Survey needed on public attitudes toward crime & punishment

Published: Thu 18 Aug 2011 10:32 PM
In its latest newsletter, Rethinking Crime and Punishment is calling on the Ministry of Justice to commission a survey on public attitudes toward crime and punishment.
“Telephone polls like the one recently carried out by Pauline Colmar for the Sensible Sentencing Trust, are designed to tell the survey purchaser what they want to hear”, said Kim Workman, of Rethinking Crime and Punishment. “Public opinion telephone surveys conducted worldwide over the last four decades have consistently found that between 70 and 80 percent of uninformed respondents believe that sentences are too lenient, and judges are too soft. Because the public don’t have sufficient facts to make an informed judgement, most will call for harsher sentences, even though the imprisonment rate has increased by 53% in the last ten years.”
“There has not been a properly conducted research into public attitudes toward crime and justice since 2003, when a random sample of 1500 adult New Zealanders responded to a range of questions, including questions about the relative seriousness of some crimes, the aims of sentencing and their preferred choices of sentence for some crimes. Those who answered the survey were also questioned about their knowledge of some crime and criminal justice statistics.
The 2003 survey found low levels of knowledge about some aspects of crime and sentencing. In relation to sentencing, those surveyed underestimated statutory maximum sentence lengths, actual sentence practice and time served in prison by offenders sentenced to imprisonment.
When properly surveyed, respondents give multi-layered and thoughtful responses, and the responses can help government agencies respond intelligently to crime and justice issues.
“We think it is time that the Ministry of Justice commissioned a survey into public attitudes toward crime and punishment” said Kim Workman. “Comprehensive periodic surveys of public opinion on crime and justice issues will lead to better informed criminal justice policy and practice. As criminal justice agencies strive to improve the collection, processing and analysis of official data on the crime problem, it should also regularly assess the attitudes of the public toward crime policy.”

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