Research on Public Confidence in the Criminal Justice System

Compiled from Criminological Highlights by Anthony N. Doob (Universirty of Toronto)

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Table of contents:

  1. Section A: Public Views of the Criminal Justice System
  2. Section B: Legitimacy, transparency, and effectiveness of the system
  3. Section C: Treating People Fairly and with Respect
  4. Section D: Success Stories
  5. Research Summaries from Criminological Highlights

This overview is designed to provide a ‘road map’ to the set of research summaries from Criminological Highlights that are attached. My own recommendation, however, is that time might be better spent reading the research summaries themselves rather than this overview.

The views expressed or implied in this commentary are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy or of funders of Criminological Highlights.

(Page numbers referred to for the purpose of this commentary are located at the bottom right of each page of the summaries. The summaries are contained in this document immediately after page ix. These summaries are taken directly from the published Criminological Highlights, and, therefore, have the original (Criminological Highlights) source (and page number within the issue) noted on the top (and sometimes on the bottom of the page)

Section A: Public Views of the Criminal Justice System

As in any complex public policy area, it is clearly understood that many members of the public do not have a full understanding of the complexities, the goals that sometimes are in conflict with one another, the social and financial costs of various courses of action, and the simple “facts” of the criminal justice system. This section demonstrates  that  although people are quick to express views about the operation of the criminal justice system, their underlying values and views are almost certainly more complex.

At the same time, when we think about attempting to modify public confidence in criminal justice institutions, it is important to consider the likelihood that simple ‘education programs’ directed at the general public may not be adequate. There are three considerations that may be helpful in thinking about the likely impact of short-term education plans.

  1. People’s views of something as complex as the criminal justice system may be formed more on the basis of individual high-profile cases and a small number of interactions with the formal system, than they are by aggregate systematic data (which is in any event generally are not available).
  2. The experience that people have with the criminal justice system – both direct and vicariously through the experiences of others – may be more important than material that they receive through education programs.
  3. People are influenced by what trusted leaders – defined broadly - say about the criminal justice system. In other words, if trusted spokespeople – whether politicians, police, or others whom they trust – say something, that may be more important than systematic educational information.

I am not suggesting that trying to educate the public about the criminal justice system is not useful. Instead, what I am suggesting is that ‘education’ should be defined more broadly  than just a simple ‘information’ campaign of short duration.

Notwithstanding these concerns, we often ask people simple questions about the criminal justice system. These questions often deal with matters that are the subject of a fair amount of controversy for which we know beyond reasonable doubt that people have inadequate systematic information to form a ‘reasoned’ conclusion. Sentencing is the obvious example. Survey companies and governments ask members of the public questions that may be impossible for them to answer in a meaningful way.    Few pollsters or politicians would bother asking ordinary members of the public whether they thought “Drug A” or “Drug B” was better at treating some disease, nor would most politicians routinely assert that “Drug A” should be made publicly available simply because the public demands it.

Yet we are perfectly willing to ask members of the public what are, in fact, complex – and largely un-answerable – questions such as “Do you think that sentences handed down by the criminal courts are too harsh, too lenient, or about right?” As was pointed out a few years ago,

The irony … is that every five years or so, Statistics Canada asks members of the public (in its victimization survey), “In general, would you say that sentences handed down by the courts are too severe, about right or not severe enough?” Unfortunately, one of the alternative responses that is not offered or recorded is the quite reasonable, “How the [expletive deleted] am I supposed to know? You folks don’t make these data available to anyone.” Canadians, instead, are compliant with the Statistics Canada interviewer and generally offer an opinion on something for which [adequate] systematic information does not publicly exist. Only about 9% of Canadians in the 2004 survey refused to venture an opinion on an issue - sentence severity – that is essentially unknowable by any Canadian.

More generally, though, even if a member of the Canadian public did have “full” information, the appropriateness of sentences generally would be impossible to evaluate since the public would not know what the range of cases actually looked like and whether the sentences, in any systematic way, were appropriate for the facts of each case. Furthermore, looking simply at ‘sentencing statistics’ would not adequately inform members of the public whether some combination of purposes that are listed in the Criminal Code would be the same purposes that they would invoke, nor, of course, could they relate the sentence to the purpose or purposes that the judge might have invoked.

What we do know, however, is that the public is not as naïve as the questions that are put to them would imply. Without much encouragement, most members of the public are willing  to be much more nuanced in their views of sentences, and probably of other parts of the criminal justice system. As the research described in the attached Criminological Highlights summaries demonstrates, sometimes all ordinary people need is a little encouragement to think about a question in more depth.

In the past eight years or so, it has been suggested that Canadians like and want mandatory minimum penalties. The studies summarized on pages A1-A2, however, suggest that they may say that they like mandatory minimum penalties, but given a choice they would like these penalties not to be mandatory. In essence, members of the public appear to want flexibility  in sentencing.

