A pair of recently released surveys reveal broad support for proposed criminal justice reforms in the state of Virginia.
On February 10, Prison Fellowship and the Charles Koch Institute released a report showing that justice reform is a top priority for more than one-third of Virginians, with 36 percent of respondents placing it in the top five most important issues to them.
“Across the nation, we have seen the states lead on issues of criminal justice reform,” Prison Fellowship’s senior vice president for advocacy and public policy, Craig DeRoche, says in a press release presenting the findings. “Virginia is now poised to join the ranks of other largely conservative states who have increased public safety, taken strides to save taxpayer money, and ultimately, have created a more restorative system of justice that upholds the dignity of all involved. These polling results tell us that the Commonwealth has an appetite for a system of criminal justice that truly restores.”
Seventy-five percent of the poll respondents agree that the current practice of warehousing those who commit crimes is costing taxpayers too much money. The same percentage believe that rehabilitation should be a priority for incarceration, with 72 percent saying that judges should have greater freedom to prescribe alternatives to prison at sentencing. And 65 percent of Virginians agree that stealing goods worth $200 from a retail store should only be a misdemeanor offense, rather than a felony.
Respondents also voice support for providing second chances for men and women after they leave prison. Eighty percent say that people with felony records should be able to obtain work certification licenses after their release.
Also on February 10, the RISE for Youth coalition announced the findings of a separate poll focusing on proposed juvenile justice reforms. The results reveal deep, bipartisan support for reforms that would shift focus from incarceration of youth to community-based alternatives focused on restorative justice principles of accountability, prevention, and rehabilitation.
The poll shows overwhelming support for keeping young people in contact with their families during their punishments, and for providing greater investment in alternatives to incarceration.
“Virginians clearly agree that our youth justice system is in need of an overhaul that results in more focus on rehabilitation than incarceration,” Legal Aid Justice Center attorney Kate Duvall says in the press release for the study. “The current proposal for reforms as part of the budget process include some important strides in the right direction, and these poll results show Virginians support even more sweeping changes to the system than those proposed. Large majorities of Virginians agree that any youth who are incarcerated should be held in small, regional facilities where their families can visit.”
Both of these surveys show that the citizens of Virginia want to see a justice system that is fiscally responsible, while placing an emphasis on rehabilitation and restoration. Prison Fellowship is active in promoting these kinds of solutions for the commonwealth. To learn more about how you can help to create a more restorative justice system in Virginia, visit our Virginia advocacy page.