New Polling Demonstrates Broad, Bipartisan Support for Bold Reforms to US Drug and Criminal Justice Policies in Advance of 2020 Elections

Detailed Policy Recommendations from LAC Illustrate Path Forward for Policy Makers

December 16, 2019: New polling released today by Legal Action Center (LAC) makes clear that there is widespread, bipartisan support for sweeping reforms to our nation’s drug and criminal justice policies in advance of the 2020 elections. Notably, Americans express strong support for policies that would expand access to addiction treatment for all who need it, while also embracing approaches that treat addiction more as a health issue, rather than a criminal one. Americans also support helping formerly incarcerated people and others with criminal records be more successful in their reentry in order to become contributing members of their communities.

Key findings from the polling include:

  • Most Americans (71%) believe that treatment for addiction to opioids and other drugs should be readily available and affordable for all who need it, including 80% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans;
  • Most Americans (67%) believe we should treat addiction to opioids and other drugs more as a health problem rather than a criminal problem, including 78% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans;
  • There is strong support (61%) for expanding programs that send people arrested for drug use to treatment instead of prison;
  • Nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) support regularly screening individuals in the prison population for addiction to opioids and other drugs and providing appropriate addiction treatment for those who need it while they are incarcerated;
  • Nearly two-thirds of Americans (62%) believe that we should provide legal protections that help individuals leaving prison reenter society and find employment, housing and educational opportunities, including 71% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans; and
  • A majority of Americans (56%) also support sealing non-violent criminal records after people complete their sentences to facilitate their successful reenter into society.

“While Americans may be divided on a number of other issues, they are united when it comes to supporting policies that expand access to addiction treatment and reforming outdated and counterproductive criminal justice policies,” said LAC President and Director, Paul Samuels. “Policymakers, including those vying for the White House, should take note – Americans are looking for bold action that will make the country healthier, stronger and more equitable.”

LAC released a number of policy recommendations conjunction with the polling. Key elements include:

  • Ensure that treatment for addiction to opioids and other drugs is readily available and affordable for all who need it;
  • All public and private insurance programs should cover addiction treatment at levels that are equal to coverage for other health conditions (i.e. parity);
  • Invest in federal and state strategies that promote health-focused responses to addiction and expand harm reduction strategies rather than punitive ones;
  • Address SUD and mental health care needs in the community as part of a larger strategy to reverse system of mass incarceration and systemic racism;
  • Help people leaving prison and jail be more successful in their reentry by laminating barriers to employment, education, housing, and public benefits; and
  • The federal government and every state should automatically expunge criminal records after an appropriate period of time has passed so that those who have paid their debt to society have a fair chance to lead productive and law-abiding lives.

“Americans recognize this essential truth: addiction treatment is less expensive, more effective and simply makes more sense than the current law enforcement approach that has not worked and has devastated communities,” said Samuels. “Now is the time to take bold actions and make additional investments to ensure addiction treatment is readily available and affordable to all who need it.  And now is the time to help formerly incarcerated people become contributing members of our communities. America has always been the land of second chances, and people who committed a crime but paid their debt to society should be given another chance.  LAC looks forward to working with policymakers to implement the reforms Americans are looking for – reforms that will make a difference in the lives of millions.”

To access the more information on the polling as well as LAC’s 2020 policy recommendations, visit lac.org/2019polling/.

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Media Contact:
Abigail Woodworth
[email protected]
(212) 243-1313

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