Similarly, the government recently – with support from some opposition MPs – repealed the so-called ‘Faint Hope Clause’ (dealing with parole ineligibility periods for those convicted of murder). Presumably, this was a popular decision, though data would suggest that those members of the public having the closest first-hand knowledge of the working of this (former) provision – jurors in Section 745.6 “faint hope” hearings – seem to have been overwhelmingly sympathetic with prisoners’ proposals to reduce parole ineligibility times (Page A3).

Generally speaking, it would appear that the manner in which people are asked questions about the criminal justice system is crucially important as a determinant of what responses are received (Pages A4-A7).

It turns out that, in various ways, attitudes about punishment are more complex than the public is often given credit for. For example, support for harsh sentences (e.g., agreeing with the statement that “If judges would impose higher penalties, we would have fewer criminals”) is essentially unrelated to support for rehabilitative approaches to crime (Page A8).

Even in the US, with its high – and, until recently, growing – overall imprisonment rate, support for prevention and treatment is quite strong (Page A9-A11). Support is, in  particular, strong for treating youths differently from adults and for providing preventative programs (page A12-A15).

Part of the opposition to non-prison sanctions appears to be that the public does not necessarily believe that community punishments involve meaningful sanctions that are adequately monitored (page A16, see also A4).

It is sometimes assumed that politicians are attempting to placate an uninformed public with harsh penalties. It also seems that politicians are at least partially responsible for convincing people that ‘tough on crime’ works (page A17).

Knowledge about the criminal justice system.

In many countries (including Canada), people indicate on surveys that they believe that sentences are too lenient. It is interesting to note that jurors in one Australian state (Tasmania) were quite content with the sentences that were handed down in the case that they  observed  as  jurors.    Presumably,  if  the  Tasmanian  judges  had  been  ‘too  lenient’ generally, jurors – who had the whole story about the cases they were hearing – would have said that the sentences were too lenient. There was no overall trend in this direction (Page A18). Not surprisingly, those with the least amount of knowledge about the criminal justice system are the least confident in its operation (Page A19).

Views of the justice system are linked to other concerns.

It would be nice to think that if only people had more knowledge of the justice system, they would conclude that all is well with the criminal justice system. Such an assessment implies, of course, that there are no serious problems with the operation of the system. But in any case, it would appear that people have more complex views even of the courts. Different groups in Canadian society appear to view the problems of the courts in different ways (see Page A20).

More importantly, people’s views about how to respond to offenders relate, not surprisingly, to their views of why people commit crime (pages A21-A23). This, in turn, is linked, in part, with religion (A24). In addition, views of the justice system are intimately related to race. In Canada, for example, certain groups hold more negative views of the justice system than do others (Page A25). Race enters the equation in other ways: support for harsh penalties  relates also to views that people hold about racialized groups (Pages A26-A28).

In the end, then, policies are associated with politics (see Page A29 for an example). Not surprisingly, therefore, American prosecutors (many of whom are elected) request harsh sentences in cases that get a lot of press coverage (Page A30). To the extent that pressure from the public comes, in part, from citizens with high levels of fear of crime, the media – in this case local television news – is implicated as an important source of fear (Page A31).

It is important to consider that public views can affect the manner in which the public interacts with the justice system (see Page A32).

Finally, it should not be assumed that simple education will convince members of the public that all is well with the justice system. A large scale and rather elaborate study carried out in Australia demonstrates that information campaigns can have an effect, but that the effect is not long-lasting (Page A33). Single, one-shot ‘information campaigns’ may have few long- lasting effects in part because their impact is over-whelmed by information received on an almost daily basis from other sources.

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Section B: Legitimacy, transparency, and effectiveness of the system

Few would argue against the importance of people trusting their justice systems. Most dramatically, when people don’t feel that the law is available to them, they may resolve grievances privately through violence (Page B1).

Achieving legitimacy needs to be integrated into everyday operations of criminal justice operations. Attention to ordinary members of the public – victims, for example – has to be meaningful. Receiving - but then ignoring - victim impact statements does not appear to be good policy (Page B2). This is not to suggest, obviously, that to achieve  legitimacy, sentences must flow directly from the content of victim impact statements. However, when the justice system invites people to submit such information, it would seem sensible for those receiving them to demonstrate that they, at a minimum, considered the information that was received.

The criminal justice system clearly cannot assume that its decisions will automatically be seen as legitimate. However, when substantial efforts are made to explain the process by which decisions are made, the public clearly does listen and appears to be influenced by what they hear. In the study described on page B3, a researcher described the issues relevant to sentencing generally and a judge described some serious cases involving serious offending.  In three of the four cases described, the members of the public would have sentenced more leniently than did the judge.

