Public opinion favors criminal justice and drug policy reform, making now the time to act

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Voters support a Presidential candidate who calls for more investments to fight addiction.

Introduction

Two emerging hot-button issues of the 2016 Presidential campaign are addressing the growing heroin and opioid epidemic and reforming our criminal justice system to make communities healthier, families stronger, and neighborhoods safer.

We have also seen these issues take center-stage in Congress, where criminal justice and drug policy reform remain two areas where bipartisan progress appear possible.

Given the trends in public opinion, this should come as no surprise.

Below, we discuss two signs that public opinion has moved strongly in favor of criminal justice and drug policy reform.

Then, we point the way to making needed changes recommended in LAC’s recently released Roadmap for Promoting Health and Justice.

Results from LAC’s Public Opinion Survey

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The public believes mass incarceration has gone too far, especially for non-violent drug offenses.

Results from a survey commissioned by Legal Action Center (LAC) show strong support among Americans for expanding addiction treatment and making it a policy priority of the next president.

Highlights of the survey include:

  • 57% support a presidential candidate who says additional investment is needed for more education, prevention and treatment of drug and alcohol addiction.
  • 63% believe “we put too many non-violent drug offenders in prison instead of treating their addiction.”
  • 78% believe “we need to treat drug and alcohol addiction more as a health problem and less as a criminal problem.
Graphs of support for sentence credits from Pew

Graphs from Pew Trusts research on attitudes toward criminal justice reform.

Other Surveys Echo LAC’s Findings

Findings in two other recent polls echo LAC’s findings, providing additional evidence that the public is ready for evidence-based criminal justice and drug policy reform.

The U.S. Justice Action Network’s recently released polling from key presidential battleground states shows that:

 

  • Over 60% of voters agree that federal prisons house too many people with non-violent convictions.
  • More than 70% of voters agree that the main goal of our criminal justice system should be rehabilitation.
  • In five out of six states, more than 60% of voters agree the federal government should remove criminal record barriers to work.
  • Nearly three quarters of voters favor sentencing reform.

In addition, a broad swath of voters support significant changes to federal criminal justice laws, especially as they apply to drug offenses, according to polling from The Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew’s findings include:

  • 61% of respondents believe federal prisons hold too many people for drug offenses.
  • Three quarters of respondents support federal sentencing reform.
  • 85% of respondents support significant sentence reductions for people who participate in recidivism-reduction programs.

The Way Forward

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LAC’s Roadmap for Promoting Health and Justice provides detailed recommendations for drug policy and criminal justice reform.

These findings– and daily news reports – make clear that an unusual consensus in public opinion favors serious reforms to America’s drug policies and criminal justice system.

As the only nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting for the civil rights of people with drug and alcohol histories, criminal records, and HIV/AIDS, LAC developed The Roadmap for Promoting Health and Justice: A Smarter, More Effective National Drug and Alcohol Policy to point the way for making these needed changes.

The Roadmap provides a comprehensive and detailed set of recommendations for improving our national drug and alcohol policies to improve health and public safety and save lives and resources.

A time to act

Our nation has an unprecedented opportunity to transform its approach to health and public safety, reducing mass incarceration and the associated fiscal and social costs that go along with it, while protecting public safety and helping people become healthier.

The time is now to act. Presidential candidates must offer their plans for addressing criminal justice and drug policy reform.

 

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