Police officers can be influenced unconsciously by racial stereotypes, affecting how they treat offenders in the juvenile justice system, say two studies from Stanford University and the University of California-Los Angeles reported by the San Jose Mercury News. Published in the journal Law and Human Behavior, the studies, which involved 200 police officers and juvenile probation officers, “should prompt a closer look at the effect that unintentional biases may have within the juvenile justice system,” researchers said.
Police and probation officers volunteered to examine hypothetical juvenile offenders. One set of officers was “primed” with subliminal words associated with racial stereotypes — Harlem, homeboy, dreadlocks — before looking at the cases. The other set of officers was given ethnic and race-neutral words. Afterward, the officers were asked to evaluate the hypothetical offender’s degree of guilt, the likelihood of committing another crime, and punishment. Officers who were “primed” assigned tougher punishment, a greater degree of guilt and higher recidivism rates. The studies were funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice in Chicago. “These studies make a strong case that there are instances where racial stereotyping can be unintentional, involuntary and automatic,” said Lawrence Steinberg of the MacArthur Foundation research network.