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Pros and cons of 'blind justice'

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20.06.2019

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon's plan to remove any considerations of race from his prosecutors' initial decisions about what charges to file in criminal cases reinvigorates an old debate: Is justice best served when it is all-seeing and all-knowing? Or when it is blind?

Gascon last week announced his plans to use a tool, developed by the Stanford Computational Policy Lab, to sweep names, crime locations and race from the police reports that prosecutors review before deciding whether to bring charges.

In a criminal justice system beset by racial bias, the thinking goes, prosecutors may inadvertently be swayed by a suspect's race. They might be prone to see a shoplifting report filed against a white suspect as a sign of overzealous policing, but a similar report against a black suspect as an indication of a crime wave.

Or vice versa. If racial data is deleted from the report _ and if prosecutors are unable to glean that information from the suspect's name, hair or eye color, or from the neighborhood where the crime is alleged to have occurred _ couldn't the justice system become more even-handed?

It is an intriguing idea worth testing. It's also important to keep in mind the many earlier........

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