Saturday, October 3, 2015


Unfair: The New Science of Criminal InjusticeUnfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Adam Benforado uses psychology and neuroscience to examine each part of our criminal justice system - investigation, adjudication, and punishment - from the vantage point of all the major players (victim, suspect, detective, lawyer, jury, eyewitness, expert, judge, public, and prisoner). He shows us the challenges we face in creating a more just system and also presents a few new ways of thinking.

First thoughts: While nothing in Benforado's text was inherently shocking to me (I have way too many friends in social work to not be aware of most of our country's shortcomings when it comes to "criminal" justice and rehabilitation), I still had to shake my head at a lot of it. We've got issues. And it was at times difficult to read knowing how much has to change. I slowed my pace in the middle section, but I was happy that Benforado does present solutions, reforms that some states are already putting in place to ensure that we achieve our true goals: less crime, less people hurt, and a safer world.

Favorite quotes & how they made me feel:

"...when confronted with an example of a seemingly "good" person...suffering a terrible outcome, we experience a strong dissonance. And we eliminate that discomfort - and maintain our perception of justice - by finding fault with the victim." p17 (I think we're ALL guilty of this. It helps us keep the illusion that bad things won't happen to us, because we lock our doors/never go out after dark/never drive distracted/always remember to floss/etc/etc.)

"...having a gun at your fingertips can make the world seem a far more threatening place..." p 61 (The conclusion from a telling study - people holding guns think other people are also holding guns at a much higher rate than people holding, say, a ball or a toy of some sort. Guns don't make you feel safer, at least when you have them in your hand. They make everyone else seem more threatening. Interesting when you think of the people we regularly arm, the people whose job it is to...wait for it...make us feel safe.)

"If those convicted of crimes will walk among us again, we must begin preparing them today." p277 (Why do we cut people off from the exact ties that keep them/us/all of humanity from committing crime - in the name of justice?)

"Research shows that the more humane approach of problem-solving courts - based not on hurting offenders in proportion to their wrongdoing, but on helping them according to their needs - is more effective than highly punitive alternatives." p281 (It's good to know that reforms have started in a few progressive states. This also made me think of the punitive punishments some schools give, and how as a teacher I could instead focus on making sure student rule-breakers are getting what they need.)

Recommended for: sociologists, key players in our criminal justice system, lawmakers, teachers, politicians, voters, and concerned citizens.

Final thoughts: This is an important book, and in the hands of the right people, our injustices might bend towards justice. Benforado tells a gripping story, one that's true and happening in our country daily. His research backs up his timely points. We've made extreme changes before (we don't charge animals with crimes anymore, for example), and we can make them again.

Editor's Note: I received a copy of Unfair from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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