U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Perceptions of the Courts in Your Community: The Influence of Experience, Race and Ethnicity, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2003
113 pages
This study examined how race and recent court experience influences perceptions of State courts.
A random national sample of 1,567 American adults probed the issue of how race and ethnicity intersect with court experience to influence views of State courts. Chapter 1 reviews the theoretical and research literature about public opinion and the American court system. Chapter 2 describes the research methodology, which involved telephone interviews with an overall sample of 1,567 adults, 705 of whom were randomly sampled, 308 were an over-sample of African Americans, 254 were an over-sample of Latinos, and 300 were an over-sample of those with recent court experience (past 12 months). Chapter 3 focuses on how racial and ethnic differences influence perceptions of the courts, both for those with court experience and for those with no court experience. Issues gleaned from the surveys are the focus of this chapter; the discussion looks specifically at how respondents perceived court fairness and whether they held perceptions that the court engages in differential treatment based on race. Chapter 4 focuses more specifically on how experience with courts interacts with race and ethnicity to produce perceptions of court. The chapter specifically reports on who has court experience, how those with court experience perceived the court’s fairness, how much support court users give to courts, perceptions of future fairness, important information sources that influence perceptions of court fairness, and finally looks at the distinctiveness of Latino perceptions of the courts. Chapter 5 offers the study conclusions and implications, and specifically addresses how the current research findings fit within the body of literature discussed in Chapter 1. Generally, the findings indicated that the public offers middle ratings of court fairness and low ratings of fairness in procedures, outcomes, and equality of treatment. Perceptions of differential court treatment were more pronounced for low income, or socioeconomic status, than for racial or ethnic status. Another important finding revealed that the public continues to perceive the courts as too costly and time consuming. Perceptions of court fairness among those with recent court experiences were slightly more negative than the perceptions held by people who had not recently been to court. Study implications include support for programs that focus on court and community collaboration. Tables, charts, references, and appendix

Date Published: January 1, 2003