The 2007 National Justice Survey: Tackling Crime and Public Confidence

3. Results (cont’d)

3. Results (cont'd)

3.9 Conditional Sentence of Imprisonment

Conditional sentences require an offender to serve his or her custodial sentence in the community while under conditions imposed by the courts such as a curfew. It is sometimes referred to as "house arrest". If the offender does not follow the conditions set by the court, he or she can be ordered to serve the remainder of the sentence in prison. Respondents were provided with a list of specific crimes and situations and asked how appropriate a conditional sentence would be in each case.

A trend emerged in the data suggesting, for some at least, that conditional sentences were highly appropriate regardless of the circumstances (see Figure 10). High support ranged between 23% and 39% within all situations, regardless of the severity of the offence. For example, 28% of respondents felt that a conditional sentence would be highly appropriate even for someone convicted of rape[1] using a knife or for child sexual abuse. Meanwhile, the proportion of respondents indicating low support typically varied inversely with the seriousness of the crime and/or situation. For example, approximately two-thirds of respondents believed that a conditional sentence would be highly inappropriate for rape with a knife (68%) and for child sexual abuse (67%) while only around one-quarter of respondents felt that way for possession of marijuana (24%) or a generalised non-violent offence (22%).

Figure 10: Support for Conditional Sentences by the Crime/Situation

3.10 Mandatory Minimum Penalties

A mandatory minimum penalty (MMP) of custody is a jail sentence where the minimum length of time has been set by Parliament and a judge cannot sentence below this length of time under any circumstances. Examples of mandatory minimum penalties include murder (life sentence), robbery with a firearm (4 years), weapons trafficking (one year), or a second impaired driving conviction (14 days). Respondents were asked how appropriate they thought a mandatory minimum sentence would be for the same series of crimes and/or situations used in the conditional sentencing questions (see Figure 11).

There was generally high support for the concept of MMPs, particularly for serious crimes. For example, two-thirds of respondents felt that an MMP would be highly appropriate for rape with a knife (66%) and child sexual abuse (66%) while almost as many were highly supportive if the offender had committed armed robbery with a gun (61%) or if the offender had committed a third serious offence (60%). As in the case of conditional sentences, however, a trend emerged. Approximately one-quarter of respondents felt MMPs were highly inappropriate regardless of the scenario (with the exception of marijuana possession at 41%). In other words, there appeared to be a consistent group of respondents that did not support MMPs but supported conditional sentences regardless of the nature of the crime.

Figure 11: Support for Mandatory Minimumum Penalaties by the Crime/Situation

In some western countries (but not in Canada), a judge can issue a jail term shorter than the mandatory minimum sentence in special circumstances. Respondents were asked how appropriate they thought it would be for a judge to have the ability to sentence below a mandatory minimum sentence set by Parliament in the following circumstances:

  • The prosecution agreed that the sentence would be too harsh;
  • It was the offender’s first offence;
  • The harm to the victim was not very serious; and
  • The offender agreed to help prosecute a more serious criminal.

Approximately one-quarter of respondents felt that it would be highly appropriate to allow judges to sentence below the MMP across all four circumstances while one-quarter felt that it would highly inappropriate. The remaining half of respondents provided moderate support for allowing a judge to sentence below an MMP. This support was relatively similar regardless of the specifics of the scenario (see Figure 12).

Figure 12: Support for Sentencing Below an MMP by Particular Circumstances

3.11 Predictors of Public Confidence

One of the goals of the NJS (2007) was to understand the factors that are related to an individual’s confidence in the criminal justice system. In order to empirically identify the predictors of public confidence using the data from the National Justice Survey, a multiple regression analysis was performed using the enter method, which builds the equation by entering all of the variables at once. The strength of a multiple regression analysis is that it provides the unique contribution of each independent variable to the overall variance in the dependent variable. In this case, the analysis will measure how much each factor independently influences the respondent’s level of confidence in the criminal justice system. The question used as the dependent variable was:

Using a 10-point scale with 1 representing "very low confidence" and 10 representing "very high confidence", how much confidence do you have in the criminal justice system?

All demographic variables were entered as independent variables:

  • Gender;
  • Age;
  • Income;
  • Education level;
  • Visible minority status;
  • Aboriginal status;
  • Homeownership;
  • Presence of children in the home;
  • Marital status;
  • Religious service attendance;
  • Region of the country;
  • Language spoken at home;
  • Urban versus rural community.

