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SOC219H5 (123)
Lecture 2

Lecture 2 Notes.docx

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Nicole Myers

Lecture 2 May-8-13 9:07 PM Issues in the Criminal Justice Policy Understanding Public Opinion on Sentence Severity  What do ordinary Canadians ‘mean’ when they say ‘Sentences are too lenient’?  Concern about the legitimacy of the criminal justice system  Does “knowing” that the public feels this way mean that sentences should be made more harsh? Understanding Public Attitudes  What are people being told about sentence severity? o What are they comparing to?  What offences are people thinking about? o Worst case scenario  Estimates of recidivism(reoffend) rates = (overestimate)  Reasons for wanting harsher sentences (utilitarian goals: belief that are effective way of reducing crime) o What they wanted to get out of it  Nature of information available to people  Costs and opportunity costs of imprisonment o More money spent punishing people means less money going else where o 1 year in provincial institution = $172/day, $61,000/person o Average household salary o 1 year in Federal institution = $357, $130,000/person News media coverage  Comparison of court based information vs. newspaper information. o Newspaper information  63% judged sentence as too lenient o Court documents  19% thought sentence too lenient  Give people information about costs o People think its lenient  Remind people of the fact that the offender will be released  What makes a good news story about a ‘routine’ case? o Make sentence look wrong  Probably not just news media Public Attitudes and Broader Policies  Knowledge of ability of the sanction to accomplish the goal (e.g., general deterrence).  When asked about best way to prevent crime? o Canadians favour ‘social’ approaches over harsh sentences ( ) o Problem:  People want results NOW  If want to see outcome, you have to wait 20, 30, 40 years to see impact  Desire for an appropriate ‘response’ to offending Research Example (Case Study)  Cases presented to ordinary people to ‘sentence’ in which actual sentence appeared to be lenient  Workers in 32 workplaces (Australia)  70 minute talk about sentencing (legal principles, etc.)  Judge presented sentencing judgment without information on sentence, or possible range.  Results  3 of 4 cases median sentence less than actual; 4 – 35% more lenient.  Once given more context/knowledge, they were more likely to think:  The sentence is about right  Criminal justice system IS capable of meeting the needs of the victims  Respects the rights of the accused  Treats people fairly  Criminal justice system is more effective in bringing people who have committed crimes before the court and holding them accountable - imposing a level of justice  Huge variation across cases General Conclusion: Public Opinion  Simple questions --> simple answers  Dangerous place if we ask simple questions and make large criminal justice policies on basis of this  Knowledge and opinion  And impact knowledge has on formation of the informed of an opinion  If we clarify things, dramatically changes peoples' perceptions  Caution on what ‘opinion’ means  Relationship between policy and public opinion Summary  Criminal Justice System -  Complex organization  Parts interact (not independent) – press release  Focus of the course: empirical evidence.  Need to evaluate evidence (not simply accept assertions)  Need to be careful about what can be generalized (e.g., across countries)  How should we design „criminal justice policy‟?  Large number of relatively specialized bills – little overall „theory‟ How do we assess public views of the criminal justice system Complexities that need to be considered: Criminal Justice and Governments  Federal Government Law and Provincial Territorial Governments Administration of Justice).  Ordinary Policing  OPP in Ontario  Toronto, Peel, Halton  But RCMP‟s various roles (Federal police, and „contract‟)  Federal role (e.g., police information systems)  Courts  Administration (provinces)  Courts and Judges 
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