Digitize and Punish: Racial Criminalization in the Digital Age

November 28, 2020
Digitize and Punish: Racial Criminalization in the Digital Age

Tracing the rise of digital computing in policing andpunishment and its harmful impact on criminalized communities ofcolor The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that lawenforcement agencies have access to more than 100 million namesstored in criminal history databases. In some cities, 80 percent ofthe black male population is registered in these databases.Digitize and Punish explores the long history of digitalcomputing and criminal justice, revealing how big tech, computerscientists, university researchers, and state actors have digitizedcarceral governance over the past forty years—with devastatingimpact on poor communities of color.Providing a comprehensive study of the use of digital technologyin American criminal justice, Brian Jefferson shows how thetechnology has expanded the wars on crime and drugs, enabling ourcurrent state of mass incarceration and further entrenching thenation’s racialized policing and punishment. After examining howthe criminal justice system conceptualized the benefits ofcomputers to surveil criminalized populations, Jefferson focuses onNew York City and Chicago to provide a grounded account of thedeployment of digital computing in urban police departments.By highlighting the intersection of policing and punishment withbig data and web technology—resulting in the development of thecriminal justice system’s latest tool, crime datacenters—Digitize and Punish makes clear the extent towhich digital technologies have transformed and intensified thenature of carceral power.