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Public confidence in the New South Wales criminal justice system: 2012 update                

 

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Embargo: 20 December 2012, Thursday, 9.00am

Public confidence in the NSW criminal justice system has increased significantly over the last four years, according the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

This is one of the key findings to emerge from a survey of public confidence in the criminal justice system commissioned by the Bureau. The Bureau conducted a similar survey in 2008.

Interviews were conducted with over 2,000 NSW residents aged 18 years and over. Survey sample quotas were set on the basis of age, sex and residential location to match, as closely as possible, the distribution of these characteristics in the NSW population.

Respondents in both surveys were asked how confident they were that the criminal justice system:

  • Is effective in bringing people who commit crimes to justice
  • Meets the needs of victims
  • Respects the rights of people accused of committing a crime
  • Treats people accused of crime fairly
  • Deals with cases promptly

With one exception 1 , the percentage of respondents who said they were 'very' or 'fairly' confident that the NSW criminal justice system is achieving these objectives was significantly higher in 2012 than it had been in 2008.

Public knowledge of the criminal justice system and confidence in sentencing also increased. To measure public knowledge about crime and justice respondents were asked:

  1. Whether property crime had increased, decreased or remained about the same over the last five years
  2. What percentage of all crime recorded by police involves violence or the threat of violence?
  3. What percentage of persons charged with home burglary are convicted of the offence?
  4. What percentage of persons convicted of home burglary receive a prison sentence?

The percentage of respondents who gave tolerably accurate answers to each of these questions was significantly higher in 2012 than it was in 2008.

To measure public confidence in sentencing, the Bureau asked respondents whether the sentences handed down by courts are much too tough, a little too tough, about right, a little too lenient or much too lenient.

In 2008, 25.5 per cent responded 'about right'. The proportion giving this answer in 2012 rose to 31.4 per cent. There was a corresponding fall in the percentage of respondents who felt that sentences are 'much too lenient' (from 37.3% to 29.3%).

Generally speaking, the public have higher levels of confidence in the capacity of police to bring offenders to justice, meet the needs of victims and deal with cases promptly. They have higher levels of confidence in the courts when it comes to respecting the rights of accused people and treating accused people fairly.

Commenting on the findings, the director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, said that although the results were encouraging, there is still a long way to go.

'Those who lack confidence in the criminal justice system tend to hold the most mistaken views about crime and criminal justice. Although public knowledge of crime and criminal justice has increased, public ignorance in these matters remains widespread.'

'Nearly half of those we surveyed thought property crime had increased over the last five years when it has fallen dramatically, not just in NSW but across the country as a whole.'

'The vast majority of those we surveyed thought most crime reported to police is violent when the true percentage is only seven per cent. The vast majority also grossly underestimate the proportion of offenders who are convicted and imprisoned.'

'We need to find more effective ways of dealing with these misconceptions if we want to strengthen public confidence in the administration of criminal justice.'

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 9231-9190 (please do not call my mobile phone)

 

1 The exception involved treating people accused of crime fairly. Confidence in this aspect of the criminal justice system, however, was already very high, with more than three quarters of those surveyed reporting that they were 'very' or 'fairly' confident that the NSW criminal justice system treats people accused of crime fairly.