The Pull of Prediction: Distorting
Our Conceptions of Just Punishment
There is yet one other trouble with the actuarial turn—a more fundamental problem that goes beyond, or perhaps beneath, the equations, graphs, and tables. The fact is that today, we have begun to visualize just punishment through the lens of actuarial probability. The social shift in our conception of just punishment from rehabilitation in the 1950s and '60s to incapacitation in the 1980s and '90s can be traced specifically to the popular rise of actuarial methods and their implementation. To be sure, many other factors are involved as well—factors that David Garland describes powerfully in his work, The Culture of Control.But one important factor—one that has received less attention—is precisely the development of technical knowledge and, as the driving force behind it, the will to know the criminal.
The structural transformation of our conception of just punishment at the end of the twentieth century is a case study in justice conforming itself to our developing technical knowledge. It is a case of philosophical and legal notions of justice followingtechnical progress. And what is remarkable is that the impulse, the original catalyst, the stimulant in all this was exogenous to the legal system. It came from the field of sociology and from the positivist desire to place human behavior on a more scientific level— from the desire to control human behavior, just as we control nature. The rise of the actuarial itself was born of the desire to know the criminal scientifically, and this scientific drive produced the technical knowledge that colonized our jurisprudential conception of just punishment.