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Trust and Confidence in Criminal Justice

NCJ Number
National Institute of Justice Journal Issue: 248 Dated: March 2002 Pages: 22-31
Date Published
March 2002
10 pages
Publication Series
This article explores the reasons why Gallop polls over the last few years have consistently found that Americans have less confidence in the criminal justice system than in other institutions, with attention to the difference between the low evaluation of "criminal justice" and the high evaluation of the police and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Other sources of data have shown similar attitudes. A 1998 Gallup poll found differences in opinion between whites and blacks about the individual components of the criminal justice system, especially the police, with whites expressing considerably more confidence in the police, local court system, and State prison system than blacks. Racial differences also existed in rates of victimization and punishment, with blacks being 31 percent more likely to be victimized by personal crime than whites and twice as likely as whites to suffer a completed violent crime. What the data failed to show however, was the extent to which racial differences in attitudes, victimization, and punishment may be largely related to more blacks being residents in a small number of high-crime, high-poverty areas concentrated in a small fraction of urban neighborhoods. In a random digit-dialing telephone survey of 4,000 residents of 10 northeastern States in 1998, the majority of respondents stated that victims are not accorded sufficient rights and services in the criminal justice process. Further, they preferred that ordinary citizens, not courts, should set penalties for nonviolent crimes and they favored the wider use of drug treatment for drug-using offenders. One explanation for the differing assessments of police and the courts is that the public views police as egalitarian individualist (the new cultural ideal) while judges are viewed as bossy conformists (the outdated ideal). Media portrayals of the criminal justice system and how criminal justice institutions manage their images in the electronic media are discussed as crucial in how the public views the criminal justice system in the future. 25 notes

Date Published: March 1, 2002