October 11, 2019
SURF Recipient Deciphers Prison Data
Undergraduate researcher Ben Klingensmith uses data to advocate for humane incarceration
It all started with a spreadsheet of raw data from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
Since this spring, Carnegie Mellon University senior Ben Klingensmith has been digging into this data, creating code to clean and decipher it with the goal of using the information to understand conditions in the state’s 62 county jails and inform state public policy. Klingensmith, an undergraduate researcher majoring in Behavioral Economics, Policy, and Organizations and Statistics and Machine Learning, is working with Jay Aronson, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Human Rights Science and Robin Mejia, the center’s statistics manager, to create a report classifying and exploring the types of deaths occurring in the jail system. CMU is partnering with the Pennsylvania Prison Society, the oldest human rights organization in the country, on the project.
“This problem of mass incarceration in Pennsylvania has been decades in the making,” said Aronson. “With our new relationship with the Prison Society, we can now provide analysis and resources to create data-informed policy recommendations. In the short term, we hope to help make prisons and jails safer, more human places. In the long term, we hope to dramatically reduce the number of people in them.”