Blinding Prosecutors to Defendants’ Race: A Policy Proposal to Reduce Unconscious Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Behavioral Science and Policy, Vol 1(2) 2015

8 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2015 Last revised: 13 May 2017

See all articles by Sunita Sah

Sunita Sah

Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University

Christopher T. Robertson

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law; Harvard University - Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

Shima Baradaran Baughman

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law

Date Written: November 22, 2015

Abstract

Racial minorities are disproportionately imprisoned in the United States. This disparity is unlikely to be due solely to differences in criminal behavior. Behavioral science research has documented that prosecutors harbor unconscious racial biases. These unconscious biases play a role whenever prosecutors exercise their broad discretion, such as in choosing what crimes to charge and when negotiating plea bargains. To reduce this risk of unconscious racial bias, we propose a policy change: Prosecutors should be blinded to the race of criminal defendants wherever feasible. This could be accomplished by removing information identifying or suggesting the defendant’s race from police dossiers shared with prosecutors and by avoiding mentions of race in conversations between prosecutors and defense attorneys. Race is almost always irrelevant to the merits of a criminal prosecution; it should be omitted from the proceedings whenever possible for the sake of justice.

Keywords: criminal justice, non-conscious bias, implicit bias, race, prosecutorial discretion, blinding, prosecutors

JEL Classification: J7, K4

Suggested Citation

Sah, Sunita and Robertson, Christopher T. and Baughman, Shima Baradaran, Blinding Prosecutors to Defendants’ Race: A Policy Proposal to Reduce Unconscious Bias in the Criminal Justice System (November 22, 2015). Behavioral Science and Policy, Vol 1(2) 2015. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2694313

Sunita Sah (Contact Author)

Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Christopher T. Robertson

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210176
Tucson, AZ 85721-0176
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.arizona.edu/faculty/getprofile.cfm?facultyid=714

Harvard University - Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics ( email )

23 Everett Street
Cambridge, MA 02155
United States

Shima Baradaran Baughman

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States

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