A majority of likely voting Americans believe that reforming the criminal justice system and reducing prison populations is important for the country, an American Civil Liberties Union poll says. The poll, released Wednesday, found that both Republican and Democratic voters are less than convinced that locking up drug addicts and the mentally unstable helps combat crime.
Of the likely voters polled in early June, 69 percent said it is important to reduce prison populations -- with 81 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of independents and 54 percent of Republicans agreeing with the sentiment, an ACLU release said. The poll’s findings come as a mounting national discourse around prison reform takes shape and President Barack Obama is set to become the first sitting U.S. president to visit a federal prison on Thursday.
“These findings confirm what we’ve known for a long time -- that a majority of Americans, regardless of political party affiliation, are dissatisfied with our current criminal justice system, and are now ready for significant changes to reduce our over-bloated prison population,” said Alison Holcomb, director of the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, which aims to reform drug laws and the criminal justice system, in the release.
The poll also found that American voters believe 2-to-1 that reducing prison sentences would lead to safer communities, and that 87 percent of voters agree that drug addicts and mentally unstable people should be in treatment facilities instead of prisons.
On Tuesday, the president addressed the NAACP in Philadelphia and spoke to the necessity of prison reforms. In the speech, Obama called for reductions or eliminations in mandatory minimums, improved jobs training in prisons and for the prison system to reconsider solitary confinement policies.
“In far too many cases, the punishment simply does not fit the crime,” Obama said. “Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we need to do something about it.” The Obama administration also announced this week that the president would commute the sentences of dozens of nonviolent drug offenders from federal prisons.
Obama isn’t the only politician talking about prison reforms, though. Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul has long spoken about the need for reforms. In fact, the issue is a rare source of bipartisan support in Congress, and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has been pushing legislation to reform mandatory minimum laws in the country alongside Paul for years.
On Wednesday, former President Bill Clinton admitted that policies he signed in the 1990s had made the American prison system worse, and that his policies that led to mass incarceration were a mistake. Earlier this year, amid rioting in Baltimore, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke to the need for a reformed prison and criminal justice system.
Republican candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to deliver a major policy speech on the topic Thursday morning.