People in the United States, Britain and Canada hold differing views on specific elements of their justice systems, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

The online survey of representative national samples shows that respondents support the notion of using alternative penalties rather than prison for non-violent offences, and that just one-in-five believe their prison system does a good job in helping prisoners become law-abiding.


The main community concern for Canadians at this point is health care and hospitals (31%), followed by the economy (26%) and unemployment (18%). Americans and Britons are definitely more worried about financial matters. The economy is the number one community concern for Americans (45%), followed by unemployment. In Britain, 35 per cent of respondents cite unemployment as their community’s main problem, followed by the economy (32%).

Views on Crime

More than a third of Britons (35%), Canadians (39%) and Americans (45%) believe that there has been an increase in the amount of crime in their community over the past five years. People in Britain are more likely to fear becoming victims of crime (39%) than those in the United States (35%) and Canada (27%).

In the past two years, 18 per cent of Britons, 13 per cent of Canadians and 12 per cent of Americans say they have been victims of a crime which involved the police, such as an assault, a car break-in or some other type of crime.


Majorities of respondents in the three countries (Britain 56%, Canada 68%, United States 74%) welcome the concept of using alternative penalties—such as fines, probation or community service—rather than prison for non-violent offenders. At least seven-in-ten Britons (70%), Americans (74%) and Canadians (78%) believe personal marijuana use should be dealt with through alternative penalties. Support for similar guidelines for credit card fraud, drunk driving and arson is decidedly lower.

Most respondents (51% in the United States, 56% in Britain and 61% in Canada) believe the criminal courts in their respective countries do a good job in determining whether or not an accused person is guilty. However, Canadians are slightly more likely to believe that their justice system treats every person fairly (38%) than Britons (35%) and Americans (28%).

The three countries exemplify a low level of confidence in the prison system, with just one-in-five respondents (20% in Britain, 19% in Canada and 18% in the United States) believing that it does a good job in helping prisoners become law-abiding.

Other Elements of the Justice System

About two-in-five Canadians express confidence in the internal operations and leadership of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) (38%) and their municipal police force (39%). Fewer Canadians trust the Supreme Court (31%), and just one-in-five (19%) have confidence in their province’s criminal courts. The regional analysis shows that Ontarians and Quebecers trust their provincial police forces at roughly the same level as the RCMP, and that Albertans and British Columbians provide a very low rating to the criminal courts in their province (10% and 12% respectively).

Americans place the highest level of confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (40%), along with state (43%) and local (36%) police forces. The rating is lower for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) (28%) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) (also 28%). The Supreme Court is trusted by 31 per cent of Americans, and state criminal courts are last with 25 per cent—including a regional low of 17 per cent in the West.

In Britain, only a third of respondents have confidence in the Security Service – MI5 (33%) and the Secret Intelligence Service – MI6 (also 33%). Britons provide a lower rating for special police forces (28%) and territorial police forces (24%). The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is trusted by 22 per cent of respondents, and 20 per cent have confidence in the Royal Courts of Justice.


Britons and Americans are clearly worried about how the economy and unemployment are affecting their community. On the other hand, Canadians are currently more preoccupied with health care and hospitals.

The views on the justice system are defined by different levels of confidence for specific components. The population provides a positive review of the job criminal courts do in determining who is guilty, which coincides with an uptick in confidence for certain law enforcement agencies. However, few respondents are ready to acknowledge that their justice system treats every person fairly.

The notion of alternative penalties for non-violent offences resonates with the population, particularly for cases involving the personal use of marijuana. This finding coincides with the dismal view that respondents in the three countries hold on the effectiveness of their prison system in helping prisoners rejoin society.

Full Report, Detailed Tables and Methodology (PDF)


Mario Canseco, Vice President, Angus Reid Public Opinion
+877 730 3570

Full Methodology Details:

Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among:

– 1,011 American adults who are Springboard America panelists, from March 28 to March 29, 2012.
– 2,015 British adults who are Springboard UK panelists, on March 15 and March 16, 2012.
– 1,005 Canadian adults who are Angus Reid Forum panelists, from March 23 to March 24, 2012.

The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/-2.2% for Great Britain, and +/-3.1% for Canada and the United States. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region Census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of each country.