||Why People Obey the Law
||Tom R. Tyler
||Yale University Press, © 1990
92A Yale Station
New Haven, CT 06520
$35.00 (c), $13.00 (p)
This report of a significant sociological/psychological study of the
relationship between citizens and the law, law enforcement, and the system of
justice has five parts with 13 chapters, three appendices, and an index in 273
pages. Part One describes the problem and briefly indicates what may be a cause
for major social upheaval. Previous research suggests that citizens are
interested in procedural justice but leaders emphasize an instrumental
understanding. Leaders believe people obey laws because of the outcomes and
therefore make laws and attach ever stiffer and more draconian penalties for
breaking them. Citizens are not as much interested in outcomes as in the sense
of fairness and equity they have in dealing with those who seek to make them
comply with the law. The study reported here aimed at testing the conclusion
that citizens are interested in procedural justice.
Parts Two and Three present the data from an initial random sample of 1,575
respondents to a telephone interview of about 25 minutes. A year later a random
subset of 804 respondents were reinterviewed. The questionnaires used in both
interviews are included in an appendix to the book. These chapters discuss the
results in relationship to the concept of legitimacy of authority. When
authority is viewed as legitimate, compliance to the law increases. Part Four
presents the results in terms of the concept of procedural justice. The data
show a strong commitment to procedural justice on the part of the citizens. Part
Five, Conclusions, states unequivocally that the normative issues matter. People
understand their system of justice in terms unrelated to outcomes.
The significance of the finding that individual citizens respond to perceptions
of fairness and unfairness rather than to the simple concept of the outcome
being favorable or unfavorable is immense. It strengthens the concept of a free
democratic society and suggests that special interest groups cannot really
dominate and control. It also means that those who would rule had best be able
to attend to the issue of fairness rather than simply demanding obedience. Here
is the rub: our lawmakers take an instrumental view of law and miss the ordinary
citizen's desire to be treated fairly first of all. The way to increase
compliance with the law, as suggested by this report, is to emphasize fair and
equitable treatment for all rather than to increase the punitiveness and
harshness of the consequences of breaking the law.
In the system for dealing with allegations of child abuse, the emphasis has been
placed on prosecution and punishment. Although the laws of every state in one
way or another endorse the concept of family reunification, the reality is that
families are destroyed and permanently damaged when an accusation of abuse hits
the system. The chief response heard in every support group for families who
have been involved in the system and in the few research studies assessing the
impact of intervention is the cry that everybody has been treated unfairly.
(Anonymous, 1991; Burak, 1988; Luza, & Ortiz, 1991; Schultz, 1989). Victims are
used as objects to obtain convictions. Those in the system operate and make
decisions on the basis of
myth rather than knowledge (Conte, Fogarty, & Collins, 1991). A chief complaint,
repeated over and over, is that nobody ever interviews the accused or listens to
the other side of the story (San Diego County Grand Jury, 1992).
Tyler's book should be read and understood by everybody who is involved in the
system of making or enforcing laws. If it were, the system might well become
more equitable and citizens more compliant.
Anonymous (1991, October). Secret touches. Mother Jones, pp. 46-51,
Burak, S. (1988). The power of social workers: A comparative analysis of child
protection legislation. Canadian Journal of Family Law, 7(1),
Conte, J. R., Fogarty, L., & Collins, M. E. (1991). National survey of
professional practice in child sexual abuse.
Journal of Family Violence,
Luza, S., & Ortiz, B. (1991). The dynamic of shame in interactions between Child
Protective Services and families falsely accused of child abuse. Issues In Child Abuse Accusations, 3(2), 108-123.
San Diego County Grand Jury. (1992, February 6). Families in crisis. Report
No.2. San Diego, CA.
Schultz, L. (1989). One hundred cases of unfounded child sexual abuse:
A survey and recommendations. Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, 1(1),
Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies,