Most Americans Want Pandemic-Era Justice Reforms Made Permanent: Poll

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A majority of Americans want changes already made to practices and procedures in the justice system since the pandemic to continue after the threat of COVID-19 is over, according to a new survey.

“Voters strongly support making a variety of options that have emerged during the pandemic permanent,” concluded the survey released this month by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, a multi-state nonprofit that describes itself as opposing “over-incarceration.

“Support for releases and alternatives to incarceration included at least six in ten voters across party lines, gender, age, and in urban, suburban, and rural areas and small towns.”

The survey, entitled “Toward Shared Safety: The First-Ever National Survey of America’s Safety Gaps,” ” is a first-of-its-kind national study of Americans’ unmet safety needs and public safety policy preferences.

Researchers noted that despite “dramatic increases” in safety and justice spending over the last several decades, one in five Americans have been crime victims in the past 10 years, and less than one in three crime survivors report receiving help, according to a new survey.

While spending for justice issues has grown, “few of those expenditures are informed by the needs of Americans lacking safety or consistently aligned with Americans’ policy preferences,” said the survey.

When crime survivors did receive help, it was generally not from the criminal justice system. They were more likely to receive it from family and friends (43 percent), hospitals and health care providers (33 percent) and community-based organizations (22 percent) rather than police (18 percent) or prosecutors (16 percent).

The conclusions were based on a June 2020 survey of over 4,000 Americans chosen as a weighted representative sample.

The survey engaged particularly with people “vulnerable to the cycle of crime, including crime victims, people experiencing mental health or substance abuse challenges, and those living with past convictions, as well as voters of all backgrounds, regardless of experience.”

According to the researchers, untreated mental health and substance abuse issues, particularly combined with economic instability, are among common drivers of crime involvement and recidivism.

However, while nearly four in 10 Americans report experiencing a mental health issue, less than half of those with mental health needs received treatment, said the survey.

Americans with mental health issues who sought but did not receive treatment reported not being able to find, afford, or access treatment as the major reasons.

People struggling with addiction faced similar challenges. Fifteen percent of Americans report they have experienced substance abuse or addiction issues.

Yet less than half (43 percent) of people with substance abuse issues reported receiving treatment.

As the report details, there is “remarkable alignment between gaps in safety that vulnerable people face and the public safety policy preferences that most all Americans support – policy preferences that would address those very gaps.”

The majority of respondents said they have lost faith in the U.S. justice system.

Some 55 percent of registered voters, regardless of racial background or whether they lived in urban, suburban or rural areas, responded to the question “how well do you think the criminal justice system is working” with replies of “not very well or not well at all.”

Broad consensus appears to exist at the neighborhood level and across different demographics: public safety policies and investments should prioritize violence prevention, recovery, mental health, reentry and the most effective strategies to stop the cycle of crime, more than incarceration.

The full report can be read here.

Nancy Bilyeau is deputy editor of The Crime Report

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