Public Perception of the Criminal Justice System: Sentencing, Incarceration and Rehabilitation

Public Perception of the Criminal Justice System: Sentencing, Incarceration and Rehabilitation

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Public Perception of the Criminal Justice System

The National Justice Survey of Canada’s criminal justice system is a sweeping snapshot of how incarceration, public perception and rehabilitation, among other aspects, are viewed by Canadian citizens. Here are some of the main highlights of the comprehensive report in case you missed it.

Public Confidence in the Current System

The survey asked people to consider the following objectives of the criminal justice system: ensuring public safety and lasting protection, ensuring that offenders take responsibility and are held accountable, providing support to help rehabilitate offenders and providing opportunities to repair harm done to victims and communities.

The study found that those under 35 are less likely to align themselves with those objectives, while the opposite is true of those over 55. Of those surveyed, only six percent believed the current objectives were being met by the criminal justice system. An overwhelming majority of 73 percent felt that the criminal justice system is only doing a moderate job of sticking to those objectives.

Use of Incarceration & Indigenous Over representation

The survey queried people on different aspects of incarceration. Those with university-level education of higher agreed that incarceration should be reserved for serious offenders and that too many people were incarcerated.

There is also a high over representation of Indigenous communities which are incarcerated. The most voted for options of reducing the imprisoned Indigenous population were to use community-based alternatives instead of prison-based prosecution (55 percent) and to increase Indigenous support workers to help Indigenous people in the criminal justice system (43 percent).

Community-Based Sentences & Rehabilitation

Recently, there has been a focus on having non-prison sentences for committers of non-violent crime. The study found that 80 to 90 percent of those surveyed believed that community-based responses would yield positive results instead of jail time. Between men and women, women were stronger in their belief of community-based sentencing.

The study also asked people about the perceived impact of rehabilitation for incarcerated people. Younger respondents under 34 were found to believe rehabilitation would be effective in putting offenders on a more successful future path, decreasing the rate of re-offending and reducing overall crime. Meanwhile, those over 65 believed that rehabilitation would be less effective at countering those three areas.

Spending Priorities of the Public

Those taking the survey were asked to assign their top three most important areas for expenditure across nine specific areas in the criminal justice system. The three highest voted spending priorities were preventing crime before it occurs/addressing needs of individuals’ live situations (52 percent), policing (12 percent) and increasing resources for courts to process cases (12 percent).

The study also found that female and university-educated respondents were more likely than men or those of lower educational backgrounds to choose crime prevention as their top priority. Overall, the top three goals the respondents believed should be guiding the criminal justice system are: fair treatment for everyone (26 percent), addressing underlying social factors as much as other factors (16 percent) and crime prevention (13 percent).

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