Providence City Survey, August 1998 (Published 2000)

BROWN UNIVERSITY SURVEY OF PROVIDENCE COURT USERS

BROWN POLICY REPORT
"Race, Gender, and Providence Courts"

by Darrell West
Director, Taubman Center for Public Policy
Brown University
August, 2000

Table of Contents

  •     Executive Summary
  •     Overall Court Performance
  •     Court Fairness and Process
  •     Capitol Police at Entrance
  •     Court Sheriffs
  •     Court Clerks
  •     Foreign Language Interpreters
  •     Court Forms and Fees
  •     Court Schedule
  •     Summary of Excellent/Good Ratings
  •     Question Wording and Responses

Executive Summary

In this Brown Policy Report, I investigate racial and gender differences in attitudes towards the courts among people who used the Providence Superior Court, District Court, Family Court, and Workers' Compensation Court between March 9 and 13, 1998. For that week, everyone who passed through these courts was given a written questionnaire asking for views about the court system, fairness, personnel, and procedures.

In addition to handing out the questionnaire to people who visited these Providence courts, the questions were mailed to people who use the court, such as agency attorneys, social workers, members of the Bench/Bar committees, and organizations representing the trial lawyers and criminal defense lawyers. The questions were administered both in English and Spanish in order to cover non-English speakers.

Overall, 1,724 people completed the questionnaire and returned it for tabulation. Seven hundred seventy-one were male, 704 were female, and 249 did not answer the gender question. One thousand two hundred forty-two were white, 142 were non-white (71 African Americans, 59 Hispanics, and 12 Asian Americans), and 340 did not answer the race question. Statistical tests were used to determine the significance of differences between males and females as well as whites and non-whites.

Among the more important results of this research are the following:

1) there were important differences in judgments about overall court performance by race, but not gender. Whereas 57 percent of whites who answered the performance question gave the court excellent or good marks, only 42 percent of non-whites did, a 15 percentage point difference that 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.

2) the biggest racial difference occurred in views about court fairness. Whereas 64 percent of whites felt the court process was fair, only 41 percent of non-whites felt that way, a difference of 23 percentage points. There was no significant difference in opinion about fairness based on gender.

3) Whites were more likely than non-whites to say the capitol police found at the court entrance were helpful and sensitive, but there was no significant difference in views about the courteousness of capitol police or in the views of men and women about the capitol police.

4) there were no significant differences for race or gender in views about how courteous, helpful, and sensitive were court sheriffs.

5) there were a number of significant differences by race and gender in evaluations of court clerks. 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 men to find clerks courteous, helpful, and sensitive.

6) court-employed foreign language interpreters were seen as more adequate by men than women, and more available by whites than non-whites.

7) there were no significant differences by race in judgments about court forms and fees, but women were more likely than men to see court filing and copying fees as reasonable.

8) Whites were more likely than non-whites to say the court started promptly and judges issued timely decisions. Men were more likely than women to say the court started promptly and hearings were held promptly.

Overall Court Performance

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 excellent or good, only 42 percent of non-whites felt that way (see Table 1). This difference of 15 percentage points was statistically significant.

There was no significant difference in views by gender. Although males were a little more likely to rate the courts excellent or good (57 percent) compared to females (53 percent), this difference was not statistically significant.

Table 1: Overall Court Job Performance by Race and Gender


Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Significant Diff

Race

White

9

48

32

11

Yes

Non-White

6

36

44

14

 
Sex

Male

9

48

31

13

No

Female

8

45

34

12

 

Court Fairness and Process

The largest differences based on race occurred in regard to beliefs about the fairness of court process. While 64 percent of whites rated fairness as excellent or good, only 41 percent of non-whites felt that way (see Table 2). This difference of 23 percentage points 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, as shown in Table 3.