Judges in some jurisdictions are realizing that for people to understand what is going on in their courts, they, as judges, need to find some way of communicating directly with the public (Page B4) about these individual cases. More complete communication in ways that does not necessarily depend fully on members of the press (who, themselves, may not fully understand what something means) may be a method of allowing certain decisions to be more fully understood and accepted. Conditional sentences of imprisonment, for example, are not very popular when the public does not know what they are. However, when the actual (punitive) conditions are the focus of a description, conditional sentences are seen in quite a favourable light (Page B5). If the public sees a conditional sentence  of  imprisonment simply as the absence of a normal prison sentence, and does not believe that the non-custodial conditions imposed on the offender are designed to insure that the sentence is proportionate to the offence and the offender’s responsibility for it, then it should not be surprising that, at first blush, this sanction appears to be unpopular. Perhaps all that is necessary for the public to understand this particular sanction is for its actual conditions to be explained adequately and for people to weight the benefits to society of keeping offenders out of prison.

Engaging the public in a respectful way.

Obviously, on a day-to-day basis, most members of the public do not have direct contact with the criminal justice system. Nevertheless, when they do have contact with the justice system, it is important to consider what people might take away from this experience. Many people, for example, have contact with traffic court. There is no good reason for members of the public to differentiate between the treatment that they get in traffic court and the treatment of people in criminal courts.

Courts, themselves, appear sometimes to be designed in a manner that excludes the public (Page B6). People who are in court may well conclude that the public is not really meant to be able to view and hear the proceedings adequately. The court appears to be set up in such a way as to exclude the general public.

Similarly, courts – or the criminal justice system more generally – often use terminology that people do not understand (Page B7). We hold youths criminally responsible for what they have done, but then describe criminal justice processes and personnel in a manner that many youths (and, perhaps sizable numbers of adults) do not adequately understand.

There are things that can be done to ensure that courts run smoothly. At times, courts order people to do things (e.g., to report to certain offices at certain times) without apparently considering the difficulty ordinary people without much money (or without an automobile) may have in doing so. If courts want people to comply with non-custodial programs, for example, they should make efforts to make it easier for people to comply. One way is to ensure that these programs are easily accessible to those required to travel to them (page B8). In this study it was shown that youths were more likely to drop out of a treatment program required of them if they lived far away from the program than if it was very close to where they lived.

Similarly, courts assume that all members of the community are efficient at recording or remembering appointments that they have. If courts want people to show up for court, they can do what many professionals (e.g., dentists) do: send a reminder (Page B9). This obviously is not legally required. But given the cost of a ‘failure to appear’ to the court system, and the findings that suggest that a post-card reminder (or, these days, an email reminder) can reduce the numbers of failures to appear by about one third, one wonders whether such an ordinary courtesy might not be sensible. There is no reason to believe that people fully appreciate that missing a court appointment is more serious than missing a dental appointment. They may simply assume that the courts, like the dentist, will simply re-book the appointment.

From the perspective of ordinary language, courts have very peculiar ways of getting people to tell them what they know about something. Part of the problem – but perhaps not the whole problem – may relate to rules of evidence. But if courts are truly interested in getting witnesses to tell the court what they experienced, they might consider ways in which they  can ask witnesses to recount their experiences in a manner that is meaningful and understandable to the witness (Page B10). As the summary on Page B10 concludes, “given the evidence favouring the accuracy of the narrative approach to gathering evidence, permitting a greater measure of uninterrupted narrative testimony could raise evidential quality and improve lay people’s courtroom experience.”

It is reasonable to believe, given the research on procedural fairness and on the interaction between members of the public and criminal justice system, that these same ‘good practices’ might have applicability across different parts of the justice system. Hence I would suggest that the studies on a group of ordinary citizens who routinely interact with the courts – ordinary jurors in criminal trials – might be useful in thinking about how ordinary citizens, more generally, interact with the justice system.

The research on jurors suggests that ordinary people are capable of understanding what is going on and doing what is asked of them. At the same time, however, following some principles of good communication would help citizens (as jurors – or as participants in other ways in court) do a better job (Pages B11-B13). For example, jurors complained that they were not given – at the outset of the case that they heard – an adequate description of the factual and legal framework that they were going to have to apply in the case. Similarly, although judges often ask questions to clarify what is said, jurors are seldom encouraged to do so.

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Section C: Treating People Fairly and with Respect

Much, but not all, of the research on ‘fair treatment’ and ‘treatment with respect’ by the justice system focuses on treatment of the public by the police. However, given the research that does exist on other parts of the system, there is no reason that I can see that the general principles would be expected to be different for other components of the system.

