Pew report looks at public attitudes toward crime and punishment

The report shows that most voters want a practical and cost-effective approach towards punishment and rehabilitation


The Pew Center on the States released a report in September on public attitudes on crime and punishment in America, and it contains some interesting findings relevant to the corrections community. You can view the slideshow here.

Probably most striking is the relative even-handedness of public perceptions toward crime. Respondents did not simply want to lock up all criminals and throw away the key. Nor did they want to totally abolish prison sentences in favor of more rehabilitative treatments.

Respondents overwhelmingly wanted their tax dollars to be spent on a pragmatic crime and punishment model that reduced crime in their communities while maximizing tax dollars.

Key takeaways

Crime and punishment may dominate the news headlines but, according to this report, the topic does not consume most voters’ thoughts. Only 2 percent of voters rated crime or drugs and alcohol as the most important problem facing their state.

Most of the respondents feel safe in their communities, the report said, but 42% believe (mistakenly) that violent crime is up in the country.

Voters see practical solutions as the way forward for corrections. When asked how the parole and probation systems could be strengthened, 79% of voters rated requiring offenders to pay child support as a high priority; 72% rated requiring offenders to pay victim restitution a high priority; and 66% rated increasing probation and parole officers as a high priority.

The vast number of voters (95%) agreed that prison is not always required as a punishment model. 75% strongly agreed that an effective probation and parole system would use new technologies to monitor where offenders are and what they are doing, would require offenders to pass a drug test, and require they either keep a job or perform community service.

It bears repeating: the concern for a majority of voters is the reduction of cost while staying safe. 87% would support reducing prison time for low-risk, non-violent offenders and using the money saved to keep violent criminals locked up for their full sentences.

That same percentage of voters would like to reduce sentences for non-violent offenders in order to strengthen their state’s probation and parole system.

Even more statistics:

— 90% of voters agreed with the idea of reducing prison stays for inmates convicted of non-violent crimes who complete programs for literacy and substance abuse treatment.

— 90% agreed with releasing inmates who have committed a non-violent offense six months early if they behaved well in prison and, based on an evaluation, are considered a low-risk for committing another crime.

— The majority of respondents (31%) said the primary reason to send someone to prison is to protect society. 25% said prison was for rehabilitation; 20% said it was a form of punishment; 10% said it was to provide justice to victims; and 8% said prison was for deterrence.

 

 


 

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