Table 2: Evaluations of Court Fairness and Process by Race


Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Significant Diff

Fairness of Court Process

White

19

45

26

10

Yes

Non-White

10

31

39

20

 
Dignity of Court Process

White

20

45

25

10

Yes

Non-White

11

33

40

17

 
Court Process Clearly Explained

White

21

46

24

8

Yes

Non-White

15

34

38

14


Table 3: Evaluations of Court Fairness and Process by Gender


Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Significant Diff

Fairness of Court Process

Male

18

45

26

11

No

Female

16

43

28

13

 
Dignity of Court Process

Male

20

45

26

10

No

Female

18

42

28

11

 
Court Process Clearly Explained

Male

20

45

25

10

No

Female

22

45

25

8

 

Capitol Police at Entrance

Court users also were asked to rate characteristics of capitol police located at the entrance to the court. As shown in Tables 4 and 5, there were no significant racial differences in views about capitol police courteousness or in gender differences for courteousness, helpfulness, or sensitivity.

However, there was a race gap in impressions about the helpfulness and sensitivity of the capitol police. Eighty-two percent of whites rated the helpfulness of the capitol police as excellent or good, while 77 percent of non-whites felt that way. In terms of sensitivity, 75 percent of whites rated the capitol police as excellent or good, compared to 68 percent of non-whites.

Table 4: Evaluation of Capitol Police at Entrance by Race

Table 4 Evaluation of Capitol Police at Entrance by Race
 

Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Significant Diff

Courteousness

White

37

47

13

3

No

Non-White

30

47

14

8

 
Helpfulness

White

36

46

14

4

Yes

Non-White

28

49

16

6

 
Sensitivity

White

30

45

20

6

Yes

Non-White

22

46

22

9


Table 5: Evaluations of Capitol Police at Entrance by Gender

Table 5 Evaluations of Capitol Police at Entrance by Gender
 

Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Significant Diff

Courteousness

Male

35

46

15

4

No

Female

36

47

13

4

 
Helpfulness

Male

33

47

15

4

No

Female

35

47

14

3

 
Sensitivity

Male

27

45

21

7

No

Female

29

45

20

6

 

Court Sheriffs

The only category of court personnel for whom there were no significant differences based on race or gender were the court sheriffs. When asked about the courteousness, helpfulness, or sensitivity of sheriffs, whites and non-whites as well as men and women showed similar kinds of evaluations (see Tables 6 and 7).

Table 6: Evaluations of Court Sheriffs by Race


Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Significant Diff

Courteousness

White

32

43

18

6

No

Non-White

30

40

16

14

 
Helpfulness

White

32

43

19

6

No

Non-White

29

43

14

15

 
Sensitivity

White

28

40

23

9

No

Non-White

26

38

16

21


Table 7: Evaluations of Court Sheriffs by Gender


Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Significant Diff

Courteousness

Male

33

42

18

7

No

Female

30

44

18

8

 
Helpfulness

Male

32

43

18

7

No

Female

30

43

19

7

 
Sensitivity

Male

28

39

22

11

No

Female

27

39

24

10

 

Court Clerks

The category of court personnel showing the most consistent racial and gender differences were court clerks. As shown on Table 8, there were significant differences by race in every category of performance asked (courteousness, helpfulness, sensitivity, knowledge of court procedures, and office hours). For example, 74 percent of whites felt court clerks were courteous, while only 62 percent of non-whites felt that way. And while 75 percent of whites judged clerks to be helpful, only 60 percent of non-whites reported the clerks were helpful. In regard to gender, there were significant differences in three (courteousness, helpfulness, and sensitivity) of the five areas probed (see Table 9).

Table 8: Evaluations of Court Clerks by Race


Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Significant Diff

Courteousness

White

32

42

18

8

Yes

Non-White

22

40

27

12

 
Helpfulness

White

33

42

18

7

Yes

Non-White

22

38

30

10

 
Sensitivity

White

30

38

22

9

Yes

Non-White

19

36

32

13

 
Knowledge of court procedures

White

30

48

17

5

Yes

Non-White

21

47

19

12

 
Office Hours

White

16

48

26

10

Yes

Non-White

10

38

30

21

 

