Meet Mayuka Sarukkai, one of our thoughtful and impact-focused data scientists in this team member spotlight. Discover why she’s passionate about criminal justice reform, her quirk, and the food she could eat forever.
Coffee or tea?
“Tea, without a doubt. I start every morning with an Earl Grey tea and a splash of oat milk. If I'm working from our NYC office, that’s likely followed by a mug of Breakfast in Paris – Earl Grey’s delightfully soapy sister. Sometimes I’ll round out the afternoon with chai or matcha. I will also consume anything marketed to me as tea-flavored.”
What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
“You are a generalist at heart. Embrace it because it’s actually kind of cool and fun to find joy in little bits of lots of things.”
Tell us about what you do at Recidiviz.
“I’m a data scientist working on our data infrastructure team. Much of my work involves taking the analyses and products that our research and state-facing teams drive forward in select states and turning those into generalized tooling, data, and even conceptual frameworks that scale across multiple states and allow us to multiply our impact.”
What’s a highlight or two from your work at Recidiviz so far?
“Over the years, I’ve been consistently floored by the team’s ability to make so much progress and impact while being incredibly thoughtful about the ethical dimensions of our work. In the early days of designing ways to help parole and probation officers improve outcomes for people on supervision, our team grappled with ethical considerations around making individual-level recommendations. The individual-level recommendations were a departure from our previous tools, which had surfaced insights in the aggregate.
We discussed difficult questions, like: what’s the most responsible way to nudge state actors to exercise their agency in creating better outcomes rather than seeding over-reliance on a computer’s output? And how should we handle biased datasets, like risk assessments, that pervade criminal justice data?
Our work has evolved so much since. However, I think our conversations and decisions at the time still inform the ethos of our line-staff tools today, which help states implement policies that are already on the books and move justice-impacted people closer to liberty. We also began some guiding principles, guardrails, and team-wide trainings, which have continued to evolve as we’ve increased partnership with those most impacted and launched new tools.
I appreciate how special it was to have these experiences early in my career. I’m glad Recidiviz takes a collaborative approach to shaping strategy and designing tools that make people’s lives better.”
What person, event, experience, or values have most shaped your desire to improve the criminal justice system?
“My mom worked for over twenty years as a speech-language pathologist at a local special-ed school, where her students – many of whom experienced severe behavioral challenges – had frequent interactions with the law enforcement and the child welfare system. My philosophy around work and social impact was heavily shaped by growing up hearing her stories. My mom’s unyielding commitment to her students’ growth and capacity for success stands out to me. As I learned more about the criminal justice system, and after spending a summer working at her school and watching kids cycle in and out of the juvenile justice system, I found myself returning to the same questions. What would the world look like if, for every interaction a student had with the justice system, they were able to interact with someone like my mom instead? How can we look to support people at all stages? Those questions continue to inform my approach to the work today.”
What’s something quirky we don’t know about you?
“I guess a slightly strange fact is that for years I’ve used a yoga ball instead of a standard chair at my desk at home. Initially, I did this because I was facing indecision about buying an office chair, but I guess my decision stuck.
I’m here to refute the common misconception that yoga balls encourage good posture or core strength. ;) The reality is that I am nearly always perched on top of my ball in a hunched pretzel-style configuration, trying to resist the urge to bounce around during meetings.”
Last show you binged?
“I’m late to the game, but earlier this year, I inhaled Fleabag. It is *chef’s kiss*.”
A book that changed you?
“Oh! Choosing just one is hard! All The Light We Cannot See was probably one of my favorite pandemic reads. I wouldn’t say it changed me in any tangible way, but it was a beautifully written and poignant book that kept me company during a time that was filled with uncertainty and introspection and change.”
If you could eat one food exclusively forever, what would it be?
“Probably rasam. It’s a light soupy, tangy South Indian dish usually made with tomatoes and lots of spices that I used to eat every day growing up along with rice and a happy sprinkling of potato chips. I swear by its healing properties (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual).”
Would you like to join the Recidiviz team? Explore our current job opportunities.