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Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice

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3.99  ·  Rating details ·  1,208 Ratings  ·  246 Reviews
"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
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Hardcover, 379 pages
Published June 16th 2015 by Crown
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Michael Counihan No! The more money you have, the easier to get away with a crime.

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Darcia Helle
I can sum up my thoughts in three easy words: Read this book. No, don't even hesitate long enough to read this review. Just buy the book.

For those of you still with me, I'll do my best to offer some specifics. While the author gives us lots of facts to ponder, the content never feels dry or overly academic. Benforado writes in a conversational style, engaging his readers as if he's sitting with friends.

I read a lot on this topic, and this book is one of the best out there. We look at psychologi
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Ellie
Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado is a law professor's look at the American justice system-a system that turns out to be, in his view, more of an injustice system. Benforado compares today's system with examples from the middle ages and other periods of the past and examines the differences as well as the similarities between the two. He asks, how far have we really come? The answer would appear to be, under huge surface differences, maybe not as far as we think.

Ju
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Chris
Jul 28, 2015 rated it liked it
As depressing as you would expect from the title. But this is not just another book about structural racism or corruption, much of it is dedicated to exploring how profoundly incapable we are of living up to the fantasy of our justice system. He references countless studies showing that not just jurors and eyewitnesses, but police, lawyers and judges exhibit shockingly irrational behavior. I read a fair number of topical "the world is going to hell if we don't fix X now" books, and much of this ...more
Taryn
Jun 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice is an enlightening and well-structured book about the ways in which the current US criminal justice system fails us. Adam Benforado, an associate professor law and a former attorney, focuses on how our hidden biases affect the justice system. He explains the problems in each part of the legal process and offers possible solutions.
In fact, we are not such cool and deliberate detectives; rather, we are masters at jumping to conclusions based on an ext
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Graeme Roberts
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The criminal justice systems of the United States work very badly. Adam Benforado, a law professor at Drexel University, demonstrates their deficiencies under the broad headings of investigation, adjudication, punishment, and reform. He is very fair in pointing out the progress that has been made, both here and in other countries, and creative in suggesting and supporting possible solutions. This is the first book that I have ever read that looks to science, data, and intelligence, both human an ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
3.5 stars

This is a thought-provoking critique of the American criminal justice system based on psychological research. It is more of an overview than a deep dive: in 286 pages of text (excluding the bibliography), the author discusses everything from snap judgments in investigations, to false confessions and erroneous eyewitness identifications, to the reasons some lawyers behave unethically, to misleading expert testimony, to judicial bias, to the workability of prisons. These are all important
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Bridgit Morgan
Jun 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Unfair by Adam Benforado tackles a difficult subject: the ironic injustice of our criminal justice system in the United States. He argues that our legal system has a wide array of flaws with no easy solution to eradicate them; Benforado suggests that psychological biases come into play in every aspect of prosecution.

The way Benforado sets up his argument (not going to go into a lot of detail; the book is short… read it!), it reminded me a lot of the equal pay issue in America and much of the wor
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Charlene
This book is EXCELLENT! Put it on the top of your to read list if you are interested in the Justice system. This is the book I have been waiting to read. I taught criminology and criminal justice to undergrads and am now wishing Adam Benforado had written a textbook. I truly hope he turns this incredible popular science book about crime, decision-making, and justice into a textbook for the next generation of students who are interested in taking a job in some aspect of our criminal justice syste ...more
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Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado


“Unfair" is a fantastic, well-researched look at what is at the heart of our unfair criminal system. Law professor Adam Benforado has provided the public with an eye-opening gem grounded on the best current science, historical court cases and insightful research. He explores the nature of the criminal mind, eyewitness memory, jury deliberations, police procedures, and intuitions about punishment. This enlightening 402-page book incl
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Christine
Oct 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It’s not too often I use the word “brilliant” in writing a book review, but in the case of “Unfair” I have to say that it is nothing short of that description … brilliant. There are any numbers of books available on the subjects of false confessions, wrongful convictions and the flaws in both police practices and the court system. I have read several and, in my opinion, “Unfair” is the cream of the crop. If you read only one book on the subject this should be the book you choose.

