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Crime Poll: Texans Have Less Confidence in CJ System

Results of the 2007 Texas Crime Poll show that confidence in the state's adult and juvenile justice systems has declined in the past six years, support for the death penalty has declined, and Texans rank local, state, and national problems quite differently.

The findings were based on a random postal survey of Texans mailed in January 2007 to 2,824 households, with a response rate of 11.76 percent. The margin of error is considered to be plus or minus 4.3 percent. The survey was conducted by the Survey Research Program at Sam Houston State University's College of Criminal Justice

In 2007, only 58 percent of the respondents expressed "a great deal" or "some" confidence in the adult criminal justice system compared to 63 percent in 1998. Only 45 percent of the sample had "a great deal" or "some" confidence in the juvenile justice system compared to 49 percent in 1998.

Usually, the more familiar people are with the systems, the more confident they are in them. However, respondents to the 2007 survey who reported that they were familiar with the adult justice system were less likely to have "a great deal" or "some" confidence by 48 percent/63 percent than those who said they were not familiar with the systems. For the juvenile justice system, "a great deal" or "some" confidence was expressed by 48 percent for those who were familiar with that system as opposed to 47 percent for those not familiar.

Participants in the 2007 survey were also asked how much confidence they have in different kinds of "expert witness testimony" offered in criminal trials. These same questions were included in the 2001 Texas Crime Poll, and in both years Texans reported having more confidence in DNA experts, forensic pathologists, and forensic "crime scene re-creation experts" and lower levels of confidence in testimony presented by criminal profilers, psychiatrists, and psychologists. In both years, the lowest levels of confidence were reported in experts testifying about sanity/insanity, competency, and future dangerousness.

In both 2001 and 2007, over 60 percent of the respondents to the surveys reported having a "great deal" of confidence in DNA experts and between 49 and 50 percent reported having a "great deal" of confidence in forensic pathologists and forensic ballistics experts.   Conversely, only about 10 percent of the respondents in both years reported having similar levels of confidence in psychiatric and/or psychological testimony.

"These findings show that most Texans are growing increasingly concerned about the general quality of justice being delivered in Texas," said Dennis R. Longmire, director of the Survey Research Program and author of the study.

The study shows that Texans have fairly high levels of confidence in their local and state level law enforcement departments as well as the court system, Longmire said. People seem to be most concerned about the quality of justice being delivered by local probation departments and the state's prison and parole systems for both adult and juvenile offenders.

"Generally speaking, the further one goes into the system, the less confidence people have of their services," Longmire said.

The survey also included questions about Texans' confidence in different aspects of the death penalty. Three out of four Texans (74 percent) now support the death penalty for the crime of murder compared to four out of five (80 percent) in 2001. Only 18 percent oppose its use, and 8 percent are uncertain about their position.

The percentage of respondents who have "little" or "no" confidence in the ability for the death penalty system to be applied fairly against minority group members has risen from 32 percent to 46 percent in the recent survey. Also, 40 percent (28 percent in 2001) of the 2007 respondents expressed concerns about the competency of legal representation being provided to capital defendants, and 43 percent (35 percent in 2001) were concerned about the ability for the death penalty to be applied fairly against poor people.

When asked how confident they were that Texas' death penalty process protects innocent people from being executed, two out of three (66 percent) of the 2007 respondents reported having "a lot" or "some" confidence that innocent people are being protected from being executed, compared to 73 percent in 2001.

"In spite of the relatively low levels of confidence people have in the death penalty system, most Texans continue to support its use," said Longmire.

When asked whether or not they would support legislation aimed at making the death penalty available for repeat violent child-sex offenders, 79 percent of those respondents who initially supported the death penalty said they would support such a law. Ten percent would oppose such legislation and another 11 percent indicated that they didn't know whether or not they would support the death penalty for repeat child abusers.

This question was not asked of those who initially said they opposed the death penalty, however. If they are included in the estimates, 56 percent of Texans appear to be in support of generalizing the death penalty to repeat violent child-sex offenders. Twenty-seven percent would oppose such legislation, and the remaining 17 percent are unsure about the idea.

Respondents were also asked to identify the most important problems facing their local community, the state and the nation.

Their answers for the local ranking and the comparisons with that question asked in 2004 were crime (26 percent/20 percent), drugs (24 percent/18 percent), and illegal immigration (9 percent/2 percent). Statewide it was illegal immigration (27 percent/16 percent, drugs (15 percent/9 percent), and education (11 percent/17 percent. Nationally it was the war in Iraq (18 percent/6 percent), government (15 percent/8 percent), and national security/terrorism (14 percent/27 percent).

The survey was the 37th Texas Crime Poll conducted by the Survey Research Program since its inception in 1973. Copies of the 2007 General Report and links to additional information can be accessed through the appropriate links at the University's Survey Research Program Web site located at .



SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
May 30, 2007
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