NSW residents are more confident that the criminal justice system brings those who are guilty to justice than they have been in years, according to a recent report released by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR).
The report suggests that two out of three NSW residents are confident that offenders will be brought to justice.
The study surveyed 1,989 NSW residents in April and May last year.
It was similar to previous surveys carried out by BOCSAR in 2007 and 2012, and shows that the confidence of residents in most aspects of the criminal justice system and NSW criminal court results has increased since 2007.
Differing levels of confidence
However, this confidence is not spread equally across the board.
The findings indicated that confidence in the system is higher among young people and the more highly educated, and is lower among those who have been victims of crime and those who don’t have accurate information regarding the level of property crime, or conviction and imprisonment rates.
According to the study, most people believe that defendants are treated fairly, with 81% of respondents saying that the criminal justice system respects the rights of suspects and treats accused people fairly.
Fewer respondents (35%) said they are confident that the system deals with cases promptly.
Confidence in the system is higher among male than female respondents, and while a third of respondents feel that sentences given are appropriate, the majority at 66% believe that sentences are too lenient, and less than four per cent believe that sentences are too tough.
But readers are left to wonder about what proportion of those surveyed have actually been charged with criminal offences and gone through the ordeal of being arrested, charged, applying for bail and fighting to prove their innocence for months or even years.
Confidence varies according to information source
Unsurprisingly, the survey found that perceptions about whether the criminal justice system is performing adequately appear to be very different, depending on where people get their information.
Sydney Morning Herald readers show a much higher likelihood than others to feel confident that the system meets the needs of people involved in it, brings the right people to justice and hands down appropriate sentences.
On the other end of the scale, listeners to 2GB seem much less likely than other respondents to believe that the criminal justice system meets those requirements.
The relationship between confidence in the criminal justice system and the information source is complex, as readers and listeners are likely to seek out sources of information that align with their own views and opinions, rather than starting with a neutral mindset and being solely influenced by what they read or listen to.
One thing that is made clear in the survey is that those who have a more accurate understanding of the criminal justice system, including rates of crime and conviction, also show more confidence than those with significant misconceptions.
This is particularly true of those who underestimate the level of crime at the same time as underestimating incarceration rates.
How important is public confidence in the criminal justice system?
The level of public confidence in the criminal justice system is important if it is going to function effectively.
Without public confidence, members of the community will be hesitant to engage in the system by reporting crimes and participating as witnesses.
Results from the survey show an increase overall in public confidence in the criminal justice system, except for a slight decrease in the belief that the system protects the rights of victims.
An increase in awareness of crime trends is believed to be a contributing factor.
Accurate information as to crime rates leads to a more accurate understanding of the penalties meted out, and therefore can help the public gain confidence that the criminal justice system is working.