In the introduc
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Nathaniel
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This was an interesting book that made a few good points that were ultimately swamped by some very poor judgment. I like where he's coming from. The basic idea is to take the popularized research of Kahneman and Traversky and others (e.g. Thinking, Fast and Slow) and apply it to criminal justice. Since I've already read most of those books, the examples in this book were almost all familiar to me already, but for the most part Benforado is making solid, relevant points. For example: we tend to d ...more
Rachel
Jul 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
*I was a winner of a Goodreads Giveaway for this book.*

Unfair's intro talks a big game, promising to cover a range of issues and delve into the biases and many barriers to justice in our country faced by law enforcement, victims, defendants, lawyers, judges, and jurors (and everyone in between). I was so thrilled that this book delivered on all it's potential.

Benforado is an incredibly impassioned and unflinching writer who addresses the history of our issues as well as practical approaches to
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Judy N
Jun 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc
This is a crucially important book: the author applies social theory and psychology to the justice system, evaluating the process of police interrogations, eyewitness identification, jury selection, the huge number of people incarcerated and the use of solitary confinement--essentially a review of the entire justice system, viewed through the lens of social science and history. Although I work with people who are mentally ill and frequently incarcerated, my understanding of the justice system co ...more
Brooke
Man I am just not made for non-fiction reads.

First off I'll say I got this book because my former law school professor wrote it. Benforado was a funny teacher and his classes enjoyable. I listened to the audiobook version of this and was disappointed he did not actually narrate the book himself (I wasn't expecting him to but it would have been nice)
I enjoyed the first part of this book, which had case studies, a lot more than I did the later parts, which offer possible solutions.

No doubt our le
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Ann Rufo
Sep 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A lot of times I'll hear interviews with authors on NPR and I'll feel compelled to read the book they're discussing. I think this is because there is something magical in the specific tenor NPR hosts use - slow, with exacting pauses, and raises in excitement of voice, and something overly smooth in general that convinces me I must trust them and read what they suggest. That I also work in criminal defense made me pick up Benforado's book, just as the interview was ending.

Read this book. If you
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Paul
Jun 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: crime, nonfiction
I wanted to like this book, because I agree with many of the main points about the fallibility of the legal system, but this book is rife with modern psychology results that I find incredibly dubious presented as fact. Radically overhauling our justice system based on the results of these tenuous psychological experiments would be a terrible idea, and really gives you an understanding of precisely why things like the justice system should be conservative by nature.

I also was not in the least swa
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Ann
Feb 09, 2016 rated it it was ok
I know I am in the minority here but I did not like this book. We already know our education system is broken, our political system is broken and our justice system is in shambles. Listening to "Serial Podcasts" or watching, "Making a Murderer" gives you a more in depth vision than this book.

What bothered me most about this book was the depressing tone it took. According to Benforado, we are all innately prejudiced so there is no way to achieve fairness. His solutions were just bizarre. I think
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Joe
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Adam Benforado does a marvelous job of sharing recent behavioral, social, neuroscience and psychological sciences as applied to our justice system. The writing style is welcoming with stories and vignettes used to illustrate the concepts while keeping the reader engaged. Particularly nice is the 70 page bibliography organized by chapter with an online "extended notes" available too - you get the benefits of a good read with the hard science references to dive deeper.

Whether involved directly in
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Pat
May 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a provocative read peppered with many interesting cases to prove the author's points. I don't agree with all of his findings or recommendations, but I certainly agree with enough of them to concur that our system is flawed...and fatally for far too many. Looking forward to our book club discussion on this one.
Laura Novobilsky
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent book. Really opened my eyes to not only some of the most obvious cases of biases and injustice, but the many, many ways things are unfair that most people are unaware of. Everything from how police/emt's/hospital workers treat patients to the results of court cases/parole hearings depending on the time of day. Fascinating stuff and I really liked how the author presents many ways to correct some of the injustices.
Emma
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Best book I have read in 2017, and maybe for a few years....
Shannon
Apr 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Great as far as info, but SO repetitive!
YHC
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Book content:
Part 1: Investigation
1. The Labels We Live By - The Victim
2. Dangerous Confessions - The Detective
3. The Criminal Mind - The Suspect