Ordinary people judge the justice system largely by whether it appears to be fair in the manner in which it uses its authority. In this context, it may well be that people do not differentiate very much between various actions or parts of the system. The manner in  which a police officer responds to a question or the manner in which the officer treats a person in a routine traffic stop may be very important for that person’s overall assessment of the police. Similarly, as noted above, people may not differentiate between various levels of court (traffic court vs. criminal courts) and, for that matter, may not differentiate between the way in which they are treated by court clerks and Judges or Justices of the Peace.

Procedural fairness in the treatment of citizens by the justice system appears to be more important than specific competences or outcomes (Page C1). In one study summarized on page C1, for example, American survey respondents who had been in court were asked whether they felt that they would get a fair outcome and be treated justly if they were to go to court in the future. Ratings of the procedural fairness of their own experience were, in all cases, more important than their perception of having received the desired outcome.

Hence, satisfaction with the justice system depends to a significant degree on the manner in which people are treated, not so much other measures (e.g., police ‘effectiveness’ - see Page C2 and C3). Fair treatment and being taken seriously by the police appear to be important in achieving cooperation with the police and being seen in a favourable light (Page C4-C6).

The problem for those working in the criminal justice system is that the concept of “being treated fairly” may be complex. The police, for example, sometimes use language to achieve compliance by members of the public that, in effect, tricks them into doing things that they would not otherwise do (Page C7-C8). Racial profiling, as well, reduces both citizens’ assessments of the legitimacy of police actions and citizens’ general support of the police (Page C9). Unfortunately, it appears that it is negative experiences that drive public views of the police (page C10) perhaps because positive experiences are presumed to the norm (and hence do not affect public views very much). In other words, a few negative experiences with the police – and perhaps with the criminal justice system more broadly – may have long-lasting negative impacts on people’s views of the justice system.

In a post-911 age, the research suggests that treating suspects fairly is particularly important (C11-C12) even in situations in which citizens face terrorist threats and attacks (C13). In the study described on page C11 (carried out in New York City after 2001), for example, it was concluded that “Even when police confront grave threats, both minority and majority populations expect law enforcement officers to respect procedural justice values and are more likely to withhold their cooperation if they do not…. Non-Muslims, who rate the threat of terror as larger than do Muslims, are nonetheless sensitive to procedural justice in counterterrorism policing, particularly the targeting and harassment of Muslims. Three elements of procedural justice – neutrality in decision-making, trust in the motives of the

police, and treatment with respect – remain central to the definition of procedural justice and its effect on legitimacy. This is just as true in dealing with terrorism as it is in responding to ordinary crime.”

The problem with poor treatment of members of the public is not just that the poor treatment reflects badly on the criminal justice system. It also seems to lead to an increase in crime in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods (page C14). Similarly, fair treatment by the police appears to be important in reducing the likelihood that men arrested by the police for assaulting their spouses would offend again (page C15).

Ordinary citizens learn what the criminal justice system is all about in many ways. One study of the operation of a Canadian youth court found that when youths who were in that court waiting for their own cases to be called observed what the researchers independently coded as rude and disrespectful treatment of people by officials in court, it had negative effects on them. Youths who observed the court acting badly reported that they felt less reason to  obey the law or follow the decisions imposed on them by the court than did youths who, by chance, happened to be in court when the court was treating people in a respectful manner (page C16). Given other research suggesting that single negative experiences can have large and lasting impacts on people’s views of criminal justice institutions (see Page C10), there are clearly reasons to be concerned when courts – or any other part of the criminal justice system – treats people in a disrespectful manner (e.g., by making remarks described by the researchers as “humiliating” about the youth’s attire or where the “Crown Attorney rolls  eyes and impatiently sighs at the youth when the youth is trying to explain an issue.”) See Page C16.

Many ordinary citizens who come in contact with the justice system – most notably the courts – do not necessarily know how things work. Courts might also consider the more practical matters in interactions between ordinary citizens and the courts and might attempt to be more considerate of the time that ordinary citizens (e.g., jurors, witnesses, sureties, etc.) spend trying to be good citizens. (see Page C17). One suspects that if studies similar to that described on Page C17 were carried out with sureties in bail court or witnesses more generally, one would find that what gets communicated to members of the public is that the only thing that counts is what is convenient for the court. Similarly, some basic instructions to ordinary citizens on interacting with courts could be useful.

Finally, as with their interactions with the police, one should not assume that those who  have offended are much different from ‘ordinary citizens’ on questions about what is fair. Prison inmates appear to look at sentences in a manner that is similar to that of ordinary citizens (C18).

