Thursday, August 10, 2006

Public Attitudes about Corrections

One of the more interesting presentations at the recent NASC conference, to me, anyway, was by Roger Warren of the National Center for State Courts on two recent surveys done by the NCSC. I'll go into detail in a couple of later posts on their findings and implications for sentencing, but I'd like to give you correctional readers a quick summary of what they found regarding public attitudes and prisons.

Here are some of the findings:

58% of the public rated police performance “excellent/good” compared to 37% for judges, 32% for prosecutors, 25% for “prison authorities,” and 15% for “officials who write the laws.”

When asked which item their tax dollars should be spent on, 76% said funding for jobs & treatment and 19% for building prisons (and as large a percentage wanted to decrease prison spending as increase it).

Regarding rehabbing offenders, 79% said that “many can turn their lives around” and 16% said “little can be done.”

For priorities in dealing with crime, comparing 2006 to 2001, 37% in 2006 said prevention compared to 36% in 2001, 22% v. 17% for rehab, 19% v. 20% for punishment, and 20% v. 19% for enforcement; so the only real change was a currently greater priority on rehab.

56% said judges should have more leeway in sentencing while only 36% said mandatory sentences were a good idea.

Asked how often alternatives to prison should be used for non-violent offenders, 51% said often, 37% sometimes, and 10% hardly ever/never.

Among the “often” above, respondents favored compensation for victims 66%, treatment for mentally ill offenders 65%, mandatory education/job training 63%, treatment/counseling for offenders under 25 61%, and treatment/counseling for drug offenders 56%.

For sentencing reform, 81% wanted to “make sure the punishment fits the crime,” 72% “keep violent offenders in prison longer,” 69% “ensure fairness/equality for all groups,” 61% “put more non-violent offenders in treatment/job programs,” and 38% “reduce prison population.”

As you ponder these results, know that 60% of the respondents think crime has gone up in the last 5 years. As I visited Ben Franklin's grave in Philly, I could have sworn I heard a loud spinning.

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