Americans Overwhelmingly Support Prosecutorial Reform, Poll Finds

December 12, 2017 11:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union Campaign for Smart Justice released today the first-ever national public opinion poll of voters’ views of the role of prosecutors. The new data shows overwhelming support for prosecutorial reform and that voters will take these positions with them to the ballot box next November.

The research, conducted by David Binder Research between October 24 and October 30, included 1,600 telephone interviews in both English and Spanish with Americans likely to vote in November 2018. Forty-two percent of participants identified as Republican, 41 percent as Democrat, and 17 percent as Independent — a higher than usual response rate for conservative-leaning voters.

Respondents were asked what they find important when evaluating candidates for prosecutor and how those beliefs would impact their votes in 2018. The poll found strong bipartisan and geographically diverse support for prosecutors who are committed to reducing mass incarceration and racial bias in the criminal justice system, and who would hold police officers accountable for wrongdoing. Not only do such views represent a significant departure from the ideology of a majority of prosecutors currently in office, it could mean a major shake-up with more than 1,000 prosecutors up for election in November.

Key findings include:

  • 89 percent of voters say it is very important for prosecutors to actively work towards ending mass incarceration with alternatives to prison
  • 88 percent of voters are more likely to support a prosecutor who believes in reducing racial bias in the criminal justice system
  • 91 percent believe it is important for a prosecutor to prioritize reducing unequal treatment of individuals because of race, including 90 percent of white voters, 90 percent of Latino voters, and 95 percent of Black voters.
  • 79 percent of voters say they are much more likely to support a candidate for prosecutor who believes it is their responsibility to hold officers that break the law accountable and will work to increase overall transparency in the criminal justice system.

“Prosecutors are the most powerful, unaccountable, and least transparent actors in the criminal justice system. They hold the keys to ending mass incarceration. They just have to use them,” said Taylor Pendergrass, senior campaign strategist for the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice. “American voters care deeply about the health of their local communities. It should not be surprising that they overwhelmingly prefer prosecutors who will end mass incarceration, reduce racial bias in our criminal justice system, and operate transparently. The bigger surprise is that “tough on crime,” pro-incarceration prosecutors have survived unchallenged for so long. That is quickly changing with efforts to educate more voters about their local prosecutor, and we expect the voter preferences reflected in this poll to show up on election day.”

A copy of the topline memo can be found here:

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice — an unprecedented effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system — has launched a new multi-year initiative to make sure that prosecutors are held accountable for fueling mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system, through legislative advocacy, voter education, and litigation. Nearly two months ago, the ACLU, ACLU of Louisiana, and Civil Rights Corps filed a lawsuit in federal court against Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and 10 assistant district attorneys for the unconstitutional deception and jailing of crime victims and witnesses.

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