Part II: Adjudication
4. Breaking the Rules - The Lawyer
5. The Eye of the Beholder - The Jury
6. The Corruption of Memory - The Eyewitness
7. How to Tell a Lie - The Eyewitness
8. Umpires or Activists? - The Judge

Part III: Punishment
9. An Eye for an Eye - The Public
10. Throwing Away the Key - The Prisoners

Part IV: Reform
11. What We Must Overcome - The Chal
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Andy Zell
Mar 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado is a critical examination of the American criminal justice system. And it is vitally important that we look at it. Benforado details the many, many ways that the criminal justice system does not, in fact, deliver justice. The structure of the book, from investigation to adjudication to punishment, allows him to show how things can go wrong each step of the way. Along the way he points out the relevant social science research that he ...more
Kevin O'brien
The author does a good job discussing some interesting scientific studies about the underlying causes of criminality and the ways that human fallibilities can foster unfairness in law enforcement, but goes off the rails once he starts editorializing. For example, after an interesting discussion on how the perspective of a video camera on a cop car can influence the interpretation of the video as overly sympathetic to a police officer who made arguably an overly aggresive move to stop a car chase ...more
Jeremy Stock
Feb 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Another important read in the all too-real world of wrongful conviction.

Benforado takes an approach that I haven't come across yet. He spends a lot of time bringing forward psychological studies and applies them to our criminal justice system. The science behind why our system fails us so often is very closely tied to our human tendency to believe that we are capable of setting aside our biases (including hosts of biases and false beliefs that we don't even know we have), coming to "the truth"
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Michael
Jun 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Full disclosure on this review: I'm a criminal defense attorney, so I come into this book with a different perspective than most readers will.

That said, I think this is a good book for general consumption, but I wanted more. Benforado touches on a number of issues that are pressing in the justice system, but he really just touches on them. The book's broad scope and it's target audience (i.e., not me) mean that we're not going to get significant depth on any one of the many interesting subjects
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victor harris
Jul 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Although it hasn't attracted much mainstream attention, it is well worth a visit. As the title indicates it deals with the "science" of the justice system. One might add and the "social science" as it delves into the psychological dimensions of judges and juries. Unfortunately much of the progress made in such areas is not heeded, either by design or through ignorance. Often that very science is used to reinforce prejudices and court presentations that can influence jurors who are not science s ...more
Erik
Jan 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Reading this book made me wish I was in a position to make more of an impact on at least some of the most egregious problems with our justice system. I am glad that I read it, and hope to remember the principles I have learned. I think that much of what I read in this book I can apply to my life to be a better father and more empathetic to my fellow-passengers to the grave.

Using solitary confinement as a punishment really stands out as something that needs to be done away in our system. The aut
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Stephanie Moran
Sep 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: must-buy, 2015
"It's time for honest reflection. Justice should not be a commodity." ~ Adam Benforado

Food for thought book! Must read for anyone who is in criminal justice, studying criminal justice, or who is seriously dedicated to reform within our current justice system.

Benforado does a superb job of breaking down the current system into different parts and players. From there he goes about analyzing what it is set up to do and it's shortcomings. But Benforado doesn't just make a laundry list of what's wron
...more
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Adam Benforado is a professor, writer, and lawyer. Conducting novel experiments and developing existing findings, Professor Benforado's research is focused on uncovering the hidden forces that drive our legal system.

A graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School, he served as a federal appellate law clerk and an attorney at Jenner & Block, before becoming a law professor at Drexel Universit
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“We will fight tirelessly to protect the rights of those who spew hate in the public square, stockpile weapons capable of wiping out classrooms of children, and flood our airwaves with lies to sway elections, but we draw the line at permitting a man convicted of stealing videotapes a door to his toilet, the chance to spend a night with his family, or the experience of preparing his own dinner in his own shirt. If ensuring freedom for those who may harm us is worth the risk when the costs are high, that must certainly be the case when protecting their rights leaves us safer.” 2 likes
“The arc of history does not bend toward justice unless we bend it.” 2 likes
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