Not the American public, according to a study conducted by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. The findings are summarized as follows:
- A majority of US adults believe that some crimes, for which offenders are currently incarcerated, do not demand time behind bars.
- Eight in ten (77%) adults believe the most appropriate sentence for nonviolent, nonserious offenders* is supervised probation, restitution, community service, and/or rehabilitative services; if an offender fails in these alternatives, then prison or jail may be appropriate.
- Over three-quarters (77%) believe alternatives to incarceration do not decrease public safety.
- More than half (55%) believe alternatives to prison or jail decrease costs to state and local governments.
- US adults more often think alternatives to incarceration are more effective than prison or jail time at reducing recidivism (45% vs. 38%).
- Respondents cited a variety of reasons they believe justify sending fewer people to prison or jail, including expense, overcrowding (danger to guards, danger to inmates), the ability of proven alternatives to reduce crime, and the fairness of the punishment relative to the crime.
While the questions emphasized "nonviolent" and "nonsexual" offenders, and are therefore not devoid of bias, they are more specific than questions targeting "offenders" in general, which used to be the modus operandi in public polls and the like. This is very good news, and it proves the point that punitivism has not been our lot simply because "that is what the public wants". We are smarter than that.
The full study can be found here.
For a review of other studies and trends, arriving at similar conclusion (with more rigorous metrics), see our previous post on the topic.