CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Elyassi on Dataficiation and Sentencing

Gil Rothschild Elyassi has posted The Datafication of Law: How Technology Encodes Carceral Power and Affects Judicial Practice in the United States (Law and Social Inquiry, Vol. 47, No. 1, 2022) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This inquiry explores how data analyses about US Federal sentences have transformed sentencing practice beginning in the mid-1980s. I consider this inquiry an early case of the datafication of law, a pervasive process that translates legal practice into data and embeds it in digital networks so it can be tracked and analyzed in real time. To explore datafication historically and in relation to legal practice and power, I consider it not as an objective and passive undertaking but, rather, as an ideological and performative process that encodes and enacts normative presumptions and desirable futures. The empirical inquiry traverses “levels of analysis” and thus bridges prominent perspectives in sociolegal research. In so doing, I identify four mechanisms that mediate “large-scale” processes and “local” practices: field assembly, symbolic projection, material inscription, and boundaries spanning. Substantively, I show how datafication has not simply described, but also transformed, sentencing practice according to a colorblind-carceral imaginary that strives to fix the present in place. By relentlessly translating decisions into data forms that derive from this carceral imaginary, datafication affects judicial action and partakes in sustaining legacies of oppression. Yet, like other technologies, datafication also reveals dialectic dimensions in opening up to new actors and subjecting its ideological underpinnings to contestation and change.

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