Examining Public Opinion about Crime and Justice: A Statewide Study

By Eric Johnston / Barbara Sims / Criminal Justice Policy Review, on 1 January 2004

As noted by Flanagan (1996), public opinion polls about crime and justice can act as a social barometer providing important data to policy makers regarding what the public is willing, or is not willing, to accept when it comes to proposed legislation and/or intervention programming. This paper reports findings from the 2001 Penn State Poll, a random telephone survey of Pennsylvanians, 18 years of age or older, in which citizens were asked about their attitudes toward and perceptions of such issues as fear of crime, capital punishment, the most important goal of prison, and where they would most like to see their tax dollars spent (building more prisons vs. early intervention programs with troubled youth). Significant differences were found within certain demographic groups across these sets of questions, and in a predictive model, gender, race/ethnicity, and education had a greater impact on citizens’ support for capital punishment than did their fear of crime. Overall, findings suggest that the public is not as punitive as it is sometimes believed to be by legislators and policy makers.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list United States
  • Themes list Public opinion,