Americans Favor ‘Rehabilitation’ Over Jail Time, Survey Finds

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Photo by Kate Ter Haar via Flickr

A significant majority of Americans believe putting people behind bars for non-violent offenses is a wrong—and almost three-quarters favor  “rehabilitation” over jail when such offenses are committed by those who suffer from mental illness, according to a Zogby Analytics/RTI International poll released today.

The  results, from an online survey completed by 3,007 persons across the country between December 9-13, are a sharp counterpoint to the “law-and-order” rhetoric  that many observers considered one of the key appeals of President Donald Trump’s campaign for the White House last fall.

According to the poll, commissioned by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 62 percent of those surveyed agreed that “rehabilitating or treating the person” was a more appropriate response to non-violent offenders than incarceration.  Some 74 percent opposed imprisonment for offenders who were mentally ill.

The survey specifically asked respondents only about their attitudes towards crimes that did not involve violence, a sexual offense, or significant property loss. So the results may not necessarily reflect similar attitudes towards violent offenders—a category that the Trump administration claims represents a rising danger to the country.

All the same, the survey  revealed a telling ambiguity among Americans towards punishment after several decades of tough-on-crime policies that have shunted over 2.3 million Americans into prison today—many of them people of color.

Almost 20 times that number of jail admissions are recorded annually—nearly 12 million—many of which represent detentions of individuals who have not been convicted and are awaiting trial.

Just 18 percent of survey respondents considered punishment to be the central purpose of jail, while nearly twice that number  (33 percent) felt  jail time should incorporate the kind of treatment or rehabilitation that would prevent future crimes.

Supporters of bail reform are likely to be encouraged  by another survey result which showed two-thirds of the respondents believe that release of those awaiting trail should be determined by the danger they might pose to public safety, rather than by their ability to pay money bail.

Most tellingly,  when told that  three out of every four persons in jail today were detained for non-violent offenses like traffic, property and drug violations, only 13 percent of Americans said they  were aware of that fact.

3 thoughts on “Americans Favor ‘Rehabilitation’ Over Jail Time, Survey Finds

  1. My little brother is a bi polar paranoid skitz diagnosed when he was 9. about nine years ago he got a four year sentenced for arson. The voices in his head told him too.. well he has been in for almost 9 Years and has ten more to go. he had got caught up with two add charges one fr two years and the other for twelve. Due to them not knowing how to deal with mentally ill.. they evaluated him in meds and found him competent enough to stand trial.. Do now he is in GP with no meds and he is so lost doesn’t even know how to hold a normal question..its sad the whole system is humiliating to us as tax payers… They need more medical staff ….

  2. So sorry to hear that. It is perfect exampleof the failure of our justice system that thinks the mentally ill should be treated the same as all criminals even they don’t really understand what they are doing. Such a disservice. Someone with a mental [illness] is no more responsible for that illness than someone with any disease. Yet how can they be helped when facilities are closed/ They end up in solitary in prison further damaged and in horrible conditions. It must have been hard on you as well. I am truly sorry.

  3. Obviously the mentally ill should be sent somewhere else than prison. Prisons today have the burden of handling something the employees are not prepared to handle which is unfair to all involved. I have a friend incarcerated in TX and he gets meds for high blood pressure. I don’t understand why your brother isn’t getting any meds when he has a diagnosed illness.
    I’m wondering if communal living in a special supervised facility for the mentally ill would be a solution in the ‘real world’. We have them for the educational mentally handicapped and they often have ‘jobs’. Seems like an easier solution than incarceration. I’m sorry for your brother’s situation and understand the family serves the sentence with their loved one.

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