2000 Texas Crime Poll
 

Dennis R. Longmire, Ph.D., Director
Survey Research Program
Criminal Justice Center
Sam Houston State University
Huntsville, Texas 77341

(936) 294-1660

e-mail: ICC_DRL@SHSU.EDU
http://www.shsu.edu/cjcenter/College/srpdex.html

Recommended citation:
Longmire, Dennis R. (2000). 2000 Texas Crime Poll. Huntsville, Texas: College of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University. http://www.shsu.edu/~icc_drl/TexasCrimePoll2000.html.

 
 
Preface

This is the 33rd statewide survey completed under the auspices of Sam Houston State Universityís Criminal Justice Center. The Criminal Justice Center was established by the Texas Legislature in 1963 when it passed House Resolution 469. This resolution called for Sam Houston State University to work in collaboration with the Texas Department of Corrections to establish a program of excellence with four objectives:

    • establish degree programs for individuals seeking careers in criminal justice;
    • provide continuing education programs for professionals already employed in the field of criminal justice;
    • conduct research on the problems of crime and the administration of justice; and
    • provide technical assistance to criminal justice agencies.
This survey and all activities conducted under the auspices of the Criminal Justice Centerís Survey Research Program help to fulfill the third of these objectives by reporting information on public opinions regarding criminal justice and related issues. The first Texas Crime Poll was completed in 1977 and has been repeated annually since that date. Copies of the Final Reports for each of these surveys is available for review at the Survey Research Program's homepage. The general purpose of these surveys is to provide legislators, public officials, and Texas residents with a reliable source of information about citizensí opinions and attitudes concerning crime and criminal justice related topics.

The 2000 Texas Crime Poll included a series of questions designed to ascertain how Texans' attitudes about crime and justice have changed since 1994. The data included in the 1994 Texas Crime Poll (Longmire, West, and Sims 1994) reflect Texans' attitudes about the criminal justice system in the final year of Governor Ann Richards. While the earlier survey focused on a number of issues not included in this year's interviews, part of the 2000 survey instrument replicated several of the questions included in the 1994 survey. Specific questions designed to measure how concerned people are about crime, how confident they are in the criminal justice system, how supportive they are of several possible solutions to the prison overcrowding problem, and how supportive they are of the death penalty were replicated. Comparing the differences in attitudes expressed between these two periods of time offers a rough estimation of how Texans' attitudes have changed during the tenure of the current administration.

In addition to the partial replication of the 1994 survey, the 2000 study focused on several issues that are particularly salient today. These issues include:
 

  • a specific examination of Texans' confidence in the "death penalty system" and whether or not they would support a "moratorium" on executions pending the review of the system;
  • an examination of Texans' fear of specific types of crime including cyber-crimes and hate-crimes; and
  • an effort to ascertain what Texans want their local community supervision officers to be doing.


The findings concerning each of these issues will be released as separate special reports and will be posted at the Survey Research Program's homepage.

The Survey Research Programís staff appreciates the continued support and encouragement from Dean Richard H. Ward. The staff would also like to thank Ms. Kay Billingsley for her editorial contribution to the project. All opinions, interpretations, and any errors included in this report are the sole responsibility of the author.


 
 
 
 



