A new poll from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation found widespread public support for rehabilitation efforts in local criminal justice systems, reports FiveThirtyEight.com. It’s the latest survey to show that Americans are generally in favor of reforms like reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders, a policy with bipartisan backing from many elected officials. In his State of the Union address last month, President Trump showed interest in rehabilitation, saying that “this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.” The Trump administration has reduced support for prisoner halfway houses by cutting contracts with several facilities that operate as re-entry centers for inmates nearing release to help them transition back into the community.
This move raised concerns that the result would be more time behind bars for some inmates. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called for federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest penalties possible for offenders, even for nonviolent drug offenses. “There are a lot of disconnects and head-scratching going on” said Adam Gelb of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Reducing resources while encouraging prosecutors to seek the harshest penalties in drug cases “is hard to square,” he said. In the new survey, 60 percent of respondents said they believed the most important consideration when sentencing someone for a nonviolent crime was rehabilitation or treatment; only 23 percent said punishment. A large majority — 84 percent — of respondents said local governments should devote resources to providing substance abuse treatment to drug users; 52 percent said more resources should be devoted to prosecuting and jailing users. Between 2007 and 2016, 33 states changed sentencing and corrections policies through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a public-private partnership with the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Pew Charitable Trusts and several other organizations.