Data is Illuminating, Clementine Jacoby, Podcast #121
Clementine Jacoby, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Recidiviz works with states to build data awareness to drive reform of the criminal justice system. Her journey takes her from circus performer to Google, maps product manager, to using data to illuminate problems in incarceration and criminal justice systems.
You can listen to this on iTunes here.
Data is Illuminating, Clementine Jacoby, Podcast #121“The hope is that we can help shift the system from punitive to rehabilitative over time. By reducing incarceration and helping reinvest those savings in things like drug treatment and mental health treatment.”0:48 So where did you grow up? Grew up all over. Born in Boston. Went to high school in Utah. Stanford for college. Lived in Sydney Australia for a few years. Brazil for a couple years.1:32 An acrobat in the circus. How did you get into that? “I started in gymnastics very young and then became too tall.” “I did it as a hobby for a long time, and then midway through Stanford…I quit school, and I moved to (Rio) Brazil.” “And the thing that actually was hard for me about it was that there was no intellectual anything.” 2:49 “I actually ended up getting dengue fever there…and so that helped me make the decision to go back to Stanford.”3:31 What did you major in at Stanford? Symbolic systems (mixture of computer science and philosophy)4:03 “Everyone should take a gap year.” “The most high impact year of my life to be honest.”5:07 When you graduated Stanford, what did end up moving towards? “I went down the road to Google. It was the least adventurous move I’ve made in my whole life.” “It was an incredible experience for me because the reason I went was I just discovered product management.” “In retrospect that’s why I’m a product person is cause I think it’s all the fun stuff.” “I learned so much.”6:30 What product did you concentrate on? “I got lucky in that I started on this new internet of things project.” “I got to work at Google on a lot of zero to one things.” 6:59 “And then I transitioned to Google Maps which I loved.” “But also I just think Google Maps is one of the more democratizing products to come out of the tech industry.” “Between the first time I lived in Brazil and the second time I lived in Brazil, Google Maps became a thing, and it transformed my ability to travel in that country. If you’re a woman that is young travelling alone, you’re way better off if you’re walking confidently in the direction you know you’re going.”8:00 Working at Google. “There are amazing people there. When you want to do something, the resources just come.” JW: “What I’ve always loved about Google, is that they just hire great people. And if they think you’re great, they’ll find something for you to do.”8:44 So what made you start this company, it must be something of passion? “I had an uncle go into prison when I was five and he was nineteen.” “Spent 21 years in his first sentence.”9:25 “I say for the first time because the end of the story is that he’s never been out for more than a couple of months. The last thing he went in on was not paying a fine.” “Twenty-Five percent of admissions to prison are coming from something called a technical revocation. Which is when you don’t commit a new crime after you’ve left prison and are on supervision, but you break a rule.”10:04 Do you think that most of these people don’t even know what the rules are that they break? “I don’t know if it’s so much that, there’s a lot that drives incarceration and a lot of what we’re trying to do with our work is give the people in charge a better sense of what’s driving these returns to prisons in their state.”10:56 Effects on the family. “The uphill battle that people face coming out of prison is wild.” JW: “As a society we make it almost impossible.” “That’s one of the fundamental issues with prison in America is we’ve never really figured out what it’s for. Is it to hold people think are dangerous, is it to punish people that we’re mad at, or is it to rehabilitate people?”12:17 Talking in a D.C. prison to a group of ‘juvenile lifers.’ 12:51 Racial disparities. “I don’t think the racial disparities are even very well understood. Where are they starting these disparities and what can we do.” “A lot of what Recidiviz does is basically collect data and give it back to the people running the system. To try to help them see the problems that they’re managing in a way that’s more actionable.”14:00 The Bail Project. Robin Steinberg.14:33 “There’s so much good work happening. And I think the role we’re trying to play is that of providing a common data platform to make it easier to scale lots of these data driven reforms that need to happen. So, if you think about it, policy makers, practitioners, researchers, and advocates in this space all need access to the same answers, like, who’s in jail? And why? Or what’s driving recidivism in this state? What steps in the process are laddering up or down the racial disparities in the system overall?”15:38 How are doing this research and where are you getting it from? “We actually try to help the states directly. We go in and we work with someone called the Director of Corrections. We are working in five states right now.” “We sign a data sharing agreement with them, and they are over prisons, probation, and parole.” “First we do kind of a historical analysis and look at what the data has looked like over time. But then we build real time tools for them to make decisions based on this data that integrates into their workflows.”16:48 “It turns out there hasn’t been a ton of product design as I would call it from the private sector in this industry.” “Procuring decent technology as a state is hard it turns out. You’re up against some pretty ecosystemic battles in trying to build things that really work for states.” 