Executive Summary

CITIZENS' CONCERNS ABOUT CRIME

  • Texans are overwhelmingly less concerned with the problems of crime and drugs than they were in 1994 but are considerably more concerned about education.
  • 37% of the 1994 respondents mentioned crime as the most important problem facing them at the local level compared to only 14% in 2000.
  • In 2000, 8% of Texans mentioned crime as the most important problem facing them at the state level compared to 35% in 1994.
  • Declining family values and education are the most important problems facing today's Texans at the local and state levels.
CONFIDENCE IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND ITS COMPONENTS
  • Texan's today are considerably more satisfied with each of the components of the criminal justice system today than they were in 1994.
  • The greatest increases in satisfaction occurred in Texans' satisfaction with their local law enforcement departments, the Department of Public Safety, and the state prison system.
  • The smallest increases in satisfaction occurred when people reflected on their county probation departments and the state parole system.
  • Texans are considerably more satisfied with the delivery of criminal justice services today than they were in 1994.
  • In both years, Black/African Americans reported considerably lower levels of satisfaction with the criminal justice system than did any other demographic sub-group.
SUPPORT FOR SOLUTIONS TO PRISON OVERCROWDING
  • In both 1994 and 2000, Texans are most strongly in favor of "solutions" to prison overcrowding that rely on increasing the availability of new prison space.
  • Today's Texans are considerably more likely to support the increased use of electronic monitoring as a solution to prison overcrowding (66% in 1994 vs. 76% in 2000).
  • Today's Texans are more likely to support the increased use of probation as a solution to prison overcrowding (7% in 1994 vs. 18% in 2000).
SUPPORT FOR THE DEATH PENALTY
  • Today's Texans are considerably less supportive of the death penalty than they were in 1994.
  • 72% of the 2000 respondents support the death penalty compared to 81% supporting it in 1994.
  • The greatest reductions in support occurred among Blacks and "Other" ethnic groups, younger respondents, and respondents at both ends of the educational continuum.
  • The only category where there was increased support for the death penalty in 2000 compared to 1994 was in the case of treason.
  • In both 1994 and 2000, the overall level of support for the death penalty drops considerably with the introduction of a "true life sentence."
  • 60% of today's Texans would continue to favor the death penalty if there were a "true life sentence available" compared with 66% of the 1994 sample.
  • Women and Black/African Americans are significantly less likely than others to continue to support the use of the death penalty if there were a "true life sentence" available.

 

SECTION 1: The 2000 Survey and characteristics of the samples: 1994 and 2000

The 2000 Texas Crime Poll involved a statewide telephone survey designed and commissioned by the Criminal Justice Centerís Survey Research Program at Sam Houston State University. In that survey, conducted by Texas A&M Universityís Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI) on behalf of Sam Houston State University in September and October of 2000, a total of 403 Texans were queried about their attitudes toward a wide variety of crime and criminal justice issues.

The questionnaire used can be viewed at 2000 SURVEY INSTRUMENT, and a technical report showing the response rates and other pertinent information can be viewed at 2000 TECHNICAL REPORT.

It is important to note that the data in this yearís survey were collected through the use of telephone interviews while the 1994 data were collected through a "postal survey." The 1994 survey also included many more items than those used in 2000, and the order in which the issues were presented to the respondents was not perfectly replicated. Appropriate consideration of these issues should be taken into account when looking at differences from one year to the other.

The data presented in Table 1.1 show that the 2000 survey included almost half the number of respondents included in the 1994 survey. While this reduction appears significant, there is actually no difference in the margin of error (+/- 4.5% for each year). The current sample was selected to ensure that it reflects the most current census estimates of Texans along the dimensions of gender and race/ethnicity. The 2000 survey also includes fewer respondents between the ages of 18 - 24 than were included in the 1994 sample and more respondents over the age of 60.



Table 1.1   Age, race, and gender of respondents: 1994 and 2000
 
1994
2000
(N = 750)
(N = 403)
Age
18 - 25
24
14
26 - 40
29
32
41 - 60
32
34
Over 60
15
20
Ethnicity
White
73
70
Black/or African American
6
8
Hispanic
16
15
Other
5
7
Gender
Male
48
50
Female
52
50

 
 

SECTION 2: Most important problems facing our society

In both 1994 and 2000, the survey began with three "open ended questions" designed to allow the respondents to freely identify what they thought presented the "most important problem" to their local community, the state, and the nation. Tables 2.1 - 2.3 show the distribution of responses in both 1994 and 2000 along with a column showing how much change there has been in the nature of these concerns over the past six years.



Table 2.1 Most important problem facing Texans at the community level: 1994 vs. 2000

Question: "First of all, what do you consider to be the single most
                 important problem facing your local community?"
 
Percent mentioning:
1994
2000
% Change
Crime
37
14
-23
Drugs
17
12
-5
Poverty/Economy
5
6
1
Government
2
5
3
Decline of family values
5
13
8
Criminal Justice/Legal System
2
3
1
Gangs
10
1
-9
Education
2
12
10
Other
18
24
6
Don't know
2
11
9




Table 2.2 Most important problem facing Texans at the state level: 1994 vs. 2000

Question: "What do you consider to be the single most
                 important problem facing the state?"
 
