The New Science of Racial Bias


Can We Reduce Bias in Criminal Justice?

Long before Officer Darren Wilson fired the shots that killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, questions of racial bias have hovered over the criminal justice system in the United States. While the problem has been increasingly well documented, so far the solutions have proved elusive.

Many recent studies suggest that our attitudes and behavior toward other people—particularly, but not only, people of color—are often guided by deeply ingrained judgments that operate below the conscious level. These judgments can betray prejudices that we didn’t even know we had, which makes them especially difficult to control. And in the heat of the moment, they can have tragic consequences.

The good news is that there are steps we can take to reduce implicit bias. That is why the Greater Good Science Center has invited a range of leading experts—psychologists, law enforcement officials, and others—to answer this question: If you could take concrete steps to mitigate the effects of implicit bias on the criminal justice system, at any level, what would those be?

While expunging all biases and prejudices from our minds is psychologically impossible, we believe it is possible to reduce or prevent the most harmful effects of those biases. Getting there will require time, openness, and great political will. But it will also require something that is fundamental to our mission: learning lessons from social science research, and applying them thoughtfully to promote the greater good. —Adapted from Jason Marsh’s introduction to the series.

The series so far

Six Officers Charged in Death of Freddie GrayThe six Baltimore Police officers who were charged in the death of Freddie Gray.

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