What does the public think prisons are for?

The Australian Institute of Criminology has a new report out on public perceptions of crime levels and the performance of courts, prisons and police.

One curious result in the AIC survey is that while there is strong majority support for tougher sentencing (though it has trended down since the 1980s), most people say that they have ‘not very much confidence’ or no confidence in the prison system as a way of rehabilitating prisoners, of punishing them, of deterring future offending, or of teaching skills to prisoners. So perhaps the only thing prisons do effectively is keep habitual offenders off the streets for a while.

Except for protecting defendants’ rights, there is not much confidence in the court system either. Only the barest majority (51.5%) agrees with the proposition that the courts ‘deal with matters fairly’, and certainly not promptly, with only 22% of people believing that the courts deal with matters quickly. I wonder if this has implications for the bill/charter of rights debate. It’s not just that the public might not believe that the courts would do a good job in balancing rights. It’s that the courts could do without further possible causes of diminished public standing.