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Section D: Success Stories

A number of criminal justice systems success stories have already been described in Part C of this compilation of studies. Some of these studies have been demonstrated with what might be called “positive” examples (e.g., the success of reminders to accused people of upcoming court dates – Page B9 – or practices to ensure that court-ordered programs can be easily accessed – Page B8). In other cases, the manner in which courts can increase the likelihood that people will respect and obey the law have been illustrated by studies on what not to do (e.g., Page C16).

An obviously important success story – or perhaps more appropriately, a success process – is the diversification of police forces in North America. It would appear that broadening the composition of police forces has had important effects on the occupational subculture of the police (Page D1).

By keeping victims (and perhaps other interested people) apprised of the progress and outcomes of cases, police – and the justice system more generally – can demonstrate their interest in the well-being of those outside of the justice system (Page D2). Being responsive to others, however, may mean that those making decisions on how a case should proceed will find that they need to consider victims’ (or others’) reasons for involving the criminal justice system (Page D3).

Simple education programs – though attractive because they are independent of the justice system and do not demand any important changes in the justice system – have not shown a lot of success. One large, intensive, multi-method, attempt at education seemed to have no clear impact on people’s understanding of the system. People did, however, appear to appreciate the fact that the criminal justice system had attempted to reach out to them (Page D4). It may be important, therefore, to think of ‘education’ as involving a process rather than an event. In the Netherlands, for example, judges have decided that to communicate effectively with the press (and hence with the public), they should have a ‘press judge’ who can speak to and help explain decisions and court processes (Page D5).

In terms of the effectiveness of court operations, courts in some locations have taken matters into their own hands – at times with quite favourable results. In one American city  in which the size of the pretrial detention population had become an issue, court hours in one court were expanded such that initial court hearings (e.g., bail hearings) could be held at any time (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Obviously this required cooperation of various groups, but the result was that the time to an initial decision was reduced considerably (Page D6).

Successes can be even more local, however.  It has been demonstrated that thoughtful  judges who are motivated to complete the cases before them can effectively manage long, and unpredictable case lists (Page D7), and they can reduce dramatically the number of adjournments – in this case from about 31% of cases on an average day to about 7% of cases (Page D8).

Perhaps the most dramatic example of what courts can do, if motivated, comes from the experience in the New York City courts in the days immediately following September 11, 2001. With leadership from the top, and creativity and hard work at all levels, the courts located near the World Trade Centre in New York were able to open and make individual decisions about each case on the docket only a few days after September 11, 2001 (Page D9- D10).

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Research Summaries from Criminological Highlights

The materials on the following pages come from Criminological Highlights, an information service produced by the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto. The project is directed by Anthony Doob and Rosemary Gartner.

Criminological Highlights is produced by a group of faculty (at the University of Toronto and at nearby universities), criminology doctoral students, and librarians. To find items appropriate for Criminological Highlights, we scan everything that comes into the Centre of Criminology library and over 100 journals that are available electronically. We also consider papers published in journals in related fields and reports from various government and non- government agencies. A short list (typically about 20-30 articles per issue) is chosen and the group reads and discusses each of these papers. For a paper to be included in Criminological Highlights it must be methodologically sound and it must have some (general) policy relevance. Criminological Highlights is distributed to interested people in about 35 different countries.

From September 1997 until April 2011 (Volumes 1-11) Criminological Highlights was funded by the Department of Justice, Canada (and, for a few years, by the Correctional Service of Canada). From August 2011 onwards, the project has been funded by the Ministry of the Attorney General, Ontario. Views – expressed or implied – in Criminological Highlights are not necessarily those of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, the Department of Justice, Canada, Correctional Service of Canada or the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy.

Criminological Highlights is available free for the asking. To receive it regularly by email, contact Anthony Doob [].

Volume 6, Number 2, December 2003: Beware of the soundbite question. The picture that one gets of the public’s views of mandatory sentencing laws depends on the questions which are asked. Simple, general questions tend to portray the public as harsh and vengeful. In contrast, specific questions about particular cases demonstrate a more thoughtful and nuanced set of public attitudes.

Volume 8, Number 6, July 2007: Canadians do not want strict mandatory minimum sentences of the kind that  exist  in  the  Criminal  Code  of  Canada. They  prefer  to  leave  some discretion with judges on whether the mandatory minimum sentence should be imposed.

Volume 6, Number 6, October 2004: If ordinary Canadian citizens really think that sentences and the parole system are not harsh enough for the most serious cases, why don’t they act that way?

Volume 4, Number 1, May 2001: Ask Canadians sensible questions about sentencing and they give sensible, measured answers. Canadians do not really expect sentencing judges to keep them safe. They do, however, want their political leaders and judges to use resources sensibly. Sensible sentencing appears to be more important to Canadians than “harsh” or “lenient” sentencing.

