A large majority of voters strongly support federal reforms to our nation’s justice system, including sentencing reforms, according to a new poll released today by the Coalition for Public Safety, the largest national bipartisan organization working to reform the justice system. Sixty-nine percent of voters on both sides of the aisle agreed that the main goal of the justice system should be rehabilitating offenders, and 67 percent said that what really matters is making sure that when inmates leave prison, they are less likely to commit another crime. The poll, conducted on September 6-8, 2016, by The Tarrance Group, found virtually equal support for reform among Republican and Democratic voters, as well as strong bipartisan agreement that non-violent offenders should be sentenced based on the individual circumstances of each case, rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum system. In a divided political climate, voters in battleground election states are sending a unified and clear message to Members of Congress: it’s time to fix our broken justice system.
“The time is now to reform our nation’s broken justice system,” said Steven Hawkins, President of the Coalition for Public Safety. “The current issues within the system are getting worse and worse every year at the federal, state and local levels. Sixty-five percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Democrats polled overwhelmingly agreed that sentences for non-violent offenses should be tailored to the circumstances of the case, instead of a one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum. These results are clear: voters from both sides of the aisle and in every corner of the country agree that the system needs to be more just, fair, and effective.”
Among the poll’s top findings:
- 69 percent of voters agree that the main goal of our justice system should be rehabilitating those who are incarcerated to become productive, law-abiding citizens.
- 67 percent of voters agree that what really matters is that the justice system does a better job of making sure that when an offender does get out, whether after months or years, they are less likely to commit another crime.
- 66 percent of voters favor changing the way that non-violent offenders are sentenced so each sentence is tailored to address the individual circumstances of each case instead of having a one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum system.
- 58 percent of voters agree that the federal government is spending too many tax dollars keeping nonviolent offenders behind bars.
“This polling runs counter to conventional wisdom,” said Ed Goeas, President & CEO of The Tarrance Group. “Voters of every political stripe across the country, including Republicans, are consistently showing that they support safe and effective justice system reform, especially allowing for greater judicial discretion. This is a great combination – bipartisan voter support for sound public policy.”
The poll was conducted in ten battleground states, including Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. While voters are largely split about which candidates they will support in November, bipartisan majorities in all ten states are clear that there is a need for justice reform.
Currently, the justice system costs Americans $80 billion per year. At the federal level, the prison population has increased 790 percent over the last two decades, and 60 percent of those currently incarcerated are there for nonviolent crimes. At the local level, jails process nearly 12 million people every year, with a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Between 70 million and 100 million Americans, or one in three Americans, has a criminal record, which carries lifelong barriers in regards to housing, employment, and voting.
For more information on the survey, including a more detailed breakdown of its findings, please see our analysis of key findings.