A new study by a group of law professors at the University of Toronto found that people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes tend to have higher levels of prejudice against the accused and a lack of sympathy for victims.
“The more [people] have experienced wrongful convictions, the more negative attitudes they have towards people accused of crimes,” says professor of criminal justice law at U of T Marisa Bhattacharjee.
The findings come from a survey of more than 500 Toronto residents conducted between March 15 and March 20.
The researchers conducted the survey using a unique computer-assisted survey called the Law Survey, in which respondents are asked to list the types of prejudice they experience.
The data also includes a question about the quality of the criminal justice system and the number of people who were wrongly convicted.
The survey was conducted by the University Research Centre for the Study of Society and the Criminal Justice System at the Law School of the University at Buffalo.
The results revealed that people with higher levels “negative attitudes towards people who are accused of crime, a lack (of) sympathy for people who experience crime and a low perception of justice in the criminal system are more likely to be negatively affected by the legal system and less likely to support the rights of those accused of a crime,” the study’s authors wrote.
“These people also tend to be less likely than the general population to believe in the validity of the courts decision and are less likely or unable to understand the reasons for the decisions of the legal process.”
In addition, people who experienced “wrongful convictions” were more likely than people who didn’t experience any form of criminal history to have a negative attitude towards police and prosecutors.
The study found that those with higher prejudice were more negatively affected than those who experienced no prejudice at all.
“People who have experienced crime and wrongful convictions are also more likely and more likely in the general public to support police officers, prosecutors and judges,” Bhattocharjee said in a press release.
“We have been looking at this for years and we are finding a strong link between prejudiced views and a history of wrongfully convicted people.”
In response to the findings, U of Toronto law professor Richard Jewell wrote a statement to the Toronto Star, which highlighted that “the University of New Brunswick study confirms what many have already been finding: the criminal-justice system has been systematically discriminatory against people who’ve been wrongly accused of an offence.”
He continued, “The question is not whether there are criminal-law practitioners who are racist.
The question is: where do they fit into this narrative?”
The statement also pointed out that “if we are to truly tackle injustice, we need to look beyond a narrow lens of race and to examine the larger social, economic and political systems that produce such injustices.”
Bhattoharjee noted that her own research, published in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior, found that “white people are far more likely [to be] prejudiced against people of colour and to be more prejudiced toward those who experience prejudice than are black or brown people.”
According to the authors of the U ofT study, the findings are in line with “other research that shows racism and prejudice are highly socially constructed.”
The authors also pointed to research that found that racial stereotypes about people with disabilities “are linked to low trust in the legal and criminal justice systems” and “to a higher likelihood of wrongful convictions.”