From [HERE] Google is handing out $11.5 million in grants to organizations combating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, double what it has given so far.
And, in keeping with a company built on information, the latest wave of grants target organizations that crunch data to pinpoint problems and propose solutions.
"There is significant ambiguity regarding the extent of racial bias in policing and criminal sentencing," says Justin Steele, principal with Google.org, the Internet giant's philanthropic arm. "We must find ways to improve the accessibility and usefulness of information."
Among the organizations receiving funds from Google.org is the Center for Policing Equity, a national research center that collaborates with police departments and the communities they serve to track statistics on law enforcement actions, from police stops to the use of force. In addition to the grant of $5 million, Google engineers will put their time and skills to work on improving the center's national database.
"It's hard to measure justice," says Phillip Atiba Goff, the center's co-founder and president. "In policing, data are so sparse and they are not shared broadly. The National Justice Database is an attempt to measure justice so that people who want to do the right thing can use that metric to lay out a GPS for getting where we are trying to go. That's really what we see Google as being a key partner in helping us do."
Like other major technology companies, Google is trying to address the racial imbalance in the demographics of its workforce. Hispanics make up 3% of Google employees and African Americans 2%.
In 2015, Google gave $2.35 million to community organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area tackling systemic racism in America's criminal justice, prison and educational systems.
Four more grants totaling $3 million followed in 2016, including $1 million to Bryan Stevenson and his nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative to push America to confront its violent racial history including lynchings.
The latest round of grants again put Google in the thick of a national conversation on race prompted by the police shooting deaths and mass incarceration of African Americans.
For Steele, it's personal. As the grandson of a Port of Seattle police officer, the nephew of a Washington State trooper and the son of a Snohomish County Detention Chief, he says he learned firsthand from the black men in his family the importance of responsible policing. During a summer internship with the NAACP in Seattle, his faith in the criminal justice system was shaken by the shooting death of a black man by a white sheriff's deputy.
The experience diverted his career, away from chemical engineering and into the nonprofit world to work toward a goal: That race no longer determine how someone is treated by the law.
Steele says the most recent spate of police shootings has reverberated with Google engineers, frustrated that almost no data on police behavior and criminal sentencing existed at the national level. "We want to work with you to get that data set," he says they told him.
"We believe better data can be can be part of the solution," Steele says.
With black men sentenced at over five times the rate of white men, mass incarceration is a major focus of the Google grants.
Measures for Justice will receive $1.5 million to create a Web platform that gives Californians a snapshot of how their local justice system treats people based on their criminal history and based on different categories such as age, race and ethnicity, gender and indigence.
Impact Justice will receive $1 million to work on restorative justice programs to keep 1,900 youth, primarily youth of color, out of the juvenile justice system.
JustLeadershipUSA will receive $650,000 to train people who were incarcerated to lead reform efforts at the local, state and national level.
The W. Haywood Burns Institute will receive $500,000 to improve the quality and accessibility data available to criminal justice reform organizations in each of California's 58 counties.
#Cut50 will receive $250,000 to use virtual reality to increase empathy for people in prison.
Google is also reinvesting in four organizations: Defy Ventures, which trains current and former prisoners to start businesses; Center for Employment Opportunities, which provides career opportunities for the formerly incarcerated; Silicon Valley De-Bug, a grassroots justice reform organization; and Code for America, which is working to reduce incarceration.
"We have a strong commitment to this work and another healthy budget to work with this year to fund these organizations," Steele said. "You will continue to see Google step up for this work."