Blacks and whites differ on trust in state's criminal justice system
Black and white residents of New Jersey report different perceptions of the state's criminal justice system and different attitudes toward the death penalty in the most recent results of Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind Poll.
While almost 8 in 10 white respondents express “a lot” or “some” trust that the police treat all suspects equally, only about half of African-Americans do. Almost half of black respondents express “only a little” trust or “none at all” in this aspect of criminal justice in New Jersey, while only one in five whites do.
Asked how much trust they have in prosecutors to treat all defendants equally, half of black respondents say “only a little” or “none at all” but just one in five white respondents say “only a little” or “none at all.” In fact, almost three out of four whites say they have “some” or “a lot” of trust that prosecutors treat all defendants equally, but less than half of blacks agree.
Even the fairness of the jury system is subject to different perceptions: 77% of whites but 59% of blacks express “some” or “a lot” of trust that juries are competent and unbiased, while 18% of whites but 32% of blacks express “only a little” trust or “none at all” that juries are fair.
“I think it is understandable that trust levels would differ,” said Roger Koppl, Director of Fairleigh Dickinson University's Institute for Forensic Science Administration who commissioned the study. “Blacks and whites often have a different experience with the New Jersey criminal justice system. The trust levels of blacks and whites reflect the different reality each group has experienced.”
The least trusted aspect of the criminal justice system for both black and white respondents is in the ability of all defendants, regardless of income, to get competent attorneys to defend them. Half of whites and over one third of blacks have “some” or “a lot” of trust in this aspect of the system, but 44% of whites and 58% of blacks report “only a little” trust or “none at all” that all defendants get competent advocates.
Forensics is the most trusted component of the criminal justice system for both black and white: 86% of whites and 62% of blacks say they have “some” or “a lot” of trust in the ability of police investigators to collect and process evidence, such as DNA and fingerprints, correctly. Just 10% of whites but 32% of blacks express “only a little” trust or “none at all” in this forensic aspect of the criminal justice system.
Only about one in four African Americans express support for the death penalty, while more than half of whites do. “There may be many reasons for this difference in levels of support for the death penalty,” said Koppl, “but one important factor is the greater trust that whites have in the system. If you have less trust in the system, then you may not want to entrust it with the death penalty.”
The survey is the first in a series run by PublicMind for Fairleigh Dickinson University's Institute for Forensic Science Administration to measure public attitudes toward the criminal justice system. The poll of 675 randomly selected registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone from July 10 through July 16 and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points. The MoE for subgroups will be larger.
Located in Madison, New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University's Institute for Forensic Science Administration (IFSA) promotes 1) improved forensic science administration within the criminal justice system and 2) improved understanding of forensic science as a legal, social, and political phenomenon. The purposes of IFSA are pursued through research, education, outreach, and policy espousal.
Contact: Roger Koppl at email@example.com.
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