U.S.: Poll Reveals Bipartisan Support Among Voters For Reducing Prison Population

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An overwhelming consensus exists among American voters about how to reduce the U.S. prison population, according to a new national survey focused on criminal justice reform.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday released results from the survey, which reveal an overwhelming consensus among voters of the three leading political parties and various political leanings about how to reduce the U.S. prison population and the path forward to reform.

Commissioned by the ACLU and administered by the Benenson Strategy Group, the national survey was conducted from June 2-6. All respondents were registered voters who are likely to vote in the 2016 presidential election.

The survey found, in part:

• Republicans and Democrats alike say that communities will be safer when the criminal justice system reduces the number of people behind bars and increases the treatment of mental illness and addiction, which are seen as primary root causes of crime.

• Overall, 69 percent of voters say it is important for the country to reduce its prison populations, including 81 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of independents, and 54 percent of Republicans.

• In a sharp shift away from the 1980s and 1990s, when incarceration was seen as a tool to reduce crime, voters now believe by two-to-one that reducing the prison population will make communities safer by facilitating more investments in crime prevention and rehabilitation strategies.

• 87 percent of respondents agree that drug addicts and those with mental illness should not be in prison. They belong in treatment facilities.

“These findings confirm what we’ve known for a long time — that a majority of Americans, regardless of political party affiliation, are dissatisfied with our current criminal justice system, and are now ready for significant changes to reduce our over-bloated prison population,” said Alison Holcomb, director of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice. Ironically, Holcomb advocates prosecution of Washington state's medical marijuana dispensary owners, which could contribute to the problem.

"Federal and state legislators should pay close attention to this shift in public mood, prioritize their criminal justice policy proposals, and effect real change in the system,” Holcomb said.

The sample included oversamples of African-Americans and Hispanics to ensure adequate representation within the survey. The margin of error for the data set is ±2.94 percent at the 95 percent confidence level, and it is higher among subgroups.

The full survey memo is available here: https://www.aclu.org/other/aclu-nationwide-poll-criminal-justice-reform

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