Human societies have long desired to render criminal risk more knowable. While this need was initially met by overt means, such as by the physical branding or mutilation of offenders, in time more bureaucratic, information-based technologies came to predominate. Today, consistent with our increasingly data-driven culture and the need of governments to wean themselves from expensive brick and mortar corrections options, information is assuming unparalleled importance in social control.
The shift is perhaps most evident in the handling of probationers and parolees, who constitute the lion’s share of individuals under active correctional supervision, with governments making increased use of electronic mentoring technologies. Yet information also plays a lynchpin role with individuals “off-paper” (i.e., not subject to active probation or parole conditions), who have paid their penal debt to society.
Perhaps the most prominent example of the latter application is found in
government treatment of the hundreds of thousands of individuals for whom
a past conviction triggers ongoing supervision as a result of registration and
community notii cation (RCN) laws, now in effect nationwide. With RCN,
individuals are required, under threat of punishment, to provide and update
identifying data (e.g., home/work/school addresses, vehicle information, and
physical characteristics such as tattoos or facial hair) to government authorities,
for a minimum of ten years and often for their lifetimes. The information
is then put to two uses. First, it is maintained by police to allow for the
monitoring of registrants and to instill in them the sense that they are being
watched, in the hope of deterring possible criminal misconduct. Second, it
is provided to the public at large (and worldwide, via the Internet), to augment
surveillance and provide community members with information to take
self-protective measures vis- á -vis registrants.