A recent Pew Trusts poll concluded that Americans support a less punitive justice system.
Did you know that on average 750,000 people are detained in jails every day? As a nation, we pride ourselves on our belief that people are "innocent until proven guilty," but does our jail system reflect that belief? Recently the Pew Charitable Trusts polled 1,215 individuals on the American jail system and determined that there is "strong support for alternatives to detention" when it comes to jails.
"According to Pew's recent polling, a wide majority of Americans agree that jail should be reserved for people who present a threat to public safety, and the rest should await their court date in their community," says Craig DeRoche, senior vice president of advocacy and public policy at Prison Fellowship®. "This reflects the deeply held American values that we should be reluctant to deprive a person of their liberty and that justice cannot depend on the weight of your pocketbook."
"We can't fix America's justice system unless we fix our first response to crime: arrest and the local jail," DeRoche says.
Many of those surveyed said they had personal experiences with the criminal justice system:
- 44 percent had been arrested
- 49 percent had a family member with a drug addiction
- 45 percent had been the victim of a crime
Some key findings of the report include:
- Americans believe one is innocent until proven guilty
- Americans believe that detention is conditional and should be determined by the level of violence and whether the accused is likely to commit further crimes before their trial.
- Americans support speedy trials and believe that the accused should not be held in detention for more than 30 days without a trial.
- Americans are more concerned about treatment and victim care than detention.
It is important to note that poll participants represent a bipartisan view of the criminal justice system. "We know that each person impacted by crime has dignity and value, and people who are arrested are presumed innocent," says Kate Trammell, Prison Fellowship's director of state policy. "Americans of all political stripes have joined together to say that people accused of crime deserve a speedy trial, a presumption of innocence, and the ability to wait for their court date at home if they aren't a threat to their community."
It's fundamental to our justice system that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Eighty-three percent of Americans agree that just because someone has been arrested doesn't mean they've done anything wrong, and that we should treat them more like innocent citizens than criminals while they await trial.
"The Pew poll shows that Americans still believe what our Founding Fathers believed," DeRoche concludes. "People have dignity and worth, should be presumed innocent, have speedy trials, not be held on bail unreasonably, and should not be incarcerated for nonviolent arrests."