There is increasing momentum behind the push from researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to broaden and deepen data production and analysis in indigent defense. One important force driving that momentum is the widespread belief that improving the dismal state of indigent defense requires shoring up accountability in the field, and that a data-rich environment will be an accountability-rich environment. This essay interrogates and problematizes the data-accountability connection in indigent defense. Identifying the multiple and layered accountability relationships and types that can and do exist in indigent defense, and considering the varieties of data production and usage that could be taken up by defenders, reveals that the premise of a direct, positive relationship between the two is misguided. Indeed, there are risks of perverse consequences for accountability from data-driven indigent defense decision-making, particularly to the extent that quantitative capacity might empower accounters that lack incentive to maximize defense quality. Ultimately, the essay aims not to undermine the data project or its accountability aspects, but to encourage attention to these risks in research and in institutional design.
Jennifer E. Laurin, Data and Accountability in Indigent Defense, 14 Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 373 (2017).