Disciplining Criminal Justice: The Peril Amid the Promise of Numbers

74 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2008

See all articles by Mary D. Fan

Mary D. Fan

University of Washington School of Law


This article is about a peril amid the promise of numbers in monitoring opaque domains of criminal justice. The concern is about how numbers can become an end or target in criminal justice, becoming the value rather than serving as a technology toward higher aims and principles. The article examines how statistics of people prosecuted and cases won, divorced from qualitative details and isolated from context, are officially deployed as a proxy for performance in criminal justice. In place of hard-to-achieve, complex and squishy public values, the production of numbers - with their comforting solidity and relatively easier attainability - is substituted.

The article examines how two strategies for coping with public doubt can lead to the substitution of numbers for substantive values. The first is the turn to trying to make performance visible by privileging objective quantified targets and measures and avoiding soft measures attentive to qualitative detail - though when it comes to public values like doing justice, where there is no discrete bottom-line, such as private-sector profits or widgets made, qualitative description is particularly necessary. The second strategy is denial and acting out over policy failure. The article argues for greater receptivity in policy and legislation to qualitative methods and worldviews, so that numbers and values can be situated in context.

Keywords: criminal law, criminal procedure, prosecution, performance measurement

Suggested Citation

Fan, Mary, Disciplining Criminal Justice: The Peril Amid the Promise of Numbers. Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol. 26, No. 1, 2007, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1096535

Mary Fan (Contact Author)

University of Washington School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98195
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.washington.edu/directory/Profile.aspx?ID=503

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