Global law firm Baker McKenzie today announced that it has released Reinvent Social Impact: Child Detention, an AI-driven study on child detention and family separation that was generated by Baker McKenzie's lawyers enhanced by the capabilities of its technology partner SparkBeyond’s AI engine. 

In its research for Reinvent Social Impact: Child Detention, Baker McKenzie leveraged data science and SparkBeyond's technology to analyze at scale the entirety of Web data about global child detention. The AI platform revealed a troubling view of cause and consequence. This project is one of the initial delivered projects of Baker McKenzie's recently announced Machine Learning practice, under Co-Founders Danielle Benecke and Brian Kuhn. 

The project leads will present its key findings, and demonstrate the tool at this year’s World Congress on Justice with Children, an international milestone that gathers children alongside policymakers, legal practitioners, academics, and civil society representatives with relevant work experience to influence Child Justice, explore best practices, foster scientific cooperation, and raise awareness on child-friendly justice. 

Baker McKenzie will be offering participants at the World Congress the opportunity to learn more about the tool and how it could help them to advocate against child detention around the world, and will provide direct access to the research to leading NGOs in the area. The Firm is also asking NGOs to contact them and tell them what they should look at next, as part of their Reinvent Social Impact initiative – part of Baker McKenzie’s 3-year exclusive partnership with SparkBeyond, which aims to address key societal and justice issues.

Angela Vigil, Partner and head of Baker McKenzie’s Pro Bono practice said, “This project was inspired by the work of children’s rights advocates around the world. Thanks to their tireless efforts, and the UN report on Children Deprived of Liberty, a culmination of work carried out over five years, more is now known about the severe impact of depriving children of liberty. We wanted to take this issue a step further, and help NGOs and other advocates make nations aware of the negative impacts of child detention, to at least limit the behavior, if not end it entirely for certain ages of children.”

A growing body of evidence indicates that detention affects children’s cognitive functions, physical development and long-term health.  Detained children often become victims of violence, are frequently denied the nutrition they need to grow, excluded from education and recreation, and ultimately fail to develop vital social skills such as self-control and conflict resolution.  They also find it harder to hold down employment and avoid adult incarceration.

Yet this body of evidence – gathered over decades and consistent across all geographies – is widely dispersed. Covering billions of web pages, it’s found in hundreds of thousands of studies, journal articles, academic research papers, news sources and government websites. AI-powered technology, in partnership with our lawyers, can systematically analyze and aggregate every single piece of published evidence – spanning decades, in every corner of the internet – to create a comprehensive bank of data-driven insights on any given topic.  

As part of this project, Baker McKenzie and SparkBeyond together analyzed 400 billion web pages and uncovered millions of points of evidence linking child detention to a host of unintended consequences that negatively impact every human need.  The detrimental links between child detention and health, for example, were featured in more than 10 million publications. More than 100,000 evidence points alone connected detention to anxiety and depression.  

“Reinvent Social Impact: Child Detention shows that we can combine legal domain expertise and machine learning to shed light on potential solutions to complex societal issues such as child detention and family separation,” said Ben Allgrove, Partner and Chief Innovation Officer at Baker McKenzie. “This research proved that by bringing machine learning and data science capabilities into a law firm we can quickly bring a more accurate understanding of cause and consequence to inform policy, public opinion, and advocacy on behalf of these children. We can scale the impact of our pro bono efforts.”

 Top findings from the Child Detention project include:

  • While the media focuses largely on the immediate tragedy, the long-term consequences of child detention are highly damaging to the children — and costly to society.
  • While the stated purpose of child detention is often related to safety, the effect can be to decrease the safety of a community as well as for the child.
  • Government officials and agencies should take into account the full range of enduring negative consequences of child detention in many spheres, from mental health to crime and net cost to society.

“We are very excited to collaborate with Baker McKenzie, a global leader in the legal field which has proven its commitment both to technology innovation and to positive social outcomes,” Dr. Roey Tzezana, Research Lead at SparkBeyond. “Reinvent Social Impact: Child Detention demonstrates that our AI engine, free of bias and emotion, quickly sees alternate perspectives that are important to the public and to policy makers.” 

Cedric Foussard, Global Initiative Coordinator at Terre des hommes, a Children’s Rights organization involved with the World Congress, added, “This collaboration provides organizations like ours with another way to address child detention. By studying a huge volume of research from all over the world, we now have concrete information on the thousands of children impacted by detention, and the consequences to society. I hope we will be able to use it in the future to formulate concrete recommendations to policy makers for a change in legislation and enforcement, and show them why this issue is so important.”


Reinvent Social Impact: Child Detention is one of several initiatives arising from Baker McKenzie’s exclusive collaboration with SparkBeyond to provide new services to its clients and leverage advanced machine learning in the legal sector. The law firm strongly advocates positive social impact at scale and Child Detention is the first AI-driven social impact project by its Pro Bono Division. The study was intended to identify the links between child detention and unintended negative consequences for detained children and the authorities detaining them.

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