Percent mentioning:
1994
2000
% Change
Crime
35
8
-27
Drugs
17
8
-9
Poverty/Economy
10
7
-3
Government
3
5
2
Decline of family values
3
12
9
Criminal Justice/Legal System
9
3
-6
Gangs
3
1
-2
Education
5
23
18
Other
12
21
9
Don't know
3
11
8




Table 2.3 Most important problem facing Texans at the national level: 1994 vs. 2000

Question: "What do you consider to be the single most
               important problem facing the country?"
 
Percent mentioning:
1994
2000
% Change
Crime
30
7
-23
Drugs
15
5
-10
Poverty/Economy
13
11
-2
Government
13
22
9
Decline of family values
7
19
12
Criminal Justice/Legal System
3
2
-1
Gangs
2
1
-1
Education
2
6
4
Other
14
18
4
Don't know
1
8
7


At all three levels, today's Texans are overwhelmingly less concerned with the problems of crime and drugs than they were in 1994 but are considerably more concerned about education. In 1994, at the local, state, and national levels over a half of the respondents mentioned either crime or drugs as the most serious problem facing them. In 2000, crime or drugs were mentioned by only 12% of the respondents when focusing at the national level with 16% and 26% mentioning them as problems at the state and local levels, respectively. At the local level, concern about gangs also dropped considerably over the past six years. At all three levels, concern about declining family values was also mentioned considerably more frequently this year than in 1994.

At all three levels, there are more responses coded into the "other" category for the 2000 survey than there were in the 1994 survey. Accordingly, some effort to understand the nature of these responses is important. This year's responses coded as "other" at the local community level included such "local problems" as this summer's water shortage (5%) and traffic and transportation related concerns (3%) along with a variety of other concerns mentioned by fewer than one percent of the respondents. In 1994, "other" responses to this question included responses such as "potholes, too much noise, and inattentive parents." At the state level, this year's "other" problems included frequent reference to health care (4%) and the drought (3%). Health care (4%) and foreign policy (5%) were the most frequent "other" problems mentioned at the national level.

Although crime is not perceived to be as serious a problem today as it was in 1994, Texans continue to report that they are concerned about the possibility of becoming a crime victim. A special study is currently underway focusing on these concerns. When complete, the results of this study will be available for review at the Survey Research Program's homepage
 


 
 

SECTION 3: Satisfaction with the criminal justice system and its components: 1994 vs. 2000

The second section of the 2000 Texas Crime Poll asked respondents to evaluate each of the different components of the criminal justice system. The same question was included in the 1994 survey enabling a comparison to be made of the citizenry's satisfaction with each of the components across the two time periods. In both years, respondents were asked to evaluate each component of the criminal justice system as either "poor," "below average," "adequate," above average," or "excellent." These responses were coded so that summing the responses to all eight components of the system would provide a measure (ranging from 5 to 80) of each respondent's "overall level of satisfaction" with the state's criminal justice system. Tables 3.1 and 3.2 show the distribution of responses to these questions and the average (mean) "overall satisfaction score" for different demographic groups in Texas for both 1994 and 2000.
 


Table 3.1 Satisfaction with components of the criminal justice system 1994 vs. 2000

Question: "How would you rate the job being done by the following agencies (insert each agency)?"
 
 
Poor
Below Average
Adequate
Above Average
Excellent
1994
2000
1994
2000
1994
2000
1994
2000
1994
2000
Law Enforcement
Local Police
6
4
13
3
50
44
24
28
8
19
Local sheriff's department
5
4
11
5
56
45
21
22
7
15
State police officers (DPS)
4
2
7
3
55
37
25
34
8
18
Judiciary
Local judge
7
4
18
4
55
39
15
20
6
10
State level judges
9
5
21
5
56
41
10
18
5
6
Post-adjudication
County probation department
11
7
24
12
51
34
10
13
4
5
Texas prison system
24
15
37
21
32
34
4
13
3
7
State parole system
39
17
31
22
26
32
2
7
3
4


The data in Table 3.1 show that Texans are considerably more satisfied with each of the components of the criminal justice system today than they were in 1994. When evaluating each of the components of the criminal justice system, respondents to the 2000 survey were more likely to evaluate them as either "above average" or "excellent." For example, in 1994, 32 percent of Texans considered their local police to be either excellent or above average while in 2000 this figure increased to 47 percent. This pattern repeats itself when looking at each component of the system with the greatest increase in satisfaction in the performance of local law enforcement, the DPS, and the state prison system. The smallest increases in satisfaction occurred when people reflected on the county probation departments and the state parole system.

