|Unconscious Bias in Prisons|
|By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ|
To be honest with you, I believe this bull about Eric Holder believing cops are affected by an “unconscious bias” goes a little too far over the blurred lines but it does give us some food to think about. The Attorney General feels police officers in the case of Eric Garner’s death need to be examined for this type of bias inside their heads because he feels they are infected with a decision making process that may predict poor police interactions that are associated with race and social class biases as well as the traditional lines of police work in general.
One has to be aware that with some level of certainly, this kind of a bias may appear to be true in some cases but keeping it in content and context, so that these assessments are not skewed or taken out of context. This value of unconscious biases has been underrated and overrated by many studies and must be kept in the parameters and environments that are real and within logical and rational expectations and desired outcomes.
If such studies do not take into account community demographics, culture, training and roles provided, it can lead someone down the wrong path and draw the wrong conclusions. It has been said that police have better results and less violence in their interactions with those of a higher social class than those belonging to a middle or lower social class.
Perhaps there is a preference for cops to work in good neighborhood rather than working in poor neighborhoods. It does seem to affect their perception to a degree. If this perception guides their decision making, then what can be said about correctional officers working in a criminal element and putting their own conscious biases towards those they manage or supervise and what does that do to institutional enforcement levels and use of force situations? The questions are real but rarely assessed or researched.
We know there is a distinct preference what custody levels officers prefer to work or engage in with convicted felons. There is also reasonable grounds to believe officers would rather work with those of a higher intelligence and better communication skills than those who are slow at mental processing and speech. Their patience wears thin and often results in frustration.
It may not be based on race or other inequalities but it could trigger a modal response that is hard to deny to exist and create a conflict in actions and interactions based on their own perceptions and preferences. Thus it is reasonable to suggest that a conscious bias may impair or place an effective barrier to the desire to produce effective and safer solutions especially when some of these inequalities are misunderstood.
Recent and past work experiences have shown that implicit biases also exist among police officers and correctional officers and are associated with perceptions and beliefs about persons considered to be suspected criminals or convicted criminals. One just has to inject a bias towards the nature of crime committed or accused of to change the perception or outcome.
Together, such a finding may suggest that the relationship between law and criminal may be an important contributing factor to racial and social disparities in law enforcement either on the streets or inside a jail or prison. Additionally, there are reasonable conclusions drawn from anecdotal experiences such biases may be generated or reinforced during formal, informal, on the job training as well as educational resources and may enable the design of interventions to address disparities in such enforcement of law and rules.
Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."
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