The 2007 National Justice Survey: Tackling Crime and Public Confidence

1. Introduction

Understanding public opinion is a complex area of research, particularly when examining attitudes towards the criminal justice system. Previous research has shown that few Canadians are well versed in the technical and legal aspects of sentencing policy, for example, yet most continue to hold relatively strong and oftentimes polarised views on the subject. In addition, there is a tendency within public opinion research to overly simplify criminal justice system issues using dichotomous concepts such as "too harsh" or "too lenient". Nonetheless, public opinion research can often have a strong influence on criminal justice policy.  As well, governments are relying more and more on public opinion as a valid tool to measure their performance and to track changes over time. Understanding what drives public opinion, therefore, is an important task.

The goal of the 2007 National Justice Survey (NJS) was threefold. First, the NJS (2007) sought to develop an understanding of public confidence in the criminal justice system in general, and in specific components of the justice system (e.g., police, courts). Second, the NJS (2007) was designed to solicit public attitudes towards major criminal justice policies. Given the federal government’s current focus on "Tackling Crime", opinion was sought on some of the more topical criminal justice policies being debated within the political landscape, such as mandatory minimum penalties, conditional sentences, and illegal drugs. The questions were essentially developed based upon the current priorities within the Department of Justice, as well as discussions within Parliamentary Committees and Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working-Groups. Thirdly, the questions within the NJS (2007) were structured in order to better understand the factors that drive public confidence in the criminal justice system, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between justice policy and confidence.

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