Written by: UNSW Media

Leading international criminologist, Professor Kelly Hannah-Moffat from the University of Toronto, delivered the 2021 Centre for Crime, Law and Justice (CCLJ) Annual Lecture on 11 November.

Professor Hannah-Moffat’s lecture addressed one of the most pressing issues facing criminal justice systems around the world: what are the implication of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning analytics fuelled by big data for criminal law making, policing, the courtroom and punishment?

The rise of what has been dubbed ‘algorithmic justice’ has generated heated debate. Proponents claim that law enforcement decisions based on sound risk assessments can increase fairness, reduce bias and optimise crime prevention and community safety. Critics point to the tendency of risk-based practices to exacerbate the over-policing and over-criminalisation of marginalised communities.


A key message from Professor Hannah-Moffat’s lecture was that it is important not to treat AI and risk as monolithic forces: AI does offer new possibilities, but it can also reproduce the status quo and further entrenching existing inequalities. Much depends on “the questions asked, the data sources used, and the organizational logics within which these technologies are deployed.”

One of the most promising insights offered by Professor Hannah-Moffat was that new technologies can be harnessed to make justice system inequalities and data harms transparent. The combination of big data and public domain access offers new opportunities for information activism, where the crime risk predictions and enforcement practices of governments and criminal justice agencies can be subjected to scrutiny and evaluation  

At the 2021 Lecture, Professor Luke McNamara, CCLJ Co-Director said, “Professor Hannah-Moffat’s insights resonate strongly in the Australian context, and amplify the importance of critical research undertaken by CCLJ members.”

Professor McNamara noted the work of Dr Vicki Sentas on the NSW Police Force’s use of algorithm-based Suspect Targeted Management Plans, sniffer dogs and strip searches; the work of PhD researcher Tamar Hopkins on racial profiling; and the work of the Comparative Youth Penality Project team which has highlighted the stigmatising and criminogenic effects that can be associated with the application of ‘early intervention’  strategies to children deemed to be ‘at risk’.

Professor Eileen Baldry, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity Diversity and Inclusion, and Professor of Criminology at UNSW, and CCLJ member, said:

“It’s a great honour for UNSW, and for me personally, to have Professor Kelly Hannah-Moffat deliver the 2021 CCLJ Annual Lecture. Professor Hannah-Moffat is one of our most distinguished international colleagues and friends. UNSW criminologists have benefitted from, and applied in our research and practice, Kelly’s stellar, critical work over the past two decades,  problematising the use of risk assessments for women, First Nations people and, in my particular area of concern, people with disability. Professor Hannah-Moffat’s contributions to our understanding of gendered and racialised aspects of legal knowledges, sentencing algorithms, risk, racial accountability and data harms are enormous.”

Kelly Hannah-Moffat is a Professor in Criminology & Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto, where she is also President of People Strategy, Equity & Culture. She is highly regarded for her interdisciplinary scholarship on criminal justice topics including institutional risk management practices and the production of gender and racial inequalities, and for her work with government and non-profit organizations on criminal justice reform and prison oversight.