Saturday, September 19, 2015

Book Review: Unfair by Adam Benforado

ISBN: 0770437761
Published: June 16th, 2015
Publisher: Crown
Read from September 15th to 19th, 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
"A law professor sounds an explosive alarm on the hidden unfairness of our legal system." —Kirkus Reviews, starred

A child is gunned down by a police officer; an investigator ignores critical clues in a case; an innocent man confesses to a crime he did not commit; a jury acquits a killer. The evidence is all around us: Our system of justice is fundamentally broken.

But it’s not for the reasons we tend to think, as law professor Adam Benforado argues in this eye-opening, galvanizing book. Even if the system operated exactly as it was designed to, we would still end up with wrongful convictions, trampled rights, and unequal treatment. This is because the roots of injustice lie not inside the dark hearts of racist police officers or dishonest prosecutors, but within the minds of each and every one of us.

This is difficult to accept. Our nation is founded on the idea that the law is impartial, that legal cases are won or lost on the basis of evidence, careful reasoning and nuanced argument. But they may, in fact, turn on the camera angle of a defendant’s taped confession, the number of photos in a mug shot book, or a simple word choice during a cross-examination. In Unfair, Benforado shines a light on this troubling new field of research, showing, for example, that people with certain facial features receive longer sentences and that judges are far more likely to grant parole first thing in the morning.

Over the last two decades, psychologists and neuroscientists have uncovered many cognitive forces that operate beyond our conscious awareness. Until we address these hidden biases head-on, Benforado argues, the social inequality we see now will only widen, as powerful players and institutions find ways to exploit the weaknesses of our legal system.

Weaving together historical examples, scientific studies, and compelling court cases—from the border collie put on trial in Kentucky to the five teenagers who falsely confessed in the Central Park Jogger case—Benforado shows how our judicial processes fail to uphold our values and protect society’s weakest members. With clarity and passion, he lays out the scope of the legal system’s dysfunction and proposes a wealth of practical reforms that could prevent injustice and help us achieve true fairness and equality before the law.


This book is such an excellent book about so many of the things that are wrong with the current American justice system. It touches on just about every aspect of the system, from police officers to juries and the biases that everyone has. If anyone could read this book and not admit that there are so many things that need to be fixed, then I would be amazed.

What I really love about the book is that everything in it is based in psychology and neuroscience and real facts. At the same time, the book is also powerful because of the real stories you get of difference injustices that have come out of our justice system. You get to hear about studies that discovered judges' decisions can be predicted based only on what time of the day they're making the decision, and you get to hear about people who are wrongly accused because jurors (and other people in the justice system) can't recognize their own biases that everyone possesses. The book looks at solitary confinement, something used frequently yet has been shown to do so much psychological damage that it really is torture. There's also the evidence that people do a really poor job of identifying people who aren't of their race, which presents a huge problem when you rely on eye witnesses to identify suspects (and that's only one of a multitude of ways that eye witnesses can get things wrong).

And that's such a small selection of topics that this book explores. There's so much in here, and all of it is incredibly important to understanding how messed up our justice system currently is.

But this book isn't just condemning the system. It provides a number of ways to improve it and create a system that is much fairer by educating people and using what we know about psychology and neuroscience to actually work out these problems.

This is a book that I feel like everyone should read. It's such an important topic and one that really won't get better until more people are aware of the information that's in this book. It's something that we really can't afford as a society to keep ignoring.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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