19:09 So with this data, is it helping the communities that the jails are in to think about, wow, 20% of the people in this jail are coming from these two communities and what’s missing is i.e. a social program or alcoholic anonymous, or…” “Yeah that’s right. And we’re actually trying to give that information to the agency at the time when they’re making funding decisions for what community resources they need.” “The hope is that we can help shift the system from punitive to rehabilitative over time. By reducing incarceration and helping reinvest those savings in things like drug treatment and mental health treatment.”20:28 “The prisons are being used to solve for problems that they were never designed to solve for.” “The people running these systems have really hard jobs.”20:55 What percentage of people that are in incarceration are mentally unhealthy? Research says ~60%.21:45 What was the impetus in starting this business? “I think the experience with my uncle was part of it. I think another part of it was that I was at Google and started helping researchers and advocates in this space get access to data. And just became surprised at with how hard it was. Why can we not say how many people are in jail tonight? That’s very weird.” “I think part of it was a fascination with how mess the problem was. I have been very interested in public sector problems because in some ways they’re the final frontier for tech. We’re over optimizing in tech land these problems that are not actually very interesting in the end.”24:34 Push-back from older generations for being a non-profit. “Our goal isn’t to make a large amount of money. But I think that the idea that your goal would be to not make a large amount of money is flabbergasting to some people.” JW: “I have mixed feelings on non-profits vs. profits.”25:53 JW: “I will hope that the next generation of non-profits operate differently.” “That’s the thing, there’s a view that non-profits are big, and bloated, and slow, and ineffective…”26:44 “Aligning our incentives with decarceration instead of with shareholder return is incredibly important for the specific kind of work we’re trying to do.” “Then the question becomes, in what ways are the issues that exist with non-profits in the ecosystem, are they real. And by real I mean, I can hire well. I can hire amazing engineers.” “There’s this other question, will you be able to hire enough capital to actually own your own roadmap. That’s a big problem for non-profits is that they end up flailing to meet the demand that funders create.”27:55 Foundations are getting much better.28:10 Just went through Y-Combinator. “To me the biggest difference between venture capital and foundations in my experience, has been that venture, they say all kinds of things about the way they do diligence, but they’re really investing in founders at the early stage. That’s not how foundations do it. Foundations invest in the idea. But what happens with the foundations is that they end up creating a marketplace. Because then non-profits do what they think foundations want.”29:51 So you’re in five states now? “Which I think is shocking actually. Because I started doing this full time in June.” 30:14 As you’re looking at the landscape, do you think that we’re going to see change in that horizon? “All of the candidates have some pretty coherent thoughts on the subject, whether or not we see change, I’m not sure. I tend to think that there are pretty smart policy people thinking about this problem already. The value I can add is thinking deeply about products.”31:29 “I think the value I can add in this space is to illuminate problems because the data is good at that.” JW: “Data is always illuminating.”32:45 Criminal justice. “You’ve got a massive system, too massive to shift in a way.” “The ideas and solutions are out there, but the problem is too big.” “I see data as a sustainable way to decarcerate.” “What are the things that will scale decarceration so that we can actually start to think about what rehabilitation really looks like in this country, which frankly we aren’t even close to solving that problem.”33:53 Are you looking at data from other countries? Advisor, Marc Howard, wrote book Unusually Cruel.34:43 The very first state that company worked with was North Dakota, and the reason was because it’s lead by visionary woman named Leann Bertsch. 35:47 JW: “Really unbelievable what you’re doing. I’m a big believer, if you save one person, you save the world.”