What determines the trust of immigrants in criminal justice institutions in Europe?

AuthorAntje Röder,Peter Mühlau
Published date01 July 2012
Date01 July 2012
Subject MatterArticles
European Journal of Criminology
9(4) 370 –387
© The Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1477370812447265
What determines the trust
of immigrants in criminal
justice institutions in Europe?
Antje Röder and Peter Mühlau
Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
This study examines whether the confidence of immigrants in European countries in criminal
justice institutions can be explained by two counteracting processes: expectations formed in
the country of origin and discrimination experienced in the residence country. The study draws
on the pooled waves of the European Social Survey (2002–8), comparing first- and second-
generation immigrants from 66 countries of origin with natives in 21 residence countries. Multi-
level regressions are employed to examine the relationship between confidence in institutions and
proxy variables for the processes under study. The data strongly support the hypothesis that the
high confidence of first-generation immigrants can be explained by frames of reference formed in
the country of origin. Some, but limited, support is also found for the impact of discrimination.
criminal justice institutions, discrimination, expectations, immigrants, trust
Research in the United States indicates that ethnic minorities, compared with other
members of society, tend to be less satisfied with, and less trusting in, the police (Frank
et al., 2005; Tyler, 2005; Weitzer and Tuch, 2005). Largely, this is argued to be the
outcome of discrimination and mistreatment of ethnic minorities by these institutions:
minorities are more likely to be the victims of police violence and harshness (Tyler and
Huo, 2002), of disproportionate use of police force (Weitzer, 2002) and of racial profiling
(Tyler and Wakslak, 2004; Weitzer and Tuch, 2002). A number of recent studies
emphasize that the attitudes of recent immigrants in the USA and Canada are substantially
more positive than the attitudes of minority members born in the USA and Canada, and
attribute this finding to immigrants’ expectations regarding treatment by public
Corresponding author:
Peter Mühlau, Trinity College Dublin, Department of Sociology, 3–5 College Green, Dublin 2, Ireland.
Email: muhlaup@tcd.ie
447265EUC9410.1177/1477370812447265Röder and MühlauEuropean Journal of Criminology
Röder and Mühlau 371
authorities, which have been formed in the country of origin (Menjívar and Bejarano,
2004; Correia, 2010; Wortley and Owusu-Bempah, 2009). In this article, we examine
whether a similar pattern can be found in European societies and evaluate the evidence
that immigrants’ trust in the police and the legal system is shaped by two counteracting
processes: discrimination experienced in the host country and expectations formed in the
country of origin. Because these processes are likely to work in different directions, we
would expect to see a shift from high confidence in criminal justice institutions by recent
immigrants, particularly from countries with poor justice systems, to low confidence of
‘acculturated immigrants’ and second-generation immigrants, owing to the diminishing
sense of credit and rising experience of discrimination.
In Europe, there is wide concern that immigrants and ethnic minorities are discriminated
against by the criminal justice system. ‘Over-policing’ of immigrants and ethnic
minorities, ethnic profiling in stop-and-search procedures, and disparities with regard to
arrests, charges and pre-trial detention, conviction and incarceration can be seen as
indicators of discrimination against ethnic minorities by the police and the courts in
European countries (Albrecht, 2008; Antonopoulos, 2003; Bijleveld et al., 2008; FRA,
2009; Holmberg and Kyvsgaard, 2003; Open Society Institute, 2009; Roché, 2008;
Zauberman and Lévy, 2003).
Groups that experience discrimination by police or other law enforcement agencies
are less likely to put their trust in these institutions for a number of reasons. People read
the way they are treated as signals of their valuation as members of the society, and
procedural fairness concerns are salient in their judgement (Tyler, 2006). Discrimination
violates norms of impartiality and may be further associated with feelings of not being
treated with respect and dignity, or even of being harassed. Discrimination may also lead
to less reliable and less favourable decisions by law enforcement agents. Many ethnic
minorities and immigrant groups in Europe experience high levels of crime victimization,
including ‘hate crimes’, and are in particular need of protection by police and courts.
Discrimination is thus primarily related to relational but also to instrumental issues in the
evaluation of the criminal justice system, which in turn are known to be strongly
associated with trust and confidence in public authorities (Tyler, 2005, 2006). This holds
primarily if immigrants feel they are discriminated against, but also if they are not aware
of discrimination yet experience poorer treatment than other groups in society.
If discrimination is the dominant mechanism shaping immigrants’ evaluations in
Europe, we would expect immigrants to exhibit lower levels of trust in criminal justice
institutions than natives. However, there is little prior evidence that this is the case:
survey evidence from European countries points to higher or at least similar levels of
confidence in the police and other criminal justice institutions among immigrants and
ethnic minorities (Central Statistical Office, 2010, for Ireland; Jansson, 2006, for Britain;
Bijleveld et al., 2008; Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, 2010, for the Netherlands;
Albrecht, 1997, and Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2009, for Germany) when compared with the
majorities in these countries. This may indicate that discrimination against immigrants in
Europe by criminal justice institutions pertains to relatively small groups and is not as

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