Table 3.2 shows the mean levels of confidence Texans have in the criminal justice system at large. These figures show that people are considerably more satisfied with the delivery of criminal justice services today than they were in 1994. The total sample shows an increase of almost four points over the two time periods, and all of the demographic sub-groups of Texans reported higher levels of overall satisfaction with the system. In both years, Blacks and African Americans reported considerably lower levels of satisfaction than did any other demographic sub-group. Blacks and African Americans also report the lowest levels of increase in their satisfaction in 2000. Males, whites, respondents 62 years of age or older, and respondents with higher levels of education report the largest levels of increased satisfaction in the overall delivery of criminal justice services. These differences are also depicted in the Figure 3.1.



Table 3.2 Overall levels of satisfaction with Texas' criminal justice system by demographic group: 1994 vs. 2000
 
Average (mean)
System Satisfaction Measure
1994
2000
Change
Total Sample
22.35
25.92
3.57
Gender
Males
22.10
26.29
4.19
Females
21.49
25.50
4.01
Ethnicity
White
21.63
26.26
4.63
Black or African American
20.79
22.85
2.06
Hispanic
22.51
26.21
3.70
Other
23.47
26.90
3.43
Age
18 to 29
21.81
25.64
3.83
30 to 44
21.34
26.21
4.87
45 to 61
21.87
25.98
4.11
62 and over
21.26
26.42
5.16
Education
Less than high school
22.90
26.07
3.17
High school or GED
22.47
25.81
3.34
Some college or degree
21.11
25.89
4.78
Advanced degree
21.53
26.50
4.97

Figure 3.1 Overall levels of satisfaction with Texas' criminal justice system by demographic group: 1994 vs. 2000


 

SECTION 4: Solutions to overcrowding in Texas' prisons

The problem of prison overcrowding was a significant problem facing Texas in the mid 1990s and it continues to be one of the most pressing issues facing Texas today. The 1994 and 2000 surveys included a series of questions designed to measure how strongly Texans support a variety of different strategies available as solutions to the overcrowding problem. Respondents were asked how strongly they agreed with six different strategies including: 1) construction of additional prisons; 2) conversion of existing buildings into prison; 3) increased use of electronic monitoring; 4) the early release of non-violent prisoners; 5) increased use of probation; and 6) relying on shorter terms of incarceration. Figure 4.1 shows the proportion of respondents in each year who either "agreed" or "strongly agreed" with each of the strategies.


 
Figure 4.1 Solutions to overcrowding in Texas' prisons: 1994 vs. 2000

Question: "How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following solutions to the problem ofovercrowdingin Texas prisons?"Percent Responding "Agree" or "Strongly Agree": 1994 vs. 2000


 

As was the case in 1994, today's Texans are most strongly in favor of "solutions" to prison overcrowding that rely on increasing the availability of new prison space. Over 70% of the respondents to the 1994 survey supported either the construction of new prisons or the conversion of buildings to prisons. While there was a slight reduction in support for these two "solutions" in 2000, they continue to receive considerable support from the citizenry. Today's Texans are considerably more likely to support the increased use of electronic monitoring (66% in 1994 vs. 76% in 2000) and increased use of probation (7% in 1994 vs. 18% in 2000). It is clear, however, that Texans do not consider the increased use of probation to be a viable "solution" to the problem of prison overcrowding. A more in-depth examination of Texans' attitudes about of the use of probation is underway and will be published through the Survey Research Program's homepage when it becomes available.

 

SECTION 5: Support for death penalty

Texans' attitudes about the use of the death penalty were also the focus of interest in both 1994 and 2000. In both years, the survey included questions designed to determine how many people initially support the death penalty. Both surveys also included a series of follow-up questions designed to determine whether or not Texans would support the death penalty for specific crimes as well as whether or not the availability of a "true life sentence without the possibility of parole" would influence their support for the sanction. The results of the first question, "Are you in favor of the death penalty?" are presented in Table 5.1.



