Justice system focus of doubts Marylanders skeptical, losing faith in courts, survey finds

September 26, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Maryland residents -- increasingly cynical toward the criminal justice system -- favor more capital punishment, are losing faith in the courts and think inmates do little work, according to a state survey being released today.

In a telephone poll of 800 Marylanders for the Maryland Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy, two-thirds of those responding said they favor increased use of the death penalty and believe crime is a major problem nationwide, though not necessarily in their communities.

Although most said they believe they live in safe neighborhoods, one in four surveyed said they have relatives who have been crime victims recently.

The report, "Crime and Sentencing: A Public Opinion Survey of the People of Maryland," will be presented today in Annapolis to the commission, which is made up of lawyers, legislators and public safety officials.

The panel is expected to use the survey results to help evaluate Maryland's sentencing policies and to make recommendations to the governor and the legislature by the end of next year.

John F. McAuliffe, a retired Maryland Court of Appeals judge and chairman of the commission, said the panel also will use the survey results to try to dispel public misconceptions about the way Maryland treats its criminals.

"I think, in this day and age, it's absolutely critical that the public be very well informed about the criminal justice system, because the matter of crime and public safety is one of the issues that looms large in everybody's life," McAuliffe said.

The survey will give commission members insight into the public's perception of the criminal justice system, he said.

For example, a majority of those surveyed said they believe that police and the courts treat the rich better than the poor.

"I think people have always felt to some extent that money will buy you a better brand of justice, and they see dream teams of attorneys that ordinary citizens can't afford," McAuliffe said.

"I don't know if part of that is a cynicism and part is reality that we try hard to avoid in criminal justice," he said.

Charles F. Welford, a commission member and a professor of criminology at the University of Maryland who supervised the survey, said it showed a "slight erosion in how good a job courts are doing."

He noted that 32 percent of those surveyed rated the courts "good" or "excellent," fewer than in other surveys in the past six years.

The survey found that 20 percent rated the prison system "good" or "excellent" and that 61 percent rated the police "good" or "excellent." Those percentages are similar to those in previous Maryland surveys, Welford said.

It found a lack of confidence in the court system. Sixty percent of respondents said they believe leniency by judges is a major cause of crime. More than 80 percent said they believe that a lack of morals, illegal drug use and the breakdown of families are major causes of crimes.

But the survey found that although 85 percent think the country has a serious crime problem, only 11 percent think their own neighborhoods have a serious problem.

Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed said they have family members who were recent crime victims, and 26.3 percent of the crimes involved were violent.

Welford said people who have been touched by crime might believe their own neighborhoods are safe because "like many problems, [crimes] come to be accepted."

For example, he said, if you are a victim of domestic violence in your home, "you wouldn't think your neighborhood was unsafe; you might think your house is unsafe."

"For most people, homicide, rape, carjackings don't occur in their neighborhoods," he said.

More than half of those surveyed said they believe most inmates watch television and play cards all day, and more than half said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to pay for supervision of inmates who work and to cover psychiatric treatment for mentally ill offenders.

The survey results can be found on the Internet at http: //www.gov.state.md.us/ sentencing/survey.html.

Marylanders' views on crime, criminal justice

Marylanders with family member who was victim of crime in last five years: 28 percent

Of those victims, proportion that involved a violent crime: 26.3 percent.

Marylanders who believe courts are doing good or excellent job: 32 percent

Marylanders who believe prisons doing good or excellent job: 20 percent

Marylanders who believe police are doing a good or excellent job: 61 percent

Marylanders who believe rich people are better treated than poor people in court: 63.2 percent

Marylanders who believe rich people are treated better than poor people by police: 52.1 percent

Marylanders willing to pay higher taxes to supervise inmates working in productive jobs: 68.8 percent.

Marylanders willing to cover cost of psychiatric treatment for mentally ill offenders: 53.1 percent.

Marylanders willing to cover cost of educating inmates who don't have high school diplomas: 52.9 percent.

Marylanders willing to cover cost of supervising inmates during recreation if TV and movie hours are reduced or eliminated: 51.5 percent.

Marylanders willing to pay more taxes for drug treatment center to ensure mandatory sentence of treatment for drug offenders: 46.7 percent.

Marylanders willing to pay for construction of an alcohol treatment center to ensure mandatory sentence of treatment for alcohol related offenders: 45.7 percent.

SOURCE: Maryland Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy.

Pub Date: 9/26/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.