In a rejection of President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions' tough-on-crime approach, a new ACLU poll finds that a large majority of Americans believe the criminal justice system is unjust and needs to be significantly reformed.
Nine out of 10 Americans from across the political spectrum told our pollster that our criminal justice system needs fixing. This is an astounding number, but the results are even more impressive when you drill down into them. They show that criminal justice reform is a political issue the American people care about.
Currently, the United States is the world’s leader in incarceration, with 2.3 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails. Our polling shows that Americans are uncomfortable with the land of the free putting so many of its people behind bars, particularly when two out of three respondents do not believe that the criminal justice system treats Black people fairly. Seventy-one percent of respondents said that the United States should reduce its prison population.
This support remained strong across people with very different political beliefs. Eighty-seven percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents, and 57 percent of Republicans all agreed that we should reduce our prison population. But one of the most encouraging signs that Americans have had enough of mass incarceration is that 52 percent of Trump voters said it was important to reduce the size of the prison population.
Most people polled also believed that mass incarceration wasn’t just a serious problem but counterproductive. Seventy-one percent of respondents agreed that “sending someone to prison for a long sentence increases the chances that he or she will commit another crime when they get out because prison doesn’t do a good job of rehabilitating problems like drug addiction and mental illness.” This includes 68 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Trump voters. Bleeding-heart liberals they are not.
Americans also don’t want their prisons full of people with mental health disabilities. Eighty-four percent of respondents said that people with mental health disabilities belong in mental health programs instead of prison.
Two in three Americans would be more likely to vote for candidates who supported reducing the prison population and using the savings to reinvest in drug treatment and mental health programs, including 65 percent of Trump voters. And 72 percent said that they would be more likely to vote for an elected official who supports eliminating mandatory minimum laws. This is in direct contrast to the agenda pushed forward by President Trump and Attorney General Session, who have supported more mandatory minimums.
The majority of Americans recognize racial bias in the criminal justice system. Fifty-five percent of Americans agree that racism in policing, prosecution, and sentencing are responsible for racial disparities in our nation’s prisons and jails.
The poll also asked Americans about their views on how the criminal justice system should respond to offenses involving violence. Understanding what Americans think about violent crime is critical since to end mass incarceration we must transform the way our criminal justice system treats all people, including people convicted of offenses involving violence.
Sixty-one percent of Americans believe that people who have committed crimes involving violence can turn their lives around. Sixty-one percent of Americans also believe that people who suffer from drug addiction and commit serious crimes don’t belong in prison but should be in rehabilitation programs where they can receive treatment. And nearly nine out of 10 respondents believe that when people with mental health disabilities commit crimes that involve violence they should be sent to mental health programs where they can receive treatment from professionals.
The data is clear.
When it comes to criminal justice, Americans want reform and rehabilitation, not a return to the disastrous tough-on-crime policies of the 1990s that President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are trying to resurrect. Both are out of touch with what voters want, including in their own party.