Table 9: Evaluations of Court Clerks by Gender

Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Significant Diff

Courteousness

Male

33

41

18

8

Yes

Female

27

43

20

10

 
Helpfulness

Male

34

42

18

7

Yes

Female

27

42

21

10

 
Sensitivity

Male

30

38

23

9

Yes

Female

25

39

24

12

 
Knowledge of Court Procedures

Male

29

47

18

5

No

Female

26

49

18

7

 
Office Hours

Male

13

48

28

11

No

Female

17

48

25

10


Foreign Language Interpreters

Foreign language interpreters employed by the court were seen as more available among whites than non-whites, but more adequate by males than females (see Table 10). Forty-four percent of whites rated the availability of interpreters as excellent or good, compared to 26 percent of non-whites. This difference was statistically significant. When asked about the adequacy of foreign language interpreters, men (50 percent) were more likely to give a positive evaluation than women (45 percent).

Table 10: Evaluations of Court-Employed Foreign Language Interpreters by Race and Gender


Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Significant Diff

Adequacy of Interpreters

White

15

37

27

22

No

Non-White

11

35

20

35

 
Availability of Interpreters

White

11

33

28

28

Yes

Non-White

5

21

40

33

 
Adequacy of Interpreters

White

16

34

29

21

Yes

Non-White

10

35

25

29

 
Availability of Interpreters

White

11

33

29

27

No

Non-White

9

30

27

34


Court Forms and Fees

There were no racial differences in judgements about court forms and fees, but some gender differences, mainly in regard to the reasonableness of court filing and copying fees. Women (48 percent) were more likely to rate the reasonableness of court filing fees as excellent or good, compared to men (36 percent). Women also were more likely to rate the reasonableness of copying fees as excellent or good, compared to men.

Table 11: Evaluations of Court Forms and Fees by Race


Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Significant Diff

Understandability of Forms

White

13

52

28

6

No

Non-White

13

45

29

13

 
Assistance in Completing Forms

White

13

47

28

13

No

Non-White

9

44

29

18

 
Reasonableness of Filing Fees

White

8

33

35

24

No

Non-White

6

38

34

21

 
Reasonableness of Copying Fees

White

9

40

34

16

No

Non-White

9

42

29

19

 

Table 12: Evaluations of Court Forms and Fees by Gender

There were significant racial differences in views about prompt starts to court sessions. As shown in Table 13, whites (52 percent) were more likely to rate prompt starting as excellent or good, compared to non-whites (39 percent). Whites also were more likely to rate judges' decision as being timely (57 percent) compared to non-whites (40 percent). Furthermore, there was a gender gap in views about prompt hearings, with women being slightly less likely to feel there were prompt hearings than men.

Table 13: Evaluations of Court Scheduling by Race

Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Significant Diff

Reliability of Schedule

White

11

40

29

20

No

Non-White

9

30

37

24

 
Prompt Start

White

13

39

28

20

Yes

Non-White

11

28

36

24

 
Prompt Hearing

White

8

29

32

31

No

Non-White

5

23

40

31

 
Prompt Resolution

White

8

31

34

26

No

Non-White

6

26

36

32

 
Timeliness of Judges' Decisions

White

13

44

30

13

Yes

Non-White

11

29

37

24

Table 14: Evaluations of Court Scheduling by Gender

Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Significant Diff

Reliability of Schedule

Male

9

40

31

20

No

Female

12

38

28

22

 
Prompt Start

Male

12

40

28

20

No

Female

13

36

29

21

 
Prompt Hearing

Male

8

28

35

28

Yes

Female

8

25

32

36

 
Prompt Resolution

Male

8

33

34

26

No

Female

8

27

36

29

 
Timeliness of Judges' Decisions

Male

13

43

31

14

No

Female

14

41

31

15

Summary of Excellent/Good Ratings

Table 15 combines excellent and good ratings for each demographic group for court performance, fairness, personnel, and process. Overall, the biggest racial gaps occur with the fairness of court process (a 23 percentage point difference) and overall court job performance (15 percentage points between whites and non-whites). In regard to gender, other than in ratings of court fees, the biggest differences occurred in regard to the helpfulness of clerks (76 percent for men and 69 percent for women) and assistance in completing forms (61 percent for men and 54 percent for women).

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%

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