The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that law enforcement agencies have access to more than 100 million names stored in criminal history databases. In some cities, 80 percent of the black male population is registered in these databases. Digitize and Punish explores the long history of digital computing and criminal justice, revealing how big tech, computer scientists, university researchers, and state actors have digitized carceral governance over the past forty years—with devastating impact on poor communities of color.


Providing a comprehensive study of the use of digital technology in American criminal justice, Brian Jefferson shows how the technology has expanded the wars on crime and drugs, enabling our current state of mass incarceration and further entrenching the nation’s racialized policing and punishment. After examining how the criminal justice system conceptualized the benefits of computers to surveil criminalized populations, Jefferson focuses on New York City and Chicago to provide a grounded account of the deployment of digital computing in urban police departments.


By highlighting the intersection of policing and punishment with big data and web technology—resulting in the development of the criminal justice system’s latest tool, crime data centers—Digitize and Punish makes clear the extent to which digital technologies have transformed and intensified the nature of carceral power.


"Digitize and Punish is pathbreaking. It is an example of what interdisciplinary training and spatial thinking should be. Brian Jefferson’s powerful analysis is laid out with surgical detail, illuminating the profound crisis ‘digital prisons’ have for all of us. It also accomplishes a rare scholarly feat: it’s written with crisp and, at times, witty prose. Read. This. Book."

—Rashad Shabazz, author of Spatializing Blackness: Architectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity in Chicago

Digitize and Punish: Racial Criminalization in the Digital Age

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  • University of Minnesota Press 2020

    New paperback

    264 pages