Volume 7, Number 5, November 2005: Ireland’s imprisonment rate increased from about 25 to 81 prisoners per hundred thousand residents between 1970 and 2002 in part as a result of a “successful” prison construction policy.

Volume 7, Number 4, August 2005: People may not be as punitive as they sound when they answer questions about criminal justice punishment. A Scottish study demonstrates that different ways of asking questions about sentencing and punishment result in quite different findings.

Volume 13, Number 5, August 2013: The proportion of people who indicate that they think that criminal courts are, in general, too lenient depends on how the question is asked.

Volume 12, Number 1, August 2011: The use of custodial sentences for offenders is often justified by the assertion that ‘the public demands it.’ But public support for custodial sentences in many cases may be about as thin as the evidence that custodial sentences deter offenders.

Volume 8, Number 5, April 2007: When members of the public think about crime policies, their level of support for repressive measures tells you nothing about whether they support rehabilitation.

Volume 5, Number 1, July 2002: Americans are beginning to tire of ‘tough on crime’ policies and are turning to prevention rather than prisons as a more appropriate response to crime.

Volume 8, Number 4, January 2007: A nationally representative sample of U.S. residents report overwhelming support for increased spending on preventing youth crime, for drug treatment for non-violent offenders, and for the police, but they show little support for spending money on building more prisons.

Volume 1, Number 4, April 1998: Contrary to the views expressed by the far right, public views suggest that rehabilitation should remain as an integral part of correctional policy.

Volume 13, Number 2, May 2000: American politicians are jumping on the “get tough” bandwagon in juvenile justice by increasingly treating youth as adults. At the same time, residents of one of the country’s more conservative states favour putting more emphasis on rehabilitation in juvenile corrections. Are the politicians listening?

Volume 10, Number 2, February 2009: Even though political leaders sometimes suggest otherwise, members of the public do not generally want youths to be treated as adults in criminal justice matters.

Volume 2, Number 1, December 1998: The public wants tougher laws to deal with violent and repeat juvenile offenders, doesn’t it? No, not really.

Volume 1, Number 5, July 1998: The public supports the use of tax money to provide social programs aimed at providing help to children at risk of developing into offenders. Data show that, at an aggregate level, children at risk can be identified. Programs exist which can reduce the incidence of delinquency in a community. Those programs that are likely to reduce offending will provide a direct benefit to the children themselves that go far beyond delinquency. So why is it so hard, politically, to invest in the prevention of offending by young people?

Volume 1, Number 5, July 1998: Community based sanctions are acceptable to members of the public when the public is asked about “real” cases and is not asked, simply, whether “sentences are harsh enough.” The sanctions, however, must have real consequences for the offender in order to be acceptable to the public.

Volume 7, Number 1, December 2004: Negative impacts of U.S. imprisonment policies are evident. The public is beginning to understand this. The question is whether political decisions will be made to change crime policies.

Volume 11, Number 6, April 2011: Those  citizens  –  jury  members  –  who  have  intimate  knowledge  of  specific criminal cases are quite content with sentences imposed by judges in those cases.

Volume 11, Number 5, January 2011: People who have little confidence in the criminal justice system and are most critical of sentences being handed down by the courts are likely to have very little knowledge of the operation of the criminal justice system.

Volume 2, Number 5, September 1999: Canadians’ views of the criminal courts are more complex than we had previously thought: Wealthy people are more likely than poor people to think that the courts are doing a poor job of helping victims of crime, whereas poor people are more likely than wealthy people to think that courts are doing a poor job of protecting the rights of the accused.

Volume 2, Number 1, December 1998: People differ on how they view crime: some see crimes as varying in how “morally wrong” each crime is; others tend to see crimes as being equally morally wrong, even when the crimes are quite different from one another. This latter group of people tend to identify themselves as “conservative Protestants.”

Volume 1, Number 3, January 1998: The desire for tougher laws in the U.S. relates more to factors such as the public’s belief in the decline of morality and increases in the diversity of the population than it does to perceptions of fear and risk.

Volume 6, Number 1, October 2003: The level of an individual’s punitiveness toward offenders depends on that which he/she perceives to be the causes of crime. Indeed, certain beliefs about the roots of criminal behaviour lead people to be more punitive.

Volume 3, Number 6, February 2001: Religious attitudes, like those of criminal justice, are complex. People who are “religious” may be seen as showing support for rehabilitation as well as for punitiveness. The issue comes down to what we mean by “religious attitudes.”

Volume 3, Number 1, March 2000: Black residents of both the U.S. and Canada are more likely than white residents to perceive that the criminal justice system is biased on racial grounds. In Canada, contact with the police or the courts increases the perception of bias for black residents.

Volume 5, Number 2, October 2002: It is people, not crime rates, who account for white residents’ perceptions of crime. Studies in three American cities show that one’s perception of the level of crime is associated with the proportion of young black men in a neighbourhood, even after controlling for the amount of actual criminal activity.

