Religiosity and attitudes regarding the criminal justice system have remained largely unstudied to date, despite the centrality of religion as an aspect of one’s identity formation. This study tests the hypothesis that perceptions of the effectiveness of police and the courts vary according to religious identity (affiliation, membership, and self-described religiosity or spirituality). A self-administered questionnaire was completed by 342 undergraduate students in introductory social science courses at a mid-sized university in the Southeastern US. Multiple Ordinary Least Squares regression analyses were performed on predictors of two outcome variables: perceived police effectiveness and perceived court effectiveness. Results offer partial support for a religious identity-based explanation of public perceptions of criminal justice system effectiveness. Membership of a local congregation, in general, was associated with higher ratings of police and court effectiveness. In addition, African Americans rated criminal justice effectiveness lower than non-African Americans. Once interactions between race and religious identity were incorporated, race itself became non-significant for both views on court and police effectiveness. However, these results showed that among African Americans, being a congregation member significantly reduced rather than increased ratings of police effectiveness. Religion thus continues to be complex and even paradoxical in shaping perceptions in the US.
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