Survey Finds Justice-Involved Feel Disrespected by Courts, Cops

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Grimes County Courthouse, Anderson, Tx . Photo by Patrick Feller via Flickr

The controversy over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination has focused attention on its potential impact on the Court’s legitimacy, but similar questions about the legitimacy of lower courts  also need to be addressed, says the Center for Court Innovation (CCI).

In a new study, CCI examines how individuals who go through multiple components of the justice system (e.g., arrest, adjudication and incarceration) perceive whether they are receiving justice. 

Researchers administered surveys to 807 justice-involved people to determine their  overall feelings of fairness related to multiple criminal justice agencies, and also conducted interviews with 102 people who had significant experience with the police, the courts, and corrections.

They collected data in Newark, NJ and Cleveland, OH.

Overall, the majority of respondents felt that police officers did not treat them with respect, listen to them, or take their needs into account.

Yet despite generally reporting that police were not engaged in the community, were not respectful, and could not be trusted to arrive quickly if called to respond to a violent crime, more than half of respondents–58 percent– said they would call the police for help if they were in trouble.

Survey respondents’ perceptions of procedural justice during court appearances were more favorable: about four-fifths felt respected by the court officers and the judge and reported that they understood what was happening (e.g., court rules, procedures, case progress).

However, views of the local court system were not favorable among respondents, especially with regard to the court’s neutrality.

Of the interviewees, 50 percent felt that the poor and African Americans were treated worse than others by the courts. General views of the judges trended negative, with many respondents rating judges as out of touch and unfair.

Moreover, survey respondents had negative views about corrections. Many believed that correctional staff were too quick to use force against inmates and did not feel that staff were trying to protect and look out for inmates.

When respondents were asked about their overall general satisfaction with the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, the court system, and jail administrators, most of them admitted they were not satisfied– 3o percent of survey respondents reported high aggregate satisfaction with the criminal justice system, and 70 percent reported low-moderate aggregate satisfaction.

The CCI made the following policy recommendations:

  • Police-address neutrality and respect, police departments could mandate all officers to participate in trainings on implicit bias and effective and non-violent communication.
  • Courts-address understanding, courts could provide all defendants with materials that give detailed explanations of essential court processes (e.g., plea bargaining, bail payment), key terms (e.g., fines and fees), and legal rights. To address voice and respect, judges could use scripts with each defendant to ask if there is anything about the case or defendants’ personal circumstances they should know about before making a decision.
  • Corrections- increase respect and voice, jail and prison facilities could train correctional officers in effective and non-violent communication.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

This summary was prepared by TCR senior staff writer Megan Hadley.

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