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Behavioral Science & Policy Association




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.


Reprinted in: Lee E. Ross, Ed., Readings in Cultural Diversity and Criminal Justice, (Cognella Academic Publishing, 2020)

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