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Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice - Adam Benforado - <span class="date-display-single">10/24/2015 - 3:00pm</span>

Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice

10/24/2015 - 3:00pm

Central Library - Community Room 301 & 302

Several years ago, Adam Benforado came across a photograph—a lineup that had sent an innocent man to prison with a life sentence. As a criminal law professor who studies injustice, he’d become aware of a lot of cases like this. But this particular photograph shook him because standing just to the right of the wrongly accused man was the real perpetrator. By pure coincidence, detectives had pulled him into the lineup as a filler. The victim had looked at the person who had brutally attacked her, whom she’d been face-to-face with, and picked out the guy next to him. The police closed the case; the rapist went on to rape again; and nearly three decades passed before the truth was revealed.  
This single perplexing and tragic image offers a glimpse of what Benforado’s book, Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice is about. There is no doubt that our criminal justice system is at a pivotal moment. Evidence of unfairness is all around us. And we are desperately trying to make sense of wrongful convictions, baseless confessions, police brutality, and overcrowded prisons. But our common accounts of evil hearts, greed, corruption, and explicit bigotry don’t solve these mysteries.
In Unfair, Benforado offers a fundamentally different way to think about the problems we face and a road map to reform our legal system so that it lives up to our ideals. To understand what is really moving our justice system and to uncover the hidden unfairness in our courtrooms, we need to turn to the latest, oftentimes shocking, findings of the mind sciences. Drawing on Benforado’s own experimental research as well as published psychological and neuroscientific studies, Unfair reveals the hidden forces that distort our criminal justice system. Each chapter focuses on a different core character—the victim, the eyewitness, the suspect, the detective, the judge, the juror, the prisoner. Benforado cites the conventional stories about how those people make decisions, and then contrasts that with what the latest scientific findings say about the true mental processes of those players. The stunning conclusion is that our existing legal structures and tools fail us because they are based on an incorrect understanding of human nature—flawed assumptions about how police officers assess risk, why criminals commit crimes, what deceit looks like, how eyewitness memories work, what drives us to punish, and how best to deter repeat offenders.
“Until we address these hidden biases head-on, the inequality we see now will only widen,” says Benforado. “New insights from psychology have revolutionized other fields—from sports to medicine to economics. It’s time to use this knowledge to transform our system of criminal justice.” Unfair clearly and compellingly lays out both the rationale and the vision for that fundamental realignment. 

Adam Benforado

About Presenter Adam Benforado


Adam Benforado is an associate professor of law at Drexel University. A graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School, he served as a federal appellate law clerk and an attorney at Jenner & Block. He has published numerous scholarly articles, and his op-eds and essays have appeared in a variety of publications including The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Legal Times. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter. 


Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice

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