By John Hagan

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As Heimer & Staffen (1998) show, responsibility is an organizational as well as an individual accomplishment. Judges’ investment in a sentencing decision inevitably changes if they feel their hands are tied (Koh 1992). Responsibility shifts from judges to guidelines, from persons to numbers, becoming less contingent and more bureaucratic. Detailed knowledge of a case means that judges pronounce sentences on real persons. The connection judges feel between their decisions and the punishment meted on offenders is diminished to the extent that they feel they are not really making the decision.

If accountability becomes closely associated with quantification, it becomes routine rather than deliberative. Once quantification is understood as “the way things are done,” other forms of accountability are harder to sustain and validate, which encourages a broad conformity among organizations. Sometimes this conformity may be superficial or decoupled from the real business of organizations, as a symbolic bid for legitimacy, or it may produce significant changes within organizations. Institutionalization also mediates the effects of quantification.

As Strathern (1996) argues, measurement is a moral issue. With sentencing guidelines, quantification mediates the distribution and meaning of punishment, such that justice is rendered to abstract categories of persons rather than particular individuals. In regulation, quantification defines efficiency, which is a moral value. And quantification now largely defines excellence and access in American legal education. Because of the potential for quantification to initiate dramatic changes in institutions, both positive and negative, and because it is often costly to produce, it is important to study its effects empirically.

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Annual Review of Law and Social Science (2007 Vol 3) by John Hagan

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