A new criminal justice reform organization recently surveyed 800 people who have been the victims of violent or property crime in the last 10 years, asking them their opinions on issues surrounding incarceration and alternative sentencing. The answers received reveal quite a bit about the depth of support for justice reform.
The study, commissioned by The Alliance for Safety and Justice, asks victims of crime to share their experiences, as well as their views on public policy as it relates to the rehabilitation of criminals. Perhaps counter-intuitively, those directly impacted by the crimes of others overwhelmingly support policies that reduce prison sentences and place a greater emphasis on rehabilitation over punishment.
Respondents to the survey supported a more rehabilitative, less punitive system by a 2 to 1 margin. Sixty percent favored shorter prison sentences, and 75 percent preferred that people be held accountable by methods beyond incarceration. A significant majority of those polled also favored greater investment in crime prevention programming, drug treatment, and community supervision over expanding prisons.
Although many might think it surprising that victims of crime would take such a restorative view of corrections, the study actually mirrors other studies of the general public on such matters. A 2012 Pew Charitable Trust report found that 84 percent of its respondents—including a large majority of those self-identifying as both Democrat and Republican—favored redistributing funding from incarceration to alternative programs such as parole and probation. More recent studies have revealed a general disapproval of mandatory minimums as currently constructed.
“The new study suggests that crime victims’ interests don’t always align with those of the tough-on-crime lawmakers who invoke their names,” writes Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post. “The survey suggests this may be because many crime victims don’t see prison as an effective tool for reducing the crime rate and preventing others from being victimized.”
The growing public consensus for reform is a good reason for implementing sentencing policies that emphasize rehabilitation, but it is not the only one. Evidence is mounting that those who take part in programming that emphasizes restorative justice principles are less likely to return to prison, and are better equipped to become productive members of their communities. And for Christians, there is the call to remember those in prison, and the belief that those behind bars are uniquely created by God, deserving of our love and respect, and capable of rehabilitation.
Prison Fellowship supports efforts to make the criminal justice system both more just and more effective. By supporting sensible legislative measures to improve corrections, Prison Fellowship hopes to see meaningful reforms implemented and lives of both victims crime and those who have committed those crimes transformed.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is one such piece of legislation. The bill seeks to make sentences more proportional and would allow greater discretion to judges and attorneys in order to tailor more effective sentences to individuals. To learn more about the bill, and how you can support it, click here.