Volume 7, Number 1, December 2004: Those Americans who hold the most punitive attitudes about crime are most likely to see crime as being disproportionately committed by blacks.  

Volume 8, Number 6, July 2007: Support for harsh criminal justice policies and opposition to preventive crime policies within the American white community are each associated with symbolic racism.

Volume 7, Number 5, November 2005: Increased imprisonment in New Zealand in recent years has more to do with “penal politics” than with crime.

Volume 7, Number 4, August 2005: American prosecutors are more likely to request harsh sentences in cases that receive large amounts of press coverage.

Volume 3, Number 6, February 2001: Watching local television news increases viewers’ fear of crime, particularly for people who live in high crime areas or who have been victims of crime.

Volume 3, Number 1, March 2000: Everyday knowledge -- and everyday misunderstandings of the law -- can affect the way in which decisions are made. Jurors in capital cases in the state of Georgia often have strong, and largely incorrect, views of the likelihood of release of an offender given “life” instead of the death penalty. The legal fiction that the consequences of a decision are not relevant to the jury members is clearly not followed: Death is recommended by juries in part because they do not know what the meaning is of a sentence of life in prison.

Volume 13, Number 1, November 2012: Providing ordinary citizens with authoritative information about crime, the effect of harsh sentences, and mandatory minimum sentences appears to have an immediate impact on their general satisfaction with sentences and the courts. However, these effects are not long-lasting.

Volume 12, Number 5, May 2012: Variation across neighbourhoods in legal cynicism – i.e., lack of support for the legitimacy of laws and lack of confidence in the police – helps explain why some Chicago neighbourhoods maintained high homicide rates even when homicide rates elsewhere were decreasing.

Volume 1, Number 2, November 1998: Completing a victim impact statement does not make victims more satisfied with the
criminal justice system. Those victims who expected the victim impact statement to have an effect, but did not believe it had, were particularly dissatisfied with the sentence. Dissatisfaction with the sentence was the main determinant of dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system as a whole.

Volume 2, Number 3, April 1999: Judges in the US appear to be considering the possibility of being more active in speaking publicly about their roles. Most American judges who responded to a recent survey believe that they are under more pressure to be accountable to public opinion, and there appears to be a growing belief that judicial independence does not necessarily require judicial public silence.

Volume 3, Number 3, July 2000: All conditional sentences are not created equal: The public is much more likely to accept a conditional sentence as a substitute for prison if there are conditions attached that are clearly punitive.

Volume 9, Number 6, September 2008: Courtrooms are designed in a fashion that has (purposefully?) led to the demise of the notion of the ‘public’ trial.

Volume 8, Number 5, April 2007: Adolescents who are old enough to be held criminally responsible are not likely to understand courtroom terminology.

Volume 13, Number 2, February 2013: If courts want youths on probation to complete non-custodial treatment programs, it would be helpful to ensure that the program was administered at a location close to the youth’s home.

Volume 13, Number 4, June 2013: Those who invoke criminal sanctions for accused people who don’t show up on time for court might take a lesson from North American dentists and send out reminder cards.

Volume 13, Number 5, August 2013: If courts are interested in hearing what witnesses experienced during an offence, they might want to consider encouraging witnesses to give an uninterrupted narrative of what happened.

Volume 2, Number 2, February 1999: Ordinary jurors can understand complex evidence at a trial. But it would help if certain basic techniques of good communication were applied to the presentation of evidence at trials.

Volume 3, Number 3, July 2000: Jurors need help to do an effective and efficient job. Most jurors are competent to do their job, but “many of them confronted significant difficulties in doing so because they were not provided with adequate tools” (p. 89).

Volume 3, Number 4, October 2000: Allowing jurors to discuss evidence before the beginning of formal deliberations appears to have no harmful effects on the civil trial process. In particular, it does not increase the likelihood that the jury will arrive at a verdict different from that which the judge would hand down.

Volume 4, Number 4, December 2001: The justice system is judged largely on whether it is perceived as being fa ir in the manner in which it uses its authority. Drawing from a number of different surveys, it appears that procedural fairness is more important than specific outcomes.

Volume 8, Number 5, April 2007: Citizens’ level of satisfaction with the police depends primarily on how the police treat them.

Volume 7, Number 2, March 2005: Grade 8 students from schools in which youths spend a lot of their time in unstructured, unsupervised activities have relatively high levels of delinquency.

Volume 13, Number 5, August 2013: People judge the legitimacy of the police by whether the police follow the law, whether the police have been procedurally fair in their dealings with citizens, the fairness of the outcome of encounters with the police, and the effectiveness of the police. The perceived fairness of the police predicts voluntary cooperation with them.

