Review of Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado

For those of you who don’t know me personally, one of the things I’m truly passionate about is criminal justice reform. During my senior year at William & Mary, I mentored residents of a local juvenile detention center and as part of my training for this, I learned a tremendous amount about the injustices that are built into both out juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. As a result of this experience, I’ve made it my mission to educate myself as much as possible on the issues plaguing our current system and Adam Benforado’s Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice was the perfect next step to expand my horizons.

In this incredibly eye-opening book, law professor Adam Benforado demonstrates not only the flaws in our current criminal justice system but also how we, as humans share the culpability for perpetuating these inadequacies in our system. He demonstrates how on all levels from police officers, to judges, to jurors, to eyewitnesses, that despite our best efforts to implement safeguards against our own biases and make impartial decisions, most psychological studies do not support our ability to this. This is due to the fact that we may no even be aware of some of the biases we have and therefore think we are not acting on them. Furthermore, Benforado demonstrates how many of the “impartial” decisions we make are actually the result of automatic brain processes instead of careful deliberation.

For me, what made this book so powerful is Benforado’s ability to present a strong argument that both demonstrates our responsibility in allowing this flawed system to continue without change and our incredible ability to implement change for the better. One of my favorite quotes from the book that clearly highlights the duality of Benforado’s argument is on page 259 where he says, “Human nature, while deeply flawed in some ways, is also a source of profound goodness. We are all capable of transformative compassion. And our greatest opportunity for achieving true justice is learning when to override out basic instincts and when to draw on our deep well of empathy” (Benforado, 274). It is his structure that truly makes his argument so palatable and convincing to even the most ardent opposition to criminal justice reform.

Furthermore, I loved the interdisciplinary nature of Benforado’s stance. To combine law, psychology, and the latest technology in neuroscience seems to be a no brainer, however for some reason, we as a society seem to ignore the scientific facts that demonstrate that our criminal justice system is not up to par. By illustrating this so brilliantly, Benforado makes all of his readers an advocate for a reduction of “our legal system’s reliance on human perception, memory, and judgement” (Benforado, 259.)

Ultimately, Benforado’s Unfair was one of most well-written and well supported stances on criminal justice reform that I have ever read. I encourage everyone who is passionate about social justice or frankly, anyone who is interested in how we can do better as humans to read this book. Please let me know in the comments below your thoughts on this book or all things related to criminal justice reform! Also, if you have any recommendations for non-fiction titles related to this topic or other aspects of social justice, please let me know! 🙂

5 out of 5 stars

Favorite Quotes:

“Injustice is built into our legal structures and influences outcomes every minute of ever day. And its origins lie not inside the dark hearts of a bigoted police officer or a scheming DA but within the mind of each and every one of us.” –p xvi

“Genetic, biological, and experiential factors leave some individual at a vastly higher risk of committing a crime, but most people’s moral identities are never set in stone. The particular circumstances in which we find ourselves can make all the difference.” –p. 57

“Running from the police is that last thing many Americans would ever do, but for young African American men–for whom the threat and fear of harassment, capture, and incarceration is ever present–it can be a basic instinct, learned as a kid.” –p. 102

“Some 2.3 million individuals are behind bars across the country, and in excess of 6 million are under “correctional supervision”–more, by far, than in any other nation. Even at their height, the Gulag labor camps never came close to the number of our citizens currently on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole...A country that abolished slavery 150 years ago now has a greater number of black men in the correctional system than there were slaves in 1850 and a greater percentage of its black population in jail than was imprisoned in apartheid South Africa.” –p. 209

“Just because humans created the criminal justice system doesn’t mean that we are ideal operators of its processes and institutions. Our natural limitations can prevent us from living up to our principles and achieving our goals. And the implication is that we need to reduce our legal system’s reliance on human perception, memory and judgement.” –p. 259

“Somehow that powerful common purpose–to figure out what really happened and reach a fair outcome through a fair process–that has been lost. In the roar of the adversarial juggernaut, the prosecutor forgets that the defendant is a real person and the defense comes to ignore the fact that a victim has been seriously hurt.” –p. 274

**I received this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review**

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