Australian Public Opinion and Parole
The public has been described as one of the ‘sacred cows’ of criminal justice, ‘often referred to but never consulted’ (Korn 1971). In Australia, despite the lack of any systematic evidence, politicians have cited public opinion as a rationale for more severe criminal justice policies including provisions for early release of offenders or ‘parole’. Gaining an improved understanding of public perceptions of parole in particular is at a critical stage in the country. Recent high profile cases of serious parole violations in many Australian states and territories are presumed to have eroded public confidence and have intensified calls for reform, fuelled by media reports that parole boards do not prioritise community safety. However, beyond the media portrayal, little is known about the broader public understanding of parole and attitudes towards its use. In this presentation I draw on both national survey and in-depth interview data from a new ARC Discovery project on public attitudes toward parole and correctional practices in Australia. In particular, I consider the variability in public opinion toward parole, what accounts for this variation, and the implications for the connection between criminal justice policy and a supportive public. Overall, results show the Australian public holds diverse views on parole and correctional practices that are differentially motivated by core beliefs, values and emotions. I end with a consideration of the implications of these findings for policy, practice and future research – and in particular I consider whether and how ‘the public’ should be brought into the criminal justice decision-making process.
About the Presenter
Robin Fitzgerald is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland. Prior to arriving in Australia, Robin worked for a number of years as a Senior Researcher in the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Her areas of specialisation include prisoner programs, release and re-entry to the community; public perceptions of punishment; and criminal justice policy and justice system responses to domestic violence.