Jonathan Jackson, LSE; Ben Bradford, Oxford; Mike Hough, Birkbeck; Jouni Kuha, LSE
This is a comparative, cross-national study into attitudes towards legal authorities, compliance with the law, cooperation with legal authorities, and the policing of minority and majority groups. The project addresses questions of deterrence, legitimacy, cooperation and compliance using a powerful new dataset that combines national probability sample surveys of 30 different countries.
Our goal is to mount a cross-national empirical test of deterrence theory and procedural justice theory. Crime control policy tends to be based on the assumption that people make instrumental or rational cost/benefit calculations when deciding whether or not to break the law. Yet, much work on the psychology of law-related behaviour suggests that (a) there is strong normative component to law-related behaviour (namely, people cooperate and comply because they believe doing so is the right thing to do); (b) legal institutions can influence people's normative orientations by behaving in a procedurally fair manner; and (c) normative levers 'trump' instrumental levers, in the sense that moral principles more strongly influence behaviour than instrumental factors. The central assumption of procedural justice theory is that fair and respectful treatment of victims, witnesses, offenders and the public are the hallmark of effective justice systems.
Why do people obey the law and cooperate with legal authorities? One theory of human motivation and social regulation is based on rational choice, deterrent threat and coerced compliance with the law. It posits that people are responsive primarily to the risk of punishment in deciding whether or not to break the law. If this is true, agents of criminal justice need to send out signals of effectiveness, strength, deterrence and detection. Social control mechanisms and credible risks of sanction would persuade rational-choice individuals that - while otherwise desirable - a criminal act is not worth the risk.
By contrast, normative theories start with the premise that most people comply with the law and cooperate with legal authorities largely out of ethical or moral considerations. Normative theories start with the premise that most people comply with the law and cooperate with legal authorities largely out of ethical or moral considerations. When the police and criminal courts wield their authority in fair and neutral ways, this gives them legitimacy in the eyes of citizens. Legitimacy then shapes behaviour because people internalise the value that it is right and proper to obey the law and cooperate with legal authorities.
This project tests the theories of instrumental and normative compliance using national probability sample data from 31 countries. The survey datasets are supplemented by national level data of various kinds. We will (a) compare the relative importance of instrumental and normative modes of compliance and cooperation in each country; (b) explain why instrumental and normative modes may be more or less important in each country (starting with hypotheses drawn from Institutional Anomie Theory); and (c) examine the policing of minority groups, addressing whether deterrence models of crime-control have led to a counterproductive 'overpolicing' of key groups in each country, ironically weakening people's normative motivations to cooperate and comply.
The distinction between instrumental and normative modes of compliance and cooperation is important because of the different policy implications that flow from these two accounts. An instrumental account based on deterrence stresses the importance of assertive and efficient authority. By contrast, a normative account based on legitimacy stresses the significance of procedural justice, human rights and fairness. Faced with the realisation that instrumental and indeed punitive policies can achieve only a limited effect in securing widespread compliance with the law - and do so at great expense - governments in countries across the world are showing a growing interest in understanding why people obey the law and how best to police their citizens.
Apart from our own preliminary analysis of the European Social Survey (ESS) data, to date there has been no comparative research on compliance with the law and different styles of policing. This project tests the theories of instrumental and normative compliance using the 2010 sweep of the ESS covering 27 countries, as well as new national probability sample of adults in the US, South Africa and Japan designed to provide comparable data. The survey datasets are supplemented by national level data of various kinds.
Paper given at the 2014 European Society of Criminology conference.