Monday, June 08, 2009

Measuring public attitudes on criminal justice

Via The Crime Report, I was surprised to see the results of this Zogby Survey done on behalf of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Among the highlights:
• A majority of US adults believe that some crimes, for which offenders are currently incarcerated, do not demand time behind bars.

• Eight in ten (77%) adults believe the most appropriate sentence for nonviolent, nonserious offenders* is supervised probation, restitution, community service, and/or rehabilitative services; if an offender fails in these alternatives, then prison or jail may be appropriate.

• Over three-quarters (77%) believe alternatives to incarceration do not decrease public safety.

• More than half (55%) believe alternatives to prison or jail decrease costs to state and local governments.

• US adults more often think alternatives to incarceration are more effective than prison or jail time at reducing recidivism (45% vs. 38%).

• Respondents cited a variety of reasons they believe justify sending fewer people to prison or jail, including expense, overcrowding (danger to guards, danger to inmates), the ability of proven alternatives to reduce crime, and the fairness of the punishment relative to the crime.
Another striking result from that poll found a lack of public confidence in the effectiveness of prison at altering behavior: "More than half (54%) do not think that serving time in prison or jail reduces the likelihood that a person will commit more crime in the future, while about two-fifths (38%) hold the opposite view."

Meanwhile, Steve Hall from the Stand Down Texas Project alerts us to a separate poll by CNN concerning attitudes about the death penalty that suggests a very different public sentiment, though I think the question was framed in a biased way. For starters, before asking the pro or con question, the only example of an executed inmate given to the poll-taker was a serial killer who murdered 8 women in Connecticut, a particularly heinous crime that's not representative of the average death row inmate's case. (In Texas, even accomplices can be convicted of capital murder under the "law of parties."

CNN's poll found 53% of Americans favored the death penalty for murder, while 43% preferred life without parole (the only choice offered besides "not sure"). The findings, though, are extremely suspect regarding their application to real-world policy because the options didn't include the most common sentence in murder cases - incarceration that's LESS than LWOP and frequently leaves the murderer parole-eligible after a certain, minimum sentence, if they can convince the parole board they're no longer a continuing threat.

In 2007, according to TDCJ's annual report (pdf) Texas state prisons received 1,078 offenders convicted of charges of homicide (p. 18). Only 37 of them received sentences of LWOP, while just 14 went to death row. So that's a pretty biased way to frame the question if the goal is to present realistic policy alternatives.

RELATED: Poll: Tough on crime messages don't resonate with critical swing voters.


sunray's wench said...

The public perception of murderers, based on media hypothesis, is way different than the actual figures and statistics show. Murderers are the group of inmates least likely to reoffend with the same crime upon release. Many are "heat of passion" crimes. Few are calculated and planned in the way the media and prosecutors would have people believe.

Informed Citizen said...

I am not suprised. But most people would be. The mainstream media in our Land is NOT as 'independent' and as 'objective' as the people of our land have been led to believe. ------
The Soviet Union collapsed because the people learned, and knew, the media could not be trusted. The lies succeed here because not enough of our fellow Citizens have learned the truth about mainstream media. -----
NOTE how Zogby polls never make it into the mainstream. NOTE how the comparison of incarceration rate of our citizens to that of citizens in other lands is never reported by mainstream media. ----
THE BIG LIE told is that our media is "liberal". This is the cover for the control the neo-conservatives, anti-americans, have of the media establishment, and a means of maintaining control. ---------
The Media Monopoly, by Bondakian (sp?)
Manufacturing Consent, by Chomsky.
As well as Grits for Breakfast :)

Anonymous said...

Your right Sunray, many murderers don't reoffend.

But this is such a serious crime, it doesn't surprise me that society should have a punitive attitude toward homicide.

Some studies suggest that 18 homicides are deterred for each execution. Other theorists say the death penalty doesn't deter at all. But as long as the research is inconsistent, I'll enthusiastically cheer LWOP and the death penalty.

sunray's wench said...

@11.02 ~ I think any statistic that claims that any kind of crime is deterred should be taken with a bucket of salt. You see, people who come up with those statistics rarely ask the people who committed the crimes and were not deterred. If you do ask them, you will generally get an answer similar to "the punishment never crossed my mind because I didn't think I'd get caught". So it wouldn't matter what the punishment was, some people are more mentally disposed to comit crimes than others given a specific set of circumstances.

I completely agree, homicide is a very serious crime. But it is also a very personal crime, and that's why there are usually varieties of sentences available for it. Those who say all murderers should be locked up for life or killed, are missing the point of having trial by jury. Rarely is it the case that Joe Bloggs wakes up one morning and decides to kill Mr Smith down the street. Each murder has a back-story, each murder is different.

Paradoxically, most burglaries are pretty much the same. And those incarcerated for crimes of that kind are highly likely to reoffend, particularly if any associated addiction is not tackled during their incarceration. Yet these are the people most seem happy to have walking the streets, despite the very real chance that they will reoffend.

Anonymous said...


GFB right up there with Chomsky. Who woulda thunk it? ;-)

Devin said...

We the people acknowledge that drugs are powerfully addictive yet we send thousands to prison and DO NOTHING to help that addiction. Our prisons are full of non-violent dopers, many serving lengthy sentences, while violent offenders are sentenced on minor felonies and are walking the streets in a few months/years.