GSU professors assess criminal bias

Amidst growing crime rates, APD patrol the streets of Atlanta. Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

Mass incarceration has always been a controversial issue in society, but now individuals like to tamper with criminal sentences.

Eyal Aharoni, assistant professor of psychology, Sarah Brosnan, professor of psychology and philosophy and Heather Kleider-Offutt, associate professor of psychology are working together as a team to determine how bias is found among individuals in deciding criminal sentences.

“Our goals are to characterize how our internal biases and our informational environments work together to shape our punishment judgments. We believe this question is relevant not just to judges and legislators, but also to ordinary people who vote and pay taxes,” Aharoni said.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the state of Georgia is one of the most highly populated states with a large number of incarceration rates. Georgia’s incarceration rate – which includes prisons and jails – exceeds both the domestic average in the U.S. and that of all other countries worldwide.

There is approximately more than 102,000 people from Georgia that are behind bars today. Georgia has the highest rate of correctional control in the the United States.

While conducting their research, Aharoni and his team are working to find out why people have biased views before knowing the cause of incarceration.

“We theorize that individuals have multiple, sometimes competing motivations, and the type of informational environment that the individual is in shapes which motivation is taking the lead,” Aharoni said. “We found that when we make people aware of their multiple concerns, they lower their sentencing recommendations, suggesting that when that information is removed, they punish more than they otherwise would have when those concerns were more transparent.”

GSUPD officer Eric Aguiar explained how the Georgia State police department deals with biased views.

“The GSU Police department has standard operating procedures and training requirements. Both of those mechanisms layout a platform upon which the impartial, unbiased and professional enforcement of law takes place. Training is done on a yearly basis and police practices are updated as they occur,” Aguiar said.

The act of punishment with criminals was an issue Aharoni and his team wanted to address accurately.

“The question of punishment bias is very timely. Mass incarceration is a major problem in the U.S., but the justice system is facing an opportunity for significant reform,” Aharoni said. “Some jurisdictions have begun to enact policies that disclose the costs of incarceration to judges on a case by case basis, raising the question of how such disclosures will affect sentencing rulings. Our research aims to directly address this question.”

Aguiar added that an accurate report of how Georgia State has improved its crime rates across campus can be found at Georgia State’s Police Department Lobby at 15 Edgewood Ave.