Book Review: Shadows of doubt: Stereotypes, crime, and the pursuit of justice

AuthorAva T. Carcirieri
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Tanya M. Grant
OFlaherty, B., & Sethi, R. (2019). Shadows of doubt: Stereotypes, crime, and the pursuit of justice. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press. 372 pp. $27.95. ISBN: 9780674976597.
Reviewed by: Ava T. Carcirieri ,University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016819866251
Shadows of Doubt: Stereotypes, Crime, and the Pursuit of Justice is an extremely relevant and impor-
tant work for todays political and racial climate. This important work brings together decades of sci-
entif‌ic research about stereotypes and prejudice and walks the reader through our nations various
ways of handling crime and punishment. The central argument outlined by the authors is that
while everyone naturally carries prejudices subconsciously, it is possible to acknowledge and over-
come these prejudices; specif‌ically, with regard to our nations justice system, which the authors
show to be rife with racial bias and prejudices at every level. This work is extremely important
given the current changing climate toward the U.S. justice system and the shifting of public attitudes
about the punitive nature of our prison systems.
The book begins with narratives about certain criminal situations, and the argument is made that
both criminals and victims use stereotypes in different ways, and these are supported by the data. For
example, the authors show that the national data currently show that in cases of robbery, Black indi-
viduals rob both Black and White people fairly evenly, while White robbers rarely have Black
victims. The authors outline how these data provide support for the existence of stereotyping
playing out across decision-making of all individualsWhite individuals stereotype Black victims
as being more likely to f‌ight back or be aggressive, and Black individuals may stereotype White
victims to be more afraid of them because of their race and therefore be compliant. In other
words, stereotypes inf‌luence every level of decision-making for both criminals and victims.
The research studies cited throughout the text are thoroughly explained without losing interest in
the broader narrative. Additionally, these citations serve as a great resource for those who are inter-
ested in keeping up to date with sociological, psychological, or economic research focusing on
inequalities in various areas of the U.S. justice system. Most well-known of these studies focus
implicit biases, which are outlined in the f‌irst few chapters. The authors walk the reader through
the psychologists who pioneered the f‌irst implicit biases tests and what the earliest results were
among different groups, the most prominent and relevant implicit bias being the association that
many groups held between criminality and Black people. These chapters are of critical importance
because the authors use this research to ground the notion that while we individually have biases,
we can overcome them by taking the extra cognitive effort to recognize and challenge them.
The authors themselves provide an interesting background and grounding of much of the data and
research that they cite to support their arguments. Brenden OFlaherty is an economics professor at
Columbia and has authored several books focusing on the economics of race and homelessness.
Similarly, an economics professor at Columbia, Rajiv Sethi sits on the board of American
Economic Review and Economics and Philosophy and is involved in research looking into how indi-
viduals make decisions and gather information from other individualsa pertinent topic within the
sphere of stereotyping.
OFlaherty and Sethi then walk the reader through a comprehensive list of topics related to the
justice system and weave in the data about each to illustrate how stereotypes and bias color our
528 Criminal Justice Review 47(4)

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