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Bias in the Courts

Various task forces, commissions, and committees have studied racial and ethnic bias in the courts. The issue is important because any perception of bias would undermine public trust in the judicial system. Individuals who perceive bias in the justice system may have doubts about the fairness of court procedures and outcomes and may be less willing to report crimes, file meritorius lawsuits, or serve as jurors.

What are some of the negative perceptions about the justice system?

Some of the negative perceptions about the court system include that it is not accessible due to cost and complexity, that bias results in unequal treatment of racial and ethnic minorities, that harsher criminal penalties are imposed on minorities, and that there is leniency in sentencing white collar criminals. In one Ohio study, minority attorneys were found to be more likely than white attorneys to view the judicial system as treating minorities unfairly. Also, most white attorneys surveyed believed that justice was fairly administered by the court system, while minority attorneys expressed great dissatisfaction with the system. Studies have shown that African-Americans have less confidence in the justice system than either Hispanics or whites.

What is being done to build public trust in the court system?

Many courts have implemented outreach programs as a way to increase public awareness and confidence in the judicial system. Courts offer educational programs and promote citizen participation in the courts. They also offer public awareness programs and provide self-help materials. Some judges go out of the courtroom and into the communities to hear cases locally. Judges and court personnel make themselves available to speak to community organizations on law-related topics. Increasing use of the Internet allows courts to provide information, court decisions, and educational materials to the general public.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.