Black man with blindfold in red-white-and-blue, like a flag.

Add blindfolds to end white privilege in crime?Leo Correa/AP

Criminologists—and even politicians —generally acknowledge that white privilege runs deep in the crim justice system. For example, while  people of color make up about 30% of the US population, they account for 60% of those imprisoned. More specifically, data suggest only 1 in 106 white men is imprisoned in his lifetime, compared to 1 in 3 black men 

Evidence shows, moreover,  that black males receive harsher treatment from decision-makers at each stage of the crim justice process.  

According to many, prosecutors (from the DA’s offices) are the key deciders in the crim justice system. Many think cops are, but the DA’s offices determine if cop busts stick or not.

There are 2,300 prosecutors in America who have un-reviewable power. They determine whether to charge someone with one drug trafficking offense. Or, they may charge each phone call used to sell drugs as a separate offense. (This results in extended imprisonment and fines.) Or, they may drop charges altogether.

Prosecutors also have the final say in plea bargains where defendants waive their rights to a jury trail by pleading to a lesser charge.  

Now, three professors have come up with the idea that “blind” tactics can reduce alleged race bias in crim justice proceedings. 

 

A bold proposal for ending white privilege in the system.

Professors Shima Baughman, Christopher Robertson, and Sunita Sah have studied race bias and suggest that preventing racial information from reaching key decision-makers might be
the best way to make justice truly blind.

Here are their own words, in support of their proposal:

“Blinding cases – removing the race of the suspect from the information provided to the prosecutor – would meaningfully reduce prosecutorial bias. This can be done by asking
police to exclude race information from reports, or by using case-management software or office assistants to redact this information.

This would involve a little additional administrative effort and minimal cost. The barriers to implementing may include the challenge of achieving full cooperation of prosecutors
offices to blind every case, which will be difficult to achieve without political pressure.

Prosecutors typically make charging decisions based on police files, rather than direct contact with the suspect. Although a suspect’s race and mugshots are now included in their file,
those are intended for police identification purposes. That information is almost never relevant to the merits of the prosecution. …

Blinding prosecutors to the race of criminal defendants can have equally positive effects. In 2001, the Justice Department formed a system for attorneys to conduct blind reviews
in death penalty cases. It is a positive step in the right direction, and we believe more work should be done to document the impact of this practice.

Prosecutor bias has a significant impact, and even a small reduction in bias will be meaningful. Research shows that racial bias may result in blacks serving 20% 
more prison time than whites for the same crime. Two-thirds of those convicted of a felony serve prison time, and the average sentence is about five years at an average cost of  $25,000 annually.”

 

Before we all decide this is a wonderful idea, be aware there are serious implemention challenges:
 
  • The US justice system is built on the principle of transparency. Evidence is presented in open court, defendants have a right to know who their accuser is, etc. 
  • The whole idea of hiding information from prosecutors is irrational and unconstitutional. Prosecutors should have access to ALL the information, not just a limited set of information.
     
    What do you think of the “blinding” proposal?