Table 5.1 Attitudes toward the death penalty: 1994 vs. 2000

Question: "Are you in favor of the death penalty?"
 
Percent responding "yes"
1994
2000
% Change
Total Sample
81
72
-9
Gender*
Males
88
79
-9
Females
75
65
-10
Ethnicity*
White
88
79
-9
Black or African American
53
39
-14
Hispanic
76
68
-8
Other
72
55
-17
Age
18 to 29
83
64
-19
30 to 44
79
73
-6
45 to 61
86
78
-8
62 and over
76
72
-4
Education
Less than high school
74
58
-16
High school or GED
85
73
-12
Some college or degree
82
76
-6
Advanced degree
80
64
-16
*Group differences

significant @ .001


Table 5.1 clearly demonstrates that today's Texans are considerably less supportive of the death penalty than they were in 1994. There was a nine percent decrease in the overall sample's support for the death penalty with only 72% of today's respondents supporting its use in 2000 compared to 81% supporting it in 1994. This pattern showing reduced levels of support for the death penalty over the past six years applies to all of the different demographic sub-groups included in the analysis. The greatest reductions in support occurred among Blacks and "Other" ethnic groups, younger respondents, and respondents at both ends of the educational continuum.

In both years, there were statistically significant differences in support for the death penalty based on the respondent's gender, race or ethnicity, age, and education. In both years, women, Blacks, and respondents with lower levels of education were less likely to support the death penalty than others. In 2000, only 39% of the Black/African American respondents supported the death penalty compared with 53% supporting it in 1994. There were also considerable reductions in support for the death penalty among the "Other" race/ethnicity category as well as younger respondents.

When asked whether or not they support the death penalty for specific crimes, the figures included in Table 5.2 show a similar reduction in support for all crime categories except "treason." In 1994, 34% of the respondents favored the use of the death penalty in such cases compared with 37% in 2000. In all other cases, fewer of today's Texans support the death penalty than they did in 1994.



Table 5.2 Percent of respondents supporting the death penalty for specific crimes: 1994 vs. 2000

Question: "Are you in favor of the death penalty being available for any of the following crimes?"
 
Percent responding "yes"
Type of Crime
1994 2000 % Change
Murder
86
80
-6
Rape
53
47
-6
Armed Robbery
23
16
-7
Arson
20
14
-6
Treason
34
37
3
Kidnapping
45
34
-11
Terrorism
68
66
-2


In an effort to ascertain whether or not the availability of a "true life sentence without the possibility of parole" would influence Texans' support for the death penalty, a follow-up question was asked of all respondents who answered either "yes" or "I don't know" to the initial question. Figures reported in Table 5.3 represent the number of Texans who would continue to favor the use of the death penalty even if there were a "true life sentence" available. These data show that in both years, the overall level of support for the death penalty drops considerably with the introduction of a "true life sentence." If a true life sentence were available, 60% of today's Texans would continue to favor the death penalty compared with 66% of the 1994 sample. Women and Black/African Americans are significantly less likely than others to continue to support the use of the death penalty.



Table 5.3 Effect of offering a "life without parole" option on attitudes toward the death penalty: 1994 vs. 2000

Question (asked of respondents who responded "yes" or "don't know" to the question represented in Table 5.1): "If there were a true life sentence without the possibility of parole, would you continue to _____ (support/be uncertain about) the death penalty?"
 
Percent continuing to support
1994
2000
% Change
Total Sample
66
60
-6
Gender*
Males
74
69
-5
Females
57
54
-3
Ethnicity*
White
75
65
-10
Black or African American
36
34
-2
Hispanic
55
63
8
*Group differences

significant @ .001


The death penalty has received considerable attention over the past few years, and there have been a number of different organizations and institutions calling for a temporary halt to the use of the sanction (a "moratorium") until it can be examined more closely. The possibility that innocent people might be executed has been the most immediate concern; however, the fairness of the death penalty system is also of concern to some who advocate a moratorium on its use. Whether or not Texans think that innocent people have been executed and whether or not they would support a death penalty moratorium is the focus of a special study currently underway. Results of this study were presented to the Texas House of Representatives' State Affairs Committee where a special report entitled "Confidence in the Death Penalty System in Texas and Support for a Death Penalty Moratorium: Special Legislative Report (2000 Texas Crime Poll)."