In addition, the following were also entered as independent variables:

  • Involvement in the justice system (i.e., victim, accused, witness, juror);
  • Rated importance of sources of information on shaping justice views
    (i.e., family/friends, government, popular media, television, newspapers,
    Internet, community groups);
  • Rated accuracy of official statistics on the criminal justice system (i.e., crime rates, parole rates);
  • Support for particular policies (i.e., conditional sentences, mandatory minimums, bail credits);
  • Support for the Tackling Crime Agenda (i.e., increasing police, tougher sentences, crime prevention)
  • Attitudes towards sentencing objectives (i.e., rehabilitation, denunciation; deterrence, reparation, incapacitation, accountability);
  • Perceptions of crime in Canada (i.e., crime rates, victimization risk); and
  • Support for particular approaches that address the issue of illegal drugs (i.e., harm reduction, treatment, harsher penalties, prevention).

Only those variables that were found to be statistically significant at the standard level (i.e., p < .05) were maintained in the model. The R2 for the model (.31) explains nearly one-third of the variance in the level of confidence in the criminal justice system. In other words, approximately on third of the difference in public confidence is likely due to the variables in the model. Table 6 provides the results of the regression analysis. The significant variables can be grouped into positive drivers, which are linked to increased confidence and negative drivers, which are linked to decreased confidence.

Who has higher confidence in the criminal justice system?

  • Those who value government information on the criminal justice system (i.e., both the accuracy of the information and its importance);
  • Supporters of traditionally less punitive sentencing practices (i.e., conditional sentences and pre-trial credits);
  • Individuals who are treatment-oriented (i.e., supporters of rehabilitation as a sentencing objective, harm reduction models and treatment programs for substance abusers);
  • Well-educated Canadians (i.e., a university degree);
  • Those who value the Internet as an important source of information on the criminal justice system; and,
  • Individuals who support the government’s Tackling Crime agenda (i.e., tougher penalties and crime prevention) and believe it will further improve their confidence in the criminal justice system.

Table 6: Summary of Multiple Regression Analysis for Predicting Public Confidence
Variable Parameter Estimates Standardised Estimates T Value P Value
Intercept 4.19 0.00 14.42 <.0001
Accuracy of official parole statistics 0.19 0.18 11.59 <.0001
Perception that crime has risen over the last five years -0.51 -0.11 -7.28 <.0001
Government is an important source of justice information 0.11 0.11 6.97 <.0001
Investing in crime prevention will improve confidence in justice system 0.13 0.13 6.69 <.0001
Western Canada (B.C., Alta., Sask., Man.) -0.45 -0.10 -6.66 <.0001
Judges should give credits at sentencing for pre-trial custody 0.53 0.10 6.64 <.0001
Age of respondent -0.01 -0.09 -6.19 <.0001
Specific deterrence should be an important goal of sentencing -0.11 -0.10 -4.96 <.0001
Government is moving in the right direction on criminal justice issues 0.36 0.08 4.90 <.0001
Rehabilitation should be an important goal of sentencing 0.09 0.08 4.68 <.0001
Being a witness in the criminal justice system -0.31 -0.06 -3.85 .0001
The Internet is an important source of justice information 0.05 0.06 3.64 .0003
General deterrence should be an important goal of sentencing -0.07 -0.07 -3.54 .0004
Tougher penalties will improve confidence in justice system 0.06 0.06 3.28 .0011
Tougher penalties is an appropriate approach for illegal drugs -0.05 -0.05 -3.16 .0016
Conditional sentences are an appropriate response to crime 0.00 0.05 3.09 .0020
University education 0.21 0.04 2.93 .0034
Harm reduction is an appropriate approach for illegal drugs 0.04 0.05 2.86 .0043
Perceived likelihood of property victimization in the next year -0.03 -0.04 -2.59 .0097
Being a victim of a crime -0.23 -0.03 -2.08 .0380
Treatment programs are an appropriate approach for illegal drugs 0.04 0.04 2.03 .0425

1. N=3,507; R2=.31 (p<.0001).

Who has lower confidence in the criminal justice system?

  • Individuals who believe that crime is generally increasing and believe that the likelihood of being a victim of crime is high;
  • Older Canadians;
  • Western Canadians (i.e., from BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba);
  • Supporters of traditionally retributive sentencing objectives (general and specific deterrence, harsher sentences for drug offenders); and
  • People who have had prior involvement in justice system (i.e., as a victim and/or as a witness).

[1] The term "rape" (which is actually labelled sexual assault in Canada) was used in the questionnaire to create a clear understanding of the severity of the offence for respondents. Although some may understand the term sexual assault, almost all respondents would understand the term rape.

Date modified: