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Bias

Whiteboard YouTube Video (3:30 minutes)

A whiteboard video produced for Hemsley Fraser in Washington, D.C., explaining unconscious bias and how to avoid it, script provided by client.

The evidence for racial disparities in the criminal justice system is well documented. The disproportionate racial impact of certain laws and policies, as well as biased decision making by justice system actors, leads to higher rates of arrest and incarceration in low-income communities of color. However, there is no evidence that these widely disproportionate rates of criminal justice contact and incarceration are making us safer.

This brief presents an overview of the ways in which America’s history of racism and oppression continues to manifest in the criminal justice system, and a summary of research demonstrating how the system perpetuates the disparate treatment of black people. The evidence presented here helps account for the hugely disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on millions of black people, their families, and their communities.

'“Ban-the-Box” (BTB) policies restrict employers from asking about applicants’ criminal histories on job applications and are often presented as a means of reducing unemployment among black men, who disproportionately have criminal records. However, withholding information about criminal records could risk encouraging statistical discrimination: employers may make assumptions about criminality based on the applicant’s race … [This study's] results confirm that criminal records are a major barrier to employment, but they also support the concern that BTB policies encourage statistical discrimination on the basis of race" (p. x).

Ban the Box, Criminal Records, and Statistical Discrimination Cover

Culture Coach International Vimeo Video (2:53 minutes)

This video is one in a series of short videos that Culture Coach International is producing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Police, prosecutors, judges, and other criminal justice actors increasingly use algorithmic risk assessment to estimate the likelihood that a person will commit future crime. As many scholars have noted, these algorithms tend to have disparate racial impacts. In response, critics advocate three strategies of resistance: (1) the exclusion of input factors that correlate closely with race; (2) adjustments to algorithmic design to equalize predictions across racial lines; and (3) rejection of algorithmic methods altogether.

This Article’s central claim is that these strategies are at best superficial and at worst counterproductive because the source of racial inequality in risk assessment lies neither in the input data, nor in a particular algorithm, nor in algorithmic methodology per se. The deep problem is the nature of prediction itself. All prediction looks to the past to make guesses about future events. In a racially stratified world, any method of prediction will project the inequalities of the past into the future. This is as true of the subjective prediction that has long pervaded criminal justice as it is of the algorithmic tools now replacing it. Algorithmic risk assessment has revealed the inequality inherent in all prediction, forcing us to confront a problem much larger than the challenges of a new technology. Algorithms, in short, shed new light on an old problem.

Ultimately, the Article contends, redressing racial disparity in prediction will require more fundamental changes in the way the criminal justice system conceives of and responds to risk. The Article argues that criminal law and policy should, first, more clearly delineate the risks that matter and, second, acknowledge that some kinds of risk may be beyond our ability to measure without racial distortion—in which case they cannot justify state coercion. Further, to the extent that we can reliably assess risk, criminal system actors should strive whenever possible to respond to risk with support rather than restraint. Counterintuitively, algorithmic risk assessment could be a valuable tool in a system that supports the risky.

From one of the world’s leading experts on unconscious racial bias come stories, science, and strategies to address one of the central controversies of our time

How do we talk about bias? How do we address racial disparities and inequities? What role do our institutions play in creating, maintaining, and magnifying those inequities? What role do we play? With a perspective that is at once scientific, investigative, and informed by personal experience, Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt offers us the language and courage we need to face one of the biggest and most troubling issues of our time. She exposes racial bias at all levels of society—in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and criminal justice system. Yet she also offers us tools to address it. Eberhardt shows us how we can be vulnerable to bias but not doomed to live under its grip. Racial bias is a problem that we all have a role to play in solving.

“Black lives matter” has become a rallying cry in light of evidence that the criminal justice system is failing to uphold this basic truth. Official data, although woefully
inadequate, show that over half of those killed by police in recent years have been black or Latino. Officers involved in these killings are rarely indicted, much less convicted, for excessive use of force. And official responses to recent protests have spurred further controversy: militarized police forces disrupted public assemblies in Ferguson, and New York City’s police union blamed pro-reform politicians and nonviolent protesters for the killing of two officers by a mentally unstable man.

The criminal justice system’s high volume of contact with people of color is a major cause of African Americans’ disproportionate rate of fatal police encounters, as well as of broader perceptions of injustice in many communities. This briefing paper identifies four key features of the justice system that contribute to its disparate racial impact, and presents recent best practices for targeting these inequities drawn from adult and juvenile justice systems around the country. In many cases, these practices have produced demonstrable results.

PwC Video (2:53 minutes)

Our brains are wired to make assumptions, which can sometimes be off base. We think it's an honest mistake; science calls it a blind spot.

I know my own mind.
I am able to assess others in a fair and accurate way.
These self-perceptions are challenged by leading psychologists Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald as they explore the hidden biases we all carry from a lifetime of exposure to cultural attitudes about age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, disability status, and nationality.

African-Americans, men overrepresented in probation and parole population

Across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 4.5 million people are on probation or parole—twice the incarcerated population, including those in state and federal prisons and local jails. Virtually all demographic groups are represented in the community supervision population. However, people of color, particularly African-Americans, and men are disproportionately represented.

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