Long before Officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, researchers had identified extensive evidence of racial bias in the American criminal justice system.

There is explicit racism in criminal justice, of course—that is, conscious anti-black or white supremacist attitudes—in the minds of police, attorneys, judges, and other individual who work in the system. Many have argued that white supremacy is baked into the history of American criminal justice, creating structures that are biased against communities of color.

But there are other factors at work, too: 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.

That is why the Greater Good Science Center 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 Gray
The six Baltimore Police officers who were charged in the death of Freddie Gray.

More from Greater Good on bias

Social media image credit: Geoff Livingston / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0