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Yolo County DA announces 'Race Blind Charging' pilot program

Stanford Computational Policy Lab designed algorithm redacts racial information on police reports before it reaches prosecutors.
Credit: Giacomo Luca

YOLO COUNTY, Calif. — Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig announced on Thursday the introduction of a “game changing” new technology to address calls for criminal justice reform and stem the influence of explicit or implicit racial bias in charging decisions.  

“People across the country have made it clear that they want meaningful reform in the criminal justice system, especially when it comes to eliminating the insidious effects of racial bias in all forms,” Reisig said.  

The “Race Blind Charging” program relies on a computer algorithm designed by the Stanford Computational Policy Lab, redacting most information in police reports that identify an individual’s race before it reaches the desk of the prosecutor, who makes charging decisions based on the report.  

Before gaining access to unredacted information, a deputy district attorney must first state how likely it is the case will be charged.  

The Yolo DA said it worked with Stanford to incorporate the computer program into its charging workflow to help prosecutors make race-obscured charging decisions on incoming misdemeanor and felony cases.  

Still in its pilot stage, West Sacramento and Davis Police Departments are the only law enforcement agencies currently participating.  

“We are proud to unveil a new technology that is squarely designed to help mitigate against racial bias in a critical stage of the criminal justice process,” Reisig said.  

Davis Police Department Chief Darren Pytel called the program an important component of “ensuring that prosecutors rely only on the facts of a particular case before filing charges.” 

The Yolo DA is also working with the county’s Multi-Cultural Community Council (MCCC). MCCC Chair Tessa Smith said she has had some challenging conversations in communities of color where trust in law enforcement is low.  

“We talk about race and mental health,” Smith said, adding that the Stanford Computational Policy Lab’s role as a third party was reassuring. “They are independent, they are reviewing the information and there’s accountability built in,” Smith said.  

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