Implicit Bias

Implicit bias refers to beliefs that unconsciously drive decisions and behavior. They obviously become part of what lies behind racism. As far as the judicial system goes, racist behavior has been studied with juries, judges and prosecutors, those who put people away. Now there is growing awareness that this can be extended to public defenders as well. They apparently spend less time with defendants of color. Implicit bias is exacerbated by stress, exhaustion and speed, three of the things that affect public defenders. It’s not only the amount of time a public defender may spend with a defendant, implicit bias can affect pleas bargains, the belief as to whether someone is innocent or not, or dealing with witnesses. Technically implicit bias is not limited to racism, it can affect religion. A former judge in Chicago who is Catholic admitted to expecting more from Catholic defendants. While the research about implicit bias affecting the criminal justice system is ongoing we do know that black defendants can have higher bails, longer sentences, that they are perceived as being more dangerous and that juries may be more likely to find them guilty. Phoebe Haddon , a chancellor at Rutgers University along with the American Bar Association is developing training videos where these issues are discussed and illustrated and which will be released later this year. The videos for judges suggest they exercise more humility, slow down their work and engage in more self-examination.
In the aftermath of a new spate of police shooting black men, studying implicit bias seems like too little too late. Yet, while none of this is new to non-whites and it will still be a long time before the justice system is applied equally, the mere fact implicit bias has come to the fore and left academia might well prod all of us to practice the advice the videos give to judges.

3 thoughts on “Implicit Bias”

  1. Yes, this is tremendously important! We ask people in our movement classes to tune into both their Body Knowledge and their Body Prejudice. There is a lot of bias even about the way others move, how they stand, etc. etc. (and, of course, we look deeply at ourselves)!

Comments are closed.