Volume 11, Number 2, May 2010: The police have direct control over how favourably they are seen by crime victims. Although victims generally think less favourably about the police than non-victims, the police can mitigate this effect by taking victims’ concerns seriously.

Volume 13, Number 2, February 2013: Citizen satisfaction with the police is determined largely by how citizens are treated rather than by how successful the police are in locating or charging an offender.

Volume 6, Number 6, October 2004: U.S. courts have used different rules to interpret ‘requests’ by the police to carry out a ‘voluntary’ search of a suspect and ‘requests’ from suspects who want to speak to a lawyer.

Volume 7, Number 1, December 2004: The perception that racial profiling by police takes place can have broad effects in the community at large: It can reduce both citizens’ assessments of the legitimacy of police actions and citizens’ general support of the police. 

Volume 8, Number 2, August 2006: Negative experiences with the police have large negative impacts on the way in which the police are rated by ordinary citizens. Positive interactions with the police, however, have little, if any, impact.

Volume 12, Number 5, May 2012: Treating suspects fairly is important even in the war against terrorism.

Volume 11, Number 4, September 2010: The willingness of members of the Muslim community in New York to work voluntarily with the police in combating terrorism is determined, in part, by how Muslims are treated by the police and others in the community.

Volume 13, Number 3, April 2013: Even in situations in which citizens face terrorist threats and attacks, the legitimacy of the local police is determined, in large part, by whether the police are perceived to be treating people in a procedurally just fashion.

Volume 7, Number 6, February 2006: Police misconduct in highly disadvantaged neighbourhoods can lead to increases in violent crime.

Volume 1, Number 1, September 1997: Treating accused people fairly can reduce the likelihood that these same people will re-offend in a similar way. Men arrested for assaulting their wives were less likely to assault them again if they had been treated fairly by the police.

Volume 11, Number 5, January 2011: Youth courts can affect youths’ perceptions of the legitimacy of the law: keeping people waiting without explanation and general rude behaviour on the part of court personnel lead youths to be more likely to conclude that the courts don’t deserve their respect and that there is no reason to obey the law.

Volume 9, Number 1, September 2007: Jurors in at least one long complex fraud case appear to have been able to understand and evaluate the evidence that was presented to them. Tey could have used some help, however, with practical matters.

Volume 1, Number 1, September 1997: Inmates in a medium security prison, when asked what the appropriate sentence would be for a number of different crimes, gave sentences which, on average, are not different from what they thought the courts would give. However, inmates see members of the general public as being more punitive than themselves (or the courts). More interestingly, most inmates think that other inmates “would reject a coherent system of legal sanctions” even though they, themselves, do not.

Volume 3, Number 1, March 2000: Victims want to be recognized as participants in the criminal justice process. Police can improve victim satisfaction and support for themselves by keeping victims apprised of developments in “their” case.

Volume 3, Number 5, December 2000: Women who call the police in cases of wife assault do not necessarily want their abuser arrested. Their decisions to invoke the law are part of a process in which they negotiate their own safety and that of their children. Thus, they are active agents who make decisions about the most effective response to their situation. As a result, intervention in these cases – legal and otherwise – needs to be perceived as a process instead of a single event that encompasses brief or sporadic contact between these women and the criminal justice system.

Volume 2, Number 2, February 1999: A multimedia campaign to inform the public about crime and crime control did not educate the public, nor did it alter their fear of crime. However, the campaign did manage to make people evaluate the criminal justice system more positively. This demonstrates that educating the public about crime and crime control is a complex process. One cannot simply give people an extensive amount of non-specific information and expect changes in attitudes or behaviours.

Volume 7, Number 5, November 2005: How might judges explain to representatives of the mass media why specific decisions were made in criminal cases?  Judges in the Netherlands use a “press judge” – a judge whose responsibility it is to act as a spokesperson for the court. 

Volume 9, Number 4, April 2008: There are ways to control pretrial detention populations. A separate processing centre with around-the-clock, seven-day-a-week processing of cases reduced processing times dramatically for most of those who were arrested for offences.

Volume 9, Number 4, April 2008: Clever criminal court judges are able to manage long and unpredictable case lists.

Volume 4, Number 6, April 2002: Adjournments in court appear to have more to do with “court culture” than with the case itself. If judges create a culture in which court adjournments are permitted, these delays will inevitably occur. If they want cases to be dealt with quickly and efficiently, that, too, is within their power.

Volume 4, Number 5, March 2002: The courts in New York City were able to re-open shortly after September 11 largely because judges took control of the judicial system and challenged the views of other criminal justice officials who argued that the courts would have to remain shut. Judges succeeded in demonstrating that justice was not to be another victim of terrorism.

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