with questionable fairness, and importantly, threats to public safety.

Seeing a clear need for research-based instruments in the criminal justice system, Milgram set about building data-driven tools to provide objective information about the risk that a defendant will commit a new crime, commit a new violent crime, or fail to appear for court. It’s what Milgram calls “Moneyballing criminal justice,” or applying data science to the decision-making process.

Milgram began her career as an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. She then served as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Department of Justice, where she was the Special Litigation Counsel for the prosecution of human trafficking crimes. In that role, Milgram partnered with U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Eastern District of New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire to prosecute some of the first sex trafficking and forced labor cases under a new federal anti-trafficking law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Milgram was awarded the U.S. Department of Justice Special Commendation for Outstanding Service and the U.S. Department of Justice Director’s Award for her work.

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