Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Poll: Most Americans See Prison System as a Failure, Would Support Alternatives to Incarceration

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Some interesting polling data out from Angus Reid (download the full poll at this PDF link):

  • 75% of Americans polled disagree with the statement that “the prison system in the U.S. does a good job at helping prisoners become law-abiding”
  • 72% support alternative penalties other than prison for non-violent offenders — interestingly, this figure is highest in the South (76%) and lowest in the West (65%)
  • 67% disagree with the statement that “the justice system in the U.S. treats every person fairly”
  • 42% disagree with the statement that “the criminal courts in the U.S. do a good job in determining whether or not an accused person is guilty”
  • 36% express “complete confidence” or “a lot of confidence” in their state and local police. For federal agencies, that figure is 35% for the FBI, 26% for the ATF and DEA
  • 22% express “complete confidence” in their local criminal courts; 25% in the Supreme Court
  • 41% say they fear being a victim of violent crime “not too much”; 11% say they fear it “to a great extent”

Readers who can identify any shortcomings in the polling method or pollster are invited to comment, but on the face of it, these numbers suggest a pretty widespread sentiment that the criminal justice system is a failure. Of course, the prison system could fail at “helping prisoners become law-abiding” while succeeding at other goals, like retribution. But the fact that so many poll respondents say they’d support alternatives to incarceration suggests that maybe retribution for its own sake is not their top priority, or maybe that they think we’re using prison on offenders for whom it’s an excessive sanction under a retributive theory.

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