NEW POLL: Illinois Voters Overwhelmingly Support Reforms to Reduce Skyrocketing Prison Population, Taxpayer Costs

James Ringland Illinois, News

April 18, 2016

Our new poll released today, shows that registered Illinois voters overwhelmingly support reforms that would fix the state’s criminal justice system. Voters strongly believe that, as a result of mandatory minimum practices, Illinois’ current system imprisons too many people for too long and that judges should have greater discretion in determining sentences.

The poll, conducted by Fako Research & Strategies, revealed strong support for reform among Republican and Democratic voters, in addition to bipartisan agreement that the goal of our criminal justice system should be rehabilitation.



**LISTEN BELOW: Holly Harris discusses our polling on Illinois Watchdog Radio**

“This poll reveals a mandate for criminal justice reform in Illinois,” said Holly Harris, Executive Director of the U.S. Justice Action Network. “The prison population has exploded over the last few decades, and yet we aren’t seeing the public safety return that we deserve. So it’s no surprise that an overwhelming number of voters from the far left to the far right support policies that would reduce prison sentences for low-risk, non-violent offenses and offer more rehabilitation programs for those leaving incarceration. In light of this polling data, we urge lawmakers to take action to support these needed changes to our broken system.”

Among the poll’s top findings include:

  • 94% of Illinois voters agree that the justice system should offer more rehabilitation and job training for individuals convicted of low-level, non-violent offenses so that when they re-enter society, they can get jobs, turn away from crime, and get off the taxpayers’ dime.
  • 92% of Illinois voters – including 92% of Democrats, 96% of Republicans and 93% of Independents – favor reducing prison time for individuals convicted of low-risk, non-violent offenses in Illinois prisons. They support reinvesting some of those savings to create a stronger probation and parole system that holds offenders accountable for their crimes.
  • 87% of Illinois voters– including 89% of Democrats, 91% of Republicans and 86% of Independents – would support replacing mandatory minimum sentences with sentencing ranges so that judges can weigh the individual circumstances of each case, such as seriousness of the offense and the offender’s criminal history, when determining the penalty.
  • 83% of Illinois voters – including 82% of Democrats, 88% of Republicans and 82% of Independents – support sending fewer individuals who commit low-risk, non-violent offenses to Illinois prisons so that state funding can be used to keep violent criminals in prison for their full sentence.
  • 85% of Illinois voters support spending some of the money Illinois is spending on locking up non-violent offenders should be shifted to strengthening mandatory community supervision programs like probation and parole.
  • 90% of Illinois voters – including 92% of Democrats, 90% of Republicans and 92% of Independents – agree that we should break down barriers for ex-offenders so they can get jobs, support their families, and stop being dependent on government services that cost Illinois taxpayers money.

Here’s what some of those involved had to say:

“Criminal justice reform is an issue where Illinois voters recognize the problem that we spend too much tax money keeping non-violent criminals behind bars. Voters also strongly agree that the main goal of our criminal justice system should be rehabilitation,” said Dave Fako, of polling firm Fako Research Strategies.  

This poll comes at a time when Illinois is weighing up significant changes to their justice system through recommendations from the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. With U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin leading the charge on federal reforms, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk recently announcing his support, and Gov. Rauner looking to cut the prison population by 25 percent, Illinois is emerging as a leader on justice reform.

“Illinois residents clearly recognize we need to rethink and rework who we put behind bars and why,” said State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13th). “Our current system has devastated our communities and not improved public safety. We should pass reforms that ensure our system provides hope and redirection for low-level offenders who do not need to be imprisoned or who should not return once they are released, and to ensure the violent, dangerous criminals are locked away where they cannot continue to wreak havoc on our streets.”

“The results of this poll affirm what Gov. Rauner believed when he within the first days of his election worked with Sen. Raoul and others to create the commission,” Rodger Heaton, Illinois Director of Public Safety, Chair of the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. “This poll and its results will go a long way towards helping the Commissioners consider even more challenging reforms to our system and to stop what we think has been an over reliance on incarceration.”

“This poll reinforces the ACLU’s own polling numbers – the public is ready for leaders to take bold steps to safely reduce our prison population and support programs that reduce the number of individuals who return to prison,” said Ben Ruddell, Criminal Justice Policy Attorney, ACLU of Illinois. “We look forward to working with the U.S. Justice Action Network and other bipartisan advocates to advance proposals that will keep us safe and refocuses our justice system on rehabilitation.”

“Illinois spent $1.4 billion in taxpayer money last year but this poll shows that voters realize their justice system is not spending this money wisely,” said Derek Cohen, Deputy Director, Right on Crime. “Voters in the state are urging lawmakers to pass policies that create alternatives to incarceration which are more cost effective and provide better results.”

Here’s a roundup of the latest news: