Public Attitudes and the Criminal Justice System

Ministry of Justice

  • Reduce reoffending by using skills provided by the public, private and voluntary sectors
  • Reduce youth crime by making education the sole focus of youth justice

  • Create a prison system that provides maximum value for money

  • Reduce the price of legal aid and make sure that it helps those in genuine need of it

  • Improve how the courts are run and make the victim the priority


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The Importance of Public Opinion

  • Public are the core principle of any democracy

  • Without the public the criminal justice system would have no reported crimes, no witnesses in trial proceedings and no jury systems

  • Public are important for policing, sentencing and policy

  • James Bulgar case = CJPO Act 1994 introduced secure training orders  which allowed routine incarceration of children aged 12-13, as well as doubling the maximum sentence of detention in YOI

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The Importance of Public Opinion

  • Megan Kanka Case= Megan’s Law, amendment of Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act 1994, state law changed so that sex offender registration was required and federal law changed so that it was required to notify the community if a sexual offender lived there

  • Public opinion creates boundaries within the community that accept and support policy

  • However can be under or misinformed about the CJS

  • Media reports towards CJS are often biased / selective resulting in low levels of public confidence in the CJS

  • 80% of people who responded to the British Crime Survey considered the CJS as too lenient, evidence shows this comes from the lack of knowledge and understanding of how the system works and treats offenders

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Punitiveness VS Justice

  • Sociodemographic factors

  • Age = older people are more punitive than younger people according to Hough and Maxon 1985 and Cullen et al 1985

  • Gender = men are more punitive and express less confidence in CJS than women according to Hough et al 1988

  • Education = people with low educational attainment have poor knowledge of CJS according to Mattinson and Mirrlees-Black 2000

  • Ethnicity = black Americans found more likely to find the CJS discriminatory than white Americans according to Hough et al 1988

  • Religion = Muslims and Hindus more likely to believe that the police do a good job than Christians or Buddhists according to Iansson et al 2007

  • Employment – manual workers more punitive according to Hough and Moxon 1985

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Ideology and Attitudes

  • Individuals with highly conservative beliefs favour punitive sentences according to Baron and Hartnagel 1996 and Stinchcombe et al 1980

  • Individuals who are highly religious or have fundamental religious beliefs are more likely to be punitive according to Grasmick et al 1992

  • People who believe in a just world are more likely to encourage and support punitive punishment according to Finamore et al 1987

  • Americans don’t favour the death penalty for juvenile offenders according to Sand and McGarell 1995

  • People favour prison sentences for violent and sex offenders rather than petty theft according to Cumberland and Zamble 1992

  • Repeat offenders receive low sympathy from members of the public according to Roberts 1996

  • In Britain, people believe sentencing for burglary and **** are too lenient according to Hough and Moxon 1985 and Hough and Roberts 1998

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Effectiveness and Equality in the Criminal Justice

Mori 2009

  • Over 75% of the public are confident in CJS for rights and fair treatment of individuals accused of crime

  • Less than 25% of the public have confidence in CJS effectiveness when it comes to reducing crime rates

Influence of Police Contact

  • Negative contact damages trust

  • Positive impact improves trust

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