Crime and Punishment Criminal Justice

New Poll Shows Most Americans Believe Goal of Criminal Justice System Should Be Rehabilitation, Not Punishment

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

Eighty-five percent of voters believe that rehabilitation, rather than punishment, should be the goal of the criminal justice system in America, according to a new poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of Justice Action Network.

Republicans (79%), Independents (83%), and Democrats (92%) agree
that the criminal justice system should focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. 

Three-fourths of Americans believe that the criminal justice system is in need of significant improvements, according to the polling results.

This belief in reform is not a partisan issue either. Approximately 68 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Independents, and 80 percent of Democrats say the criminal justice system needs to be improved. Approximately 80 percent of women agreed.

The overwhelmingly pro-reform poll results come at a time when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rolling out outdated tough-on-crime policies, ordering federal prosecutors to seek the longest sentences possible for drug offenses, and vowing to crack down on states that have legalized marijuana.

“With these eye-popping numbers, I’m hopeful Washington may finally get on the same page as the American voters,” says Holly Harris, Executive Director of the Justice Action Network. “Our federal prison population has exploded over the past few decades — especially the population of incarcerated women.”

Harris pointed out that states, even those that are overwhelmingly Republican, are pushing through important criminal justice reforms with tangible results. “But for some reason, there has been a disconnect between Washington and what’s happening in federal lawmakers’ backyards,” Harris says.

Of those polled, 87 percent of Americans believe a portion of the money spent incarcerating people for nonviolent offenses should be diverted into community supervision (probation and electronic monitoring) and community service. Again, Republicans (80 percent), Independents (90 percent) and Democrats (90 percent) were in agreement on the issue. Eighty-seven percent of women polled in favor of spending money on alternatives to incarceration.

And 85 percent of those polled support getting rid of the current cash bail system in favor of pre-trial community supervision.

Ninety percent of respondents say the U.S. should get rid of barriers to success for people reentering their communities after incarceration “so that they can get jobs, support their families, and stop being so dependent on government services.”

And 79 percent say that after probation, youth under the age of 25 who are first-time, low-level offenders should have the ability to expunge their conviction.

Eighty-seven percent of voters believe that people accused of non-violent crimes should not face mandatory minimum sentences. Rather, judges should have more discretion in sentencing.

A full 90 percent of respondents say that prisons should provide basic hygiene products to incarcerated women for free. And 86 percent of voters agree that incarcerated pregnant women should not be shacked or handcuffed while they are in labor.

While there are things that Republicans and Democrats will disagree on, “when it comes down to the fundamentals of human worth, human dignity, human value and worth, this is not a partisan issue,” says Representative Doug Collins (R-GA). “For me, this is about stewardship. It’s about stewardship of financial resources but also of the infinite worth of people.”

Collins and Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) have co-sponsored the Prison Reform and Redemption Act, which would force the Attorney General to implement a post-sentencing risk and needs assessment. Additionally, the federal Bureau of Prisons would be required to develop programs to reduce recidivism among prisoners.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle “all agree that it’s time to do something about over-criminalization in America and fix our broken criminal justice system,” says Hakeem. “We have been heartened by the interest the White House has shown in trying to get something done on this issue. I look forward to continuing the work with Congressman Collins and all the advocates to get this legislation over the finish line.”


  • I’m always amazed how so many of these polls that make claims with such radical conclusions regarding the views of “…most Americans” have never contacted me for my opinion(s).

    In all my years of living on this earth, I have yet to be contacted by a polster regarding something as serious as this. I’ve been polled about cars, food, movies but never about anythings of substance such as the roll of the criminal justice system as it relates to punishment and rehabilitation.

    Dare I say biased, focused and controlled polling of individuals likely to affirm your hypothesis???

  • Most Americans never went toe to toe with a real bad guy, saw the work evil does daily or know what these cons are really like. Plenty on the left that support them do, they just don’t care as witnessed by the lack of stories here showing what they do to their victims, cops and others. No justice for them and Celeste and her cop haters still no positive cop stories as promised, what a shock.

  • Taylor seems to have an affinity for pollsters who browbeat the polled until they get the answer they want. Not to mention the use of language that is purposefully misleading, to call this kind of scam a poll is really quite a stretch.

  • These “pollsters” always pose their questions in a ivory tower way so that it appears that their hidden objective seems so attainable and easy to accomplish. Sure most would agree that it would be better for society if a returning felon was able to quickly assimilate back in to society. And sure it would be better for society if that felon did not commit learned their lesson and became a productive member of our community who no longer committed crimes.

    BUT experience has shown that most of these “alternative” approaches don’t work. I notice all these folks making all these grandiose statements are not backing up their ideas with facts. Nor is your article stuffed full of examples of all the wonderful experimental programs that are PROVEN winners.

    You know why? The vast majority of individuals who are doing time in state prisons are life-long criminals. Sure, there are some who could be “saved” by these programs, but the vast majority are long gone (example: check the stats and see what % of Calif prison inmates even take advantage of the opportunity to finish their high school schooling – they don’t care!) and the only reason they do not commit crimes again is because they DON’T WANT TO GO BACK. If they know they are just going to be recycled in to a halfway house and back on the street – like so many of the current parolees who are violated and quickly returned to the streets to continue their lives of crime – they have absolutely NO reason to change their behavior.

    But, alas, these thoughts are not in the heads of the innocent folks (soon to be innocent victims) who are answering pie-in-the-sky questions of ivory tower intellectuals who think you can change someone who has been a life-long criminal and has NO DESIRE to change by sending them to a few counseling sessions. Let me ask the same questions in a different way, and see what answers you get.

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