Book Review: Unfair – The New Science of Criminal Injustice

One of the great concerns of civilized society is dealing with crime and punishment. Every country in the world sets up machinery to negotiate this space–the police and the judiciary. This insightful book by Adam Benforado focuses on the criminal justice system in the United States, but its observations and suggestions for reform could be extrapolated to other countries as well.

With a discerning eye, Benforado exposes how injustice–in the form of wrongful convictions, biased legal processes and inequality, is built into the criminal justice system. The book is divided into four parts, the first three of which focus on the different stages of the system.


In the first part, Investigation, Benforado looks at how initial perceptions about the persons involved leads to labelling “the victim” and “the criminal” –sometimes wrongly. He also takes a look at the current methods of interrogation and finds them lacking. He also takes a peek into the criminal mind, with inputs from criminal neuroscience and social psychology, and brings to the fore the myriad hidden influences on why and how a crime is committed.

In the second part, Adjudication, the judicial processes and the players involved are examined. The ethical and moral dillemas of lawyers are discussed–do lawyers cheat, and how does their bending the rules cause injustice to occur. Bringing congnitive psychology into the courtroom, he discusses how cognitive biases such as the ‘anchoring effect’ play out in the courtroom. The law assumes that impartiality is a choice–that the jury and judge can choose to shut off their personal prejudices and biases in the courtroom. in this book, Benforado shows how that is an impossibility –that the jury, the judge , the eyewitnesses and the experts all bring their unique worldviews into the courtroom, and how these may cause a wrongful conviction.

In Part Three, Punishment, what motivates us to punish–a need for revenge or a need to deter further crimes. He also comments on the prison system and discusses the problems inherent. Are these punishments effective or do they make the problem bigger?

In the final section, Reform, Benforado outlines what can be done better at each stage of the process. As he points out, we now know more about the intricacies of human cognition and behaviour and possess greater and better technologies than our ancestors. If we choose to apply and act, we can choose justice over injustice.

With clear and interesting examples and analogies supported by facts and research, this book is a truly eye opening read. It is structured and paced perfectly. It keeps the reader interested and thinking. It opens up avenues for discussion and debate, as a good book must do.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this honest review.


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