Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Next month, the San Francisco District Attorney's office will begin using a computer program developed at Stanford to strip police reports of names, neighborhoods and other proxies for race like eye color or hairstyle.

Why it matters: The effort is meant to remove bias. Prosecutors decide whether to charge suspects based on police reports and evidence — but they're liable to be swayed by their own biases, which could lead them to bring charges more often against people of color.

The big picture: The U.S. criminal justice system is chock-full of racial disparities. Our prisons are disproportionately black and Hispanic — the two groups make up 56% of incarcerated people, but only 28% of the U.S. adult population.

  • Among other things, it's the result of countless layers of systemic bias, from overpolicing in neighborhoods of color to sentencing disparities.
  • The SFDA–Stanford project addresses one link in the chain: prosecutorial decisions.

"We want to make sure that when we're charging somebody, race doesn't come into it," a spokesperson for the SFDA's office tells Axios. "If we're able to take implicit bias out of even 90% of these cases, that's a huge achievement."

How it works: The system replaces racial proxies with generic placeholders — Person 1, Officer 2, Neighborhood 3. The idea is that a prosecutor reading a sanitized report will focus on the narrative rather than being influenced by their own preconceptions.

  • It's not fancy AI — rather it's more like an advanced search-and-replace tool — and that's on purpose. Sharad Goel, the head of the Stanford team behind the project, says a simpler, rules-based system is more predictable, consistent and interpretable.
  • In the grand scheme, it's a modest step. After reading the edited report and making an initial charging decision, prosecutors must read the full, unmasked report. They can then change their decision, but the switch will be recorded and later analyzed.

What's next: Later this year, the Stanford team will take a bigger leap. It's working on a machine learning program that will flag cases that, based on the DA's history, are most likely to be discharged.

  • As with any system that is based on past patterns, there's a danger of perpetuating previously biased practices.
  • But a 2017 study indicated that racial disparities in San Francisco's criminal justice system are largely not the result of the DA's charging decisions.
  • Goel says the tool's results will be regularly audited to make sure it's not disproportionately recommending discharge for some groups over others.

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Empire State Building among hundreds to light up in Biden inauguration coronavirus tribute.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.

Biden Cabinet confirmation schedule: When to watch hearings

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Jan. 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The first hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet nominations begin on Tuesday, with testimony from his picks to lead the departments of State, Homeland and Defense.

Why it matters: It's been a slow start for a process that usually takes place days or weeks earlier for incoming presidents. The first slate of nominees will appear on Tuesday before a Republican-controlled Senate, but that will change once the new Democratic senators-elect from Georgia are sworn in.