Thursday, September 14, 2017

Policing and Procedural Justice in an Unjust Society

By Professor Eric Miller 

This post originally appeared on Prawsblawg, where Prof. Miller is guest blogging.

There is a sense, at least among a chunk of people, that policing in this country is broken: that the police are an authoritarian group that too often ignore the rights of minorities, especially African Americans, but also Latinos and other minority groups. The police hold these groups in contempt, and engage in unwarranted violence against minorities without being held properly to account. The popular reform proposed for this kind of police violence is "procedural justice": training the police to allow the people they encounter to given their side of the story before engaging in further action, increasing the chances that the civilian will voluntarily comply. The upside for the public is that "procedural justice" lowers the likelihood of police violence. The downside is that it is touted as real reform. But "procedural justice" is an inherently conservative response to problems with policing, and ignores—and perhaps even obfuscates—the need for real change. Worse, it potentially places the police in harms way in a manner that has longlasting moral and political (and perhaps psychological) costs for the police and the public. Here's why.

One way of seeing the problem is to realize that "procedural justice" explains the psychological impact on civilians of procedural due process. If police officers adhere to a form of procedural due process on the streets, civilians are more likely to comply with their directives. From a justice-oriented perspective, however, introducing procedural due process as a standard operating procedure for the police seems like a mealy mouthed—and long overdue—reform.

A standard critique of procedural due process is that it is insensitive to background considerations of justice. Procedural due process simply ensures that the parties get a chance of a hearing before someone who does not have a clear interest in the outcome of some dispute. But if the background equities are stacked against one of the parties, then that party has a much harder chance of success, even though the procedure used is just (in the sense of ensuring the parties get the right amount of participation). Worse, having committed to the procedure, the parties are bound by the results. The loser is disempowered from protesting her loss (except by means provided by the procedure, such as an appeal to some other authority, if such a right exists). Systems of procedurally just systems are often substantively unjust because a fair procedure in a system that is otherwise unfair cannot ensure that the parties receive their distributive or corrective due. Such inequities are often a feature of majoritarian political systems which are stacked against minorities; some form of substantive due process is often introduced as a means of mitigating against this sort of majority advantage.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"Procedural Justice" Is Not Procedural Justice

By Professor Eric Miller

This post originally appeared on Prawsblawg

"Procedural justice" has recently become a big deal in the politics of policing. It was a core recommendation of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing; and has spawned a whole literature of its own, both in North America and in the United Kingdom. The basic idea is that certain ways in which speakers interact with targets during face-to-face encounters have an important psychological effect on the target of the encounter. The target feels that the speaker is justified in making demands upon the target, so that the target under an obligation to comply with the speaker's directives. Importantly, the target feels that way whether or not the speaker is, normatively, justified in making those demands; that is, whether or not an obligation to comply exists.

While "procedural justice" may be a useful tool in inducing compliance, it is distinct from actual, normative procedural justice. Justice is a normative concept, not a psychological one. And so a way of treating a target may be normatively unjust even if it fits the psychological theory of "procedural justice." Here's why.