DOI: 10.3390/humans3030017 ISSN:

A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Race in the Criminal Justice System with Respect to Forensic Science Decision Making: Implications for Forensic Anthropology

An-Di Yim, Nicholas V. Passalacqua
  • General Medicine

Instances of racial disparities are well documented in the United States’ criminal justice system. This study reviewed the literature and conducted quantitative analyses on the role of race in forensic decision making among practitioners and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system. We hypothesized that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals will be significantly more likely to be associated with adverse outcomes than White individuals. A search strategy was developed and registered before the study commenced. Quantitative data were extracted from eligible studies to estimate the pooled effect size (odds ratio) for the effects of race. A final sample of 11 data sources (published study or dataset) was identified. Decision making by all stakeholders in the criminal justice system, including forensic practitioners, case investigators, and juries were evaluated in these studies. Two datasets evaluated the decision-making process involving forensic psychology or psychiatry, three focused on forensic evidence, four on forensic pathology, one involved forensic anthropology cases, and one involved clinical forensic medicine cases. The pooled odds ratio was estimated to be 1.10 (95% confidence interval: 0.67–1.81), indicating a trivial or negligible effect of race (i.e., BIPOC individuals were no more likely to be associated with adverse outcomes given the current evidence). Importantly, the results of this study do not indicate that bias or disparity related to race does not exist in forensic decision making in the criminal justice system. More research into systemic bias in forensic decision making, especially in relation to race, is needed. Forensic anthropologists are uniquely positioned to study and address racial disparities in the criminal justice system involving forensic science because of its interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary nature. This study highlights the need for further research and advocates for forensic anthropologists to be more involved in the study of the science and the impacts of forensic science rather than focusing on methodological advancement.

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