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Objectives: In October 2021, APA passed a resolution addressing ways psychologists could work to dismantle systemic racism in criminal legal systems. The present report, developed to inform APA’s policy resolution, details the scope of the problem and offers recommendations for policy and psychologists to address the issue by advancing related science and practice. Specifically, it acknowledges the roots of modern-day racial and ethnic disparities in rates of criminalization and punishment for people of color as compared to White people. Next, the report reviews existing theory and research that helps explain the underlying psychological mechanisms driving racial and ethnic disparities in criminal legal systems (e.g., endorsement of negative stereotypes, explicit and implicit bias). It also elucidates how racially disparate treatment generates downstream negative mental health consequences for people of color.

Conclusions: Evidence-based recommendations to work toward eliminating systemic racism in the criminal legal systems include (a) rigorous measurement and analysis of disparities; (b) targeted changes in policy, practice, and law; (c) increased access to culturally aware and competent services and interventions; (d) the proliferation of education and training programs regarding racial bias; (e) increased attention to issues of intersectionality; and (f) promotion of diversity and fair-mindedness among criminal legal actors.

Public significance statement: Many of the policies and practices in early U.S. criminal legal systems were inherently racist, and that racism echoes in present-day structures, manifests in the biased decision-making of legal actors, and results in the disproportionate and unfair criminalization and punishment of people of color. Psychologists can work to dismantle systemic racism in criminal legal systems by using culturally informed science to eliminate opportunities for biased and discriminatory outcomes and foster healing and wellbeing among people of color. These efforts are incumbent upon us all as we continue striving to make the American ideal of equal justice for all a reality.


This is the accepted version of the article, the published version is expected to be made available in December in Law and Human Behavior.

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