Technologically Distorted Conceptions of Punishment

61 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2019 Last revised: 15 Nov 2019

See all articles by Jessica Eaglin

Jessica Eaglin

Indiana University Maurer School of Law

Date Written: October 1, 2019


Much recent work in academic literature and policy discussions suggests that the proliferation of actuarial — meaning statistical — assessments of a defendant’s recidivism risk in state sentencing structures is problematic. Yet scholars and policymakers focus on changes in technology over time while ignoring the effects of these tools on society. This Article shifts the focus away from technology to society in order to reframe debates. It asserts that sentencing technologies subtly change key social concepts that shape punishment and society. These same conceptual transformations preserve problematic features of the sociohistorical phenomenon of mass incarceration. By connecting technological interventions and conceptual transformations, this Article exposes an obscured threat posed by the proliferation of risk tools as sentencing reform. As sentencing technologies transform sentencing outcomes, the tools also alter society’s language and concerns about punishment. Thus, actuarial risk tools as technological sentencing reform not only excise society’s deeper issues of race, class, and power from debates. The tools also strip society of a language to resist the status quo by changing notions of justice along the way.

Keywords: criminal justice, law and technology, sentencing reform, mass incarceration, punishment

Suggested Citation

Eaglin, Jessica, Technologically Distorted Conceptions of Punishment (October 1, 2019). 97 Washington University Law Review 483 (2019), Available at SSRN:

Jessica Eaglin (Contact Author)

Indiana University Maurer School of Law ( email )

211 S. Indiana Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

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