Woman on a conference call on her laptop
Woman on a conference call on her laptop

The digital welfare state: between care and control

Digitalisation of criminal and administrative justice and the ‘people-centred’ governance paradigm
2023 until 2025
Project member(s)
Dr A. Pivaty (Anna)
Project type

This project explores the shifting paradigms in the governance of socially marginalised individuals through criminal and administrative sanctions law, in the context of digitalisation.

Currently, we observe a shift from the neo-liberal to a ‘humanitarian’ or ‘people-centred' paradigm of public governance. The neo-liberal model emphasises rationality, managerial efficiency and actuarial risk prevention. The ‘people-centred’ paradigm calls for attention to individuals' welfare and personal needs. This paradigm can easily be applied in ‘facilitative’ areas of law, where governments provide services/facilitate rights, but not in ‘repressive’ areas of law, such as criminal or administrative sanctions law. However, calls for greater ‘human dimension’ were made also in these ‘repressive’ areas of law.

In parallel, criminal and administrative justice undergo rapid digitalisation. Sophisticated digital technologies such as videoconferencing, AI and digital communication interfaces are now commonly used. In ‘facilitative’ areas of law, digitalisation reforms were brought under the flag of enhancing access to public (eg social security) services. This reasoning can hardly be applied to ‘repressive’ areas of law. Here, digitalisation reforms are naturally associated with increasing ‘efficiency’ and risk assessment, and thus greater repression and control.

This project aims to respond the following questions:

  • How, if at all, is the ‘people-centred’ paradigm reflected in digitalisation reforms of criminal and administrative justice?
  • Can these reforms ever become grounded in the ‘people-centred’ paradigm? In other words, does digitalisation in these areas necessarily ‘dehumanise’ justice, or can it help enhance its ‘human face’?

This socio-legal and empirical study, undertaken in the Netherlands and Belgium, examines these questions from the perspectives of: a) political discourse on digitalisation of criminal and administrative justice; and b) the workfloor/day-to-day application of digital tools.

Thematically it focuses on:

  • automation of petty penal and administrative sanctions;
  • use of risk assessment tools for care and control purposes (eg by probation services);
  • remote hearings.

Contact information