The NYT has an important piece today on judges and implicit bias.
Now, as the country struggles with how these instinctive judgments shape our lives, the Justice Department is trying to minimize the role of bias in law enforcement and the courts. More than 250 federal immigration judges attended a mandatory anti-bias training session in August, and this summer the Justice Department announced that 28,000 more employees would go through a similar exercise.
When the brain has to process large volumes of information quickly, there is a tendency to rely on past experiences rather than on unique details in the present. In judging people, for instance, this can mean falling back on generalizations about race, age, country of origin, religion or gender.
In August, at the judges’ training session, Ms. [Kelly] Tait went over strategies to counteract bias, like focusing on something as innocuous as the color of an immigrant’s shirt to prevent cases from bleeding together.
She explained that people who know they are biased against a particular group can try to picture an exemplar of that group whom they hold in high esteem. One of the judges she taught said that when he had felt himself tensing up next to a large African-American man on the witness stand, he pictured President Obama. Another judge said that under similar circumstances he had thought of Nelson Mandela.
The simplest and most effective way to combat bias, however, is to avoid rushing and take breaks, Ms. Tait said. But with more than 500,000 cases pending, immigration judges say that slowing down is not an option.
Now Kelly Tait is a long time friend of access to justice and a powerful speaker and trainer, so the immigration judges were very lucky. See her piece at page 45 of this SRL package.
So, lets hope these ideas spread through the whole system — and not just for judges.