Ben Winters

The Project

Ben investigated and published information about automated decision-making systems used in high-risk government services throughout the criminal justice cycle. Ben educated the public, advocates, and legislators working to address and combat the inherent biases in both the underlying data and algorithms used in the criminal cycle.

The increasing reliance on data and algorithms to make decisions about the length and severity of punishment among other important determinations is an underappreciated trend in the criminal justice system today. One example is the algorithm used to determine recidivism risk and to set bail, commonly referred to as a “risk assessment,” which has been shown to have disparate impacts on people of color. Other algorithms are used to determine eligibility for government benefits and more. Yet despite the increasingly significant role that these algorithms play in our justice system, they operate largely in a black box. Bringing them to light and instituting proper accountability and testing procedures will be essential to control the disparate impact these systems are having on underrepresented and over-incarcerated communities.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Ben has:

  • Testified in support of a bill establishing transparency and accountability in government procurement of automated decision-making systems in front of the Washington State Legislatures and submitted written testimony to the Massachusetts State Legislature
  • Published a report called Liberty At Risk, featuring significant FOIA documents, legal analysis, and recommendations around the use of Pretrial Risk Assessments
  • Worked with government agencies and other organizations to help understand and strategize about the use and impacts of automated decision-making systems.
  • Published and maintained web pages highlighting open government work, legal analysis, and critical educational context

Next Steps

Ben will transition to a Counsel role at EPIC, where he will do similar work leading AI and Human Rights work both inside and out of the Criminal context.

Media

AI legislation must address bias in algorithmic decision-making systems

In California, voters must choose between cash bail and algorithms

An Algorithm That Grants Freedom, or Takes It Away

Algorithms Were Supposed to Fix the Bail System. They Haven't

Going back to work or school? An algorithm may warn you to keep your distance from others

Technology Adoption Around the Criminal Justice System is a Tightrope

The capabilities that algorithms have to improve impartiality and efficiency within the courts and policing are vast and exciting—but can’t come at the cost of equality, transparency, and understanding in order to mitigate the perpetuation of inequitable incarceration.

Ben Winters /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Inspiration

The Project

Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) suffers from chronic overcrowding giving rise to conditions that breed rampant infectious diseases. In OPP, even the healthy are at risk for contracting incapacitating and deadly diseases. Elizabeth advocated for the medical needs of clients. In raising awareness of the dangerous conditions at OPP, the project will also lay another plank in the efforts to reduce the size of OPP.

The Project

The purpose of this project is to advocate for prisoners with disabilities to increase their access to the educational, vocational, and pre-release prison programs and services that they need to successfully reenter society. I hope to impress upon prison officials and disability advocates that meaningful reentry must begin during incarceration.

The Inspiration

The Project

My project addresses elements of surface coal production that perpetuate poverty in the coalfields of Appalachia. The effects on human health and safety make life difficult and dissuade alternative forms of development. Residents commonly endure fouled drinking water, property damage from blasting and a threat of coal dam failure. Threatening economic viability are reclamation rules, which allow mining operations to leave the land scarred and incapable of supporting future industry.

The Inspiration

The Project

Anna provided legal services and outreach to immigrant victims of employment-related crimes who are eligible for immigration relief through the U visa. The project goals were to educate workers about their labor rights, expand the use of the U visa to work-related crimes, and as a result, further the enforcement of state and federal labor laws, protection of workers, and prosecution of abusive employers.

The Inspiration

The Inspiration

The Project

Vanessa provided direct representation to individuals with criminal records who are being discriminated against in employment and housing through records sealing, vacating clinics and individual advocacy. Vanessa educated employers and housing providers about their obligations under the law as well as work with pro bono partners to develop impact cases.

The Project

The numbers of guestworkers trafficked into extreme labor conditions in the United States is increasing. Unable to demand fair working conditions or even leave their employers, guestworkers are subject to various coercive factors designed to keep them trapped in indefinite servitude. This project seeks to expand support to guestworkers, particularly in the South, through direct representation, federal agency advocacy and collaboration with civil service organizations, organizers and labor trafficking survivors themselves.

The Inspiration