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Reforms to Canadian sentencing law in 1996 and the Supreme Court of Canada decision R. v. Gladue  opened the door to a new normative set of legal practices that endeavour to integrate racial knowledge about offenders’ collective and individual experiences of race relations and oppression into traditional legal criminal practices. One outcome of the reforms and court cases was the formation of dedicated Gladue courts for Aboriginal peoples. This paper explores the formation of Gladue courts, the legal techniques used to produce contextualized racial knowledges, how this information is admitted as evidence before the court, and how this knowledge is used to reframe legal subjects and the risk they pose.
A “just punishment” is increasingly structured by actuarial probability frameworks. Actuarial risk technologies are often characterized as having supplanted much of practitioners' discretionary decision making with structured, quantitatively derived decision-making templates. Some scholars maintain that the transition to risk-based penality has led to “deskilling,” “scientification,” and “erosion of professional discretion,” or even to the elimination of criminal justice practitioners' use of professional discretion. This paper uses data from 71 semi-structured, open-ended interviews with criminal justice professionals to analyse how the introduction of risk tools shapes but does not eliminate discretion. We argue that risk tools are not simply imposed on criminal justice practitioners; instead, practitioners actively resist and embrace risk technologies and temper the impact risk tools have on their discretionary decision making. We maintain that the adoption of risk technologies reflects a negotiated process whereby practitioners welcome the professional advantages that these technologies afford while affirming the centrality of experience and clinical knowledge in decision making. We show how practitioners differentiate between the standardization intended by risk assessments and their own experiences and clinical knowledges, and how they exercise their discretion in an effort to mitigate the perceived discriminatory effects of the risk assessment. Thus, although risk tools are appealing to practitioners because their supposed “objectivity” makes them more defensible to the public, the adoption and use of these tools in the context of professional decision making is more complex and contradictory than much of the theoretical literature has assumed.