Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

UT researchers to host datathon to collect data on fines, fees

Angela Leon

Researchers from the Initiative for Law, Societies, and Justice will host a datathon on Saturday and Sunday to create a database on state government fines and fees, such as traffic violations, across the United States.

“The goal of this is to provide this comprehensive resource for policymakers, for students and researchers to understand the legal landscape of monetary sanctions,” said Tauheeda Yasin, a sociology postdoctoral fellow and project lead. 

Connor Johnson, the student lead on the project, said participants will gather a diverse set of information on monetary sanctions from a database.

“We’re going to (collect data) from every single year that the statute has been amended, we’re going to see the fine amounts for every year, and then we’re also going to see where the funds go,” said Johnson, sociology and Plan II junior.

Johnson said analyzing information like how the amount of a fine changes over time will help the researchers understand how much the state emphasizes specific fees for earning money in their communities. 

Yasin said in 2014 the Department of Justice found the city of Ferguson was excessively fining people in order to fund parts of their government, like workers’ salaries. 

“Many cities were using these fines and fees and monetary sanctions to fund sizable aspects of their government, because they don’t have a tax base to do it,” Yasin said.

Yasin said a vicious cycle is created where people get a fine or fee, are unable to pay, get additional fines and fees and may even get jailed due to their lack of ability to pay. 

“My goal as a researcher is to really understand the problem, but also to think about what are some innovative solutions … instead of using this regressive form of taxation.” Yasin said. 

Shannon Aguirre, a psychology sophomore and data analyst for the project, said she hopes the database contributes to increased transparency on fines throughout the country. 

“We’re hoping this data kind of becomes a blueprint, the template that universities … (and) even courts or any other system … use to make their process of transparency for fines and fees so much easier,” Aguirre said.

Aguirre said she believes the project has the power to deeply impact the world. 

“We would be contributing to advocacy,” Aguirre said. “If our data gives (a) voice to somebody, that is enough.”

The datathon will be held in Patton Hall 2.606 on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Food will be included, and all students are welcome.

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