February 17, 2016
We released a new poll today that shows likely voters nationwide overwhelmingly support federal reforms under consideration by the U.S. Senate to fix the nation’s criminal justice system. Voters strongly believe that, as a result of mandatory minimum practices, our current system imprisons too many people for too long and that judges should have greater discretion in determining sentences. The poll, conducted by The Tarrance Group, surveyed likely voters in the states of Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin, and reveals virtually equal support for reform among Republican and Democratic voters, as well as overwhelming bipartisan agreement that the goal of our criminal justice system should be rehabilitation.
Among the poll’s top findings include:
- Between 60% and 70% of voters in all states agree that our federal prisons house too many non-violent criminals.
- In Florida, 69% of voters feel that our federal prisons house too many non-violent criminals.
- Nearly 70% of voters in all states agree that the federal government is spending too much tax money keeping non-violent offenders behind bars.
- In Nevada, 70% of voters feel that the federal government is spending too much tax money keeping non-violent offenders in prison.
- More than 70% of voters in each state agree that the main goal of our criminal justice system should be rehabilitating criminals to become productive, law-abiding citizens.
- In Kentucky, 78% of voters feel that that the main goal of our criminal justice system should be rehabilitating criminals.
- In five out of six states, more than 60% of voters agree the federal government should remove barriers that make it more difficult for released prisoners to find jobs.
- In North Carolina, 67% of voters feel the federal government should remove barriers that make it more difficult for released prisoners to find jobs.
- Nearly three quarters of voters in all states favor changing the way that non-violent criminals are sentenced, allowing judges to use their discretion to impose a range of sentences instead of having a one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum system.
- In Wisconsin, 79% of voters approve of having judges use their discretion in sentencing instead of having a one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum system.
The poll concludes that voters this year are highly engaged in the political campaign season and, despite being very polarized about which senate candidate they will support, criminal justice reform represents one of the few areas of common ground. Bipartisan majorities of voters agree that we jail too many non-violent offenders, too much is spent on imprisoning non-violent offenders, and the goal of the criminal justice system should be rehabilitation. This agreement on goals leads a bipartisan majority of voters to support criminal justice reform that gives judges more discretion in determining sentences.
Here’s what our leaders are saying:
Holly Harris, Executive Director of the U.S. Justice Action Network said, “This poll reinforces what we’ve already known: voters agree that our criminal justice system is broken, and believe it’s time to advance reforms that not only save taxpayer money and reduce our skyrocketing prison population, but also invest in expanding opportunities for ex-offenders to turn their lives around. These findings come as Congress is on the cusp of advancing reform legislation, and as criminal justice reform is emerging as a top-tier issue for the first time ever during a presidential election. Voters want to see action. This poll reveals that – in addition to being the smart thing to do from a policy standpoint – criminal justice reform is a winning issue with voters, Democrats and Republicans alike.”
Ed Goeas, president and CEO of polling firm, The Tarrance Group: “Criminal justice reform is an issue where 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. This consensus on goals leads voters to strongly support the proposed criminal justice reform of greater judicial discretion. Congress can pass criminal justice reforms that will answer the concerns of voters and implement worthwhile and needed changes to our criminal justice system.”
Jesselyn McCurdy, ACLU: “We are on the cusp of passing federal reforms that would address the problem harsh drug sentences and our ballooning prison population. Voters in politically divided states all agree: we need to give judges greater discretion and put fewer non-violent offenders behind bars. We urge our lawmakers to listen to them and pass these reforms.”
Jorge Marin, Policy Specialist, Americans for Tax Reform: “Thanks to years of proven success, 75 percent of Americans now understand the benefits to smart criminal justice policy. Lawmakers should take note of the overwhelming public desire to fix a system that is more likely to release a future criminal than a rehabilitated member of society.”
Todd A. Cox, Director, Criminal Justice Policy, Center for American Progress: “The legacy of the so-called tough-on-crime era had tragic consequences for entire communities. The resulting over-criminalization and mass incarceration—with the attendant proliferation of criminal records, which present many barriers to opportunity—are major drivers of inequality in this country. This is why we should be so encouraged by the strong numbers in support of policies that reform how we apply mandatory minimum sentences and afford opportunities for rehabilitation, the removal of unnecessary barriers to reentry and second chances. We are very encouraged that voters are ready to embrace these important reforms.”
Timothy Head, Executive Director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition: “The results of this most recent round of polling data shows that there is widespread support growing across the country for meaningful justice reform that will curb government overreach, cut wasteful spending, promote families and encourage personal responsibility and second chances.”
Jason Pye, Director of Justice Reform and Communications, FreedomWorks: “The surveys from these six states are just an example of the growing momentum for criminal justice reform. Once pervasive so-called ‘tough on crime’ policies no longer have a grasp on the American public. Conservative states like Texas and Georgia have already shown that we can reform the criminal justice system, reduce recidivism, keep our communities safe, and save taxpayers money. Thanks to conservative leaders like Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. Raul Labrador, and others, we can bring these reforms to the federal criminal justice system. All we need is the political will in Congress to make it a reality.”
Sakira Cook, Counsel, The Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights: “Voters are sending a clear message that we lock up too many people for too long. The Senate is considering policies that would reverse this trend and we urge those in Congress, and those looking to become members of Congress, to support these politically popular reforms that will make our justice system fairer.”
Peter Williams, Executive Vice President of Programs, NAACP: “Our criminal justice system is broken by a significant racial disparity when it comes to sentencing. This poll gives us proof that voters are ready to make a difference and give judges greater discretion over sentencing instead of the current one-size-fits-all approach. We have the power to make our criminal justice system fairer and more efficient – which also happens to have widespread support from Democrats and Republicans.”
Marc Levin, Director, Right on Crime: “From our decade of experience in Texas, we know that conservative leaders, thinkers, and voters favor smart criminal justice reforms, and this poll shows that the case is the same in so many other states. The representatives that these voters have sent to Washington must recognize the will of the electorate, which aligns with the research showing more prisons are often not the best solution for enhancing public safety.”
For more information on the survey, including a detailed breakdown of its findings by state, you can click here.