March 1998 Providence City Survey

Non-Whites Rate Court Performance Lower than Whites and Are Less Likely to Feel Court Processes Are Fair

BROWN UNIVERSITY SURVEY OF PROVIDENCE COURT USERS

A survey of 1,724 people who used the Providence Superior Court, District Court, Family Court, and Workers' Compensation Court examines racial and gender differences in views about court performance, fairness, personnel, and processess.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. --Non-whites rate court performance less positively than whites and are less likely to feel court processes are fair and clearly explained, according to a Brown University survey of Providence court users. The poll shows few significant differences between men and women in how they rate the courts.

The survey was conducted by Darrell M. West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University. It was based on questions answered by 1,724 people who used the Providence courts between March 9 and 13, 1998. For that week, everyone who passed through the courts was given a written questionnaire asking for views about the court system, fairness, personnel, and procedures. Of those completing the form, 1,242 were white, 142 were non-white (71 African Americans, 59 Hispanics, and 12 Asian Americans), and 340 did not answer the race question. Seven hundred seventy-one were male, 704 were female, and 249 did not answer the gender question. The survey was administered both in English and Spanish in order to cover both English and non-English speakers.

In order to determine how users felt about the court, we asked, "how would you rate the overall job being done by the court you are visiting today?" Whites were more likely than non-whites to rate court performance positively. Whereas 57 percent of whites viewed the court as doing an excellent or good job, only 42 percent of non-whites felt that way. This difference of 15 percentage points was statistically significant. For gender, there was not a significant difference between the 57 percent of males and 53 percent of females who thought the court was doing an excellent or good job.

The largest differences based on race occurred in regard to beliefs about the fairness of court process. While 64 percent of whites rated court fairness as excellent or good, only 41 percent of non-whites felt that way, a difference of 23 percentage points that was statistically significant. Whites also were more likely than non-whites to praise the dignity of court process and to feel that court processes were clearly explained. There was no gender gap in views about court fairness and process.

In other results, whites were more likely than non-whites to say the capitol police found at the court entrance were helpful and sensitive. Whites were more likely than non-whites to see clerks as courteous, helpful, sensitive, and being knowledgeable about court procedures. Men were more likely than women to find clerks courteous, helpful, and sensitive. Court-employed foreign language interpreters were seen as more adequate by men than women, and more available by whites than non-whites.

Summary of Excellent and Good Ratings by Race and Gender

Whites Non-Whites Males Females
Overall court job performance 57% 42% 57% 53%
Capitol police courteousness 84% 77% 81% 83%
Capitol police helpfulness 82% 77% 80% 82%
Capitol police sensitivity 85% 68% 72% 74%
Sheriffs courteousness 75% 70% 75% 74%
Sheriffs helpfulness 75% 72% 75% 73%
Sheriffs sensitivity 68% 64% 67% 66%
Clerks courteousness 74% 62% 74% 70%
Clerks helpfulness 75% 60% 76% 69%
Clerks sensitivity 68% 55% 68% 64%
Clerks knowledge 78% 68% 76% 75%
Clerks office hours of service 64% 48% 61% 65%
Adequacy of interpreters 52% 46% 50% 45%
Availability of interpreters 44% 26% 44% 39%
Forms understandability 65% 58% 66% 61%
Assistance in completing forms 60% 53% 61% 54%
Reasonableness of filing fees 41% 44% 36% 48%
Reasonableness of copying fees 49% 51% 46% 53%
Reliability of court schedule 51% 39% 49% 50%
Prompt start 52% 39% 52% 49%
Prompt hearing 37% 28% 36% 33%
Prompt resolution 39% 32% 41% 35%
Timeliness of judges' decisions 57% 40% 56% 55%
Fairness of court process 64% 41% 63% 59%
Dignity of court process 65% 44% 65% 60%
Court process explained 67% 49% 65% 67%

For more information, contact Darrell M. West at (401) 863-1163. A copy of the full report is available at the website: www.InsidePolitics.org.

Question Wording and Responses

How would you rate the following characteristics of the personnel in the court you are visiting today?

a) courteousness of capital police at entrance: 33% excellent, 42% good, 13% only fair, 4% poor, 8% don't know, no answer

b) helpfulness of capital police at entrance: 30% excellent, 40% good, 13% only fair, 4% poor, 13% don't know, no answer

c) sensitivity of capital police at entrance: 25% excellent, 38% good, 18% only fair, 5% poor, 14% don't know, no answer

d) courteousness of courtroom sheriffs: 28% excellent, 38% good, 16% only fair, 6% poor, 12% don't know, no answer

e) helpfulness of courtroom sheriffs: 28% excellent, 38% good, 16% only fair, 6% poor, 12% don't know, no answer

f) sensitivity of courtroom sheriffs: 24% excellent, 33% good, 19% only fair, 9% poor, 15% don't know, no answer

g) courteousness of clerks' office staff: 27% excellent, 37% good, 17% only fair, 8% poor, 11% don't know, no answer

h) helpfulness of clerks' office staff: 27% excellent, 36% good, 17% only fair, 7% poor, 13% don't know, no answer

i) sensitivity of clerks' office staff: 24% excellent, 32% good, 20% only fair, 9% poor, 15% don't know, no answer

j) knowledge of court procedures by clerks' office staff: 24% excellent, 39% good, 14% only fair, 5% poor, 18% don't know, no answer

k) adequacy of court-employed, foreign language interpreters: 6% excellent, 15% good, 12% only fair, 11% poor, 56% don't know, no answer

How would you rate the following processes in the court you are visiting today?

a) understandability of court forms (clear and simple language): 11% excellent, 39% good, 22% only fair, 6% poor, 22% don't know, no answer

b) assistance in completing forms: 8% excellent, 27% good, 17% only fair, 8% poor, 40% don't know, no answer

c) reasonableness of court filing fees: 5% excellent, 20% good, 19% only fair, 14% poor, 42% don't know, no answer

d) reasonableness of copying fees: 6% excellent, 22% good, 18% only fair, 10% poor, 44% don't know, no answer

e) reliability of court schedule (case heard on date scheduled): 8% excellent, 29% good, 22% only fair, 16% poor, 25% don't know, no answer

f) prompt start for court sessions: 11% excellent, 32% good, 24% only fair, 17% poor, 17% don't know, no answer

g) prompt hearing of your case (no waiting around): 6% excellent, 21% good, 25% only fair, 24% poor, 24% don't know, no answer

h) prompt resolution/disposition of your case: 6% excellent, 22% good, 25% only fair, 19% poor, 28% don't know, no answer

i) timeliness of judges' decisions: 10% excellent, 31% good, 23% only fair, 11% poor, 25% don't know, no answer

j) court process clearly explained by judge/clerk): 16% excellent, 35% good, 20% only fair, 7% poor, 22% don't know, no answer

k) dignity of court process: 16% excellent, 36% good, 22% only fair, 9% poor, 17% don't know, no answer

l) fairness of court process: 14% excellent, 35% good, 22% only fair, 10% poor, 19% don't know, no answer

m) help for non-English speakers: 4% excellent, 13% good, 12% only fair, 13% poor, 58% don't know, no answer

n) clerks' office hours of service: 10% excellent, 32% good, 18% only fair, 8% poor, 32% don't know, no answer

How would you rate the overall job being done by the court you are visiting today? 8% excellent, 39% good, 27% only fair, 11% poor, 15% don't know, no answer

Darrell M. West