Review by Choice Review
The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Recent actions of police officers across the country and an ongoing stream of exonerations of those committed to prison or, worse, condemned to death, point to a broken system of justice. Benforado (law, Drexel Univ.) seeks a way out of the seemingly intractable problems of the US criminal justice system. His solution is in his book's title: it is science. The author's treatise covers each element of the criminal justice system--police, courts, corrections--and applies what science says is occurring at each stage, particularly the sciences of the mind: psychology and the neurosciences. What is revealed is in turn disturbing and confounding: race shapes decision making, and people lie and cheat (but not always as expected) for the greatest return. Benforado contends in his comprehensive conclusion that the country is not without hope. The hope resides in science and technology. His most controversial proposal is the "virtual trial," in which avatars replace participants. This could, according to Benforado, "reduce our dependence on fallible human faculties." Especially for those engaged in critical policy analysis. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. --Susan Elaine Blankenship, Lake Erie College
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A law professor sounds an explosive alarm on the hidden unfairness of our legal system. The biggest problem with our criminal justice system, writes Benforado (Law/Drexel Univ.), is that "we have gotten used to it" and failed to act on new scientific evidence exposing the biases built into our legal structures. In this important, deeply researched debut, the author draws on findings from psychology and neuroscience to show that police, jurors, and judges are generally guided by intuitive feelings rather than hard facts in making assessments. They make gut decisions based on their own backgrounds and experiences and then look for supporting data that confirms their judgments. The new research challenges basic assumptions about most key aspects of the legal system, including eyewitness memory, jury deliberations, police procedures, and punishment. "We operate under the illusion that reality enters our brain through our senses unfiltered," writes Benforado, when, in fact, cognitive blinders distort everything: our assessments of crime scenes, responses to mug shots, interrogations of suspects, eyewitness identifications (innocent people are selected in lineups one-third of the time), and reactions to criminal defendants in the courtroom. The problem lies in the human propensity to make snap judgments and to label people, ignoring contradictory information. Benforado uses case studies to illustrate the biases of the system and details many possible ways to reduce our reliance on human perception and memory, from using diverse new technologies to replacing partisan expert witnesses with independent witness panels. He even raises the prospect of virtual trials, in which participants would interact through avatars to eliminate biases. "If a doctor no longer needs to be in the same room with her patients," he writes, "why is it so critical that a defendant be in the same room as the person he allegedly raped or shot or robbed?" An original and provocative argument that upends our most cherished beliefs about providing equal justice under the law. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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