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Majority of Americans want criminal justice reform, poll shows

27th November 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Della Hasselle
Contributing Writer

A new poll released by the American Civil Liberties Union on Nov. 16 has found that more than 90 percent of Americans think the country needs a massive overhaul in its criminal justice system.

Analyzed by the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, it specifically found that the large majority of residents think that there’s an inherent racial bias within the system that negatively effects African Americans.

It also found the support for criminal justice reform ran across the ideological and political spectrum.

Mia Jacobs, a spokeswoman for the ACLU, called the consensus “striking.”

“Only one in three Americans agree Black people are treated fairly by the criminal justice system,” Jacobs said. “And since the 41 percent of poll respondents identified as conservative, that means a significant portion of right-wing America believes our criminal justice system is racist.”

Adina Marx-Arpadi, a coordinator with the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, said research echoes the poll’s findings.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 66 percent of the incarcerated population in Louisiana is comprised of Black people, despite the fact that Black people only make up 32 percent of the state’s total population.

“The data backs up these attitudes and they are well founded,” Marx-Arpadi said, adding that the City of New Orleans has implemented a jail population reduction strategy that also addresses racial disparities within the local system.

She also pointed to reports by the Vera Institute of Justice that have addressed the issue.

The Vera Institute of Justice began working in New Orleans in 2006 after the local city council invited members to propose reforms to the criminal justice system as part of post-Katrina recovery efforts.

Since then, members have worked on reducing the use of jails.

In early 2016, the Vera Institute published a paper called “New Orleans: Who’s in Jail and Why?” It found that Black people were overrepresented in the local jail, similar to what the Prison Policy Initiative found at a state level.

The report found Black men were 50 percent more likely than white men to be arrested, while Black women were 55 percent more likely than white women to be arrested.

Differences also emerged when looking at how long people were held in jail after arrest, according to the report.

In the first quarter of 2016, Black men were 53 percent more likely than white men to stay in jail more than three days. Moreover, Black men represented 86 percent of people held in OPP for over a year.

The disparities didn’t appear to be the same for Black women, the report found.

Members of The Vera Institute are also currently working on a paper about how money bail in the city developed from slavery and subsequent epochs of racial oppression, according to Jon Wool, the director of the Institute’s New Orleans office.

The ACLU poll released in November, conducted by Benenson Strategy Group, included more than 1,000 telephone interviews with Americans conducted between October 5 and October 11. Of those polled, 41 percent of participants identified themselves as conservative, 31 percent as liberal and 23 percent as moderate, according to the ACLU.

Respondents were asked about their views on the size of the prison system, mandatory minimums and whether incarceration makes communities safer.

They were also asked how to respond to mental illness and drug addiction within the context of the criminal justice system, including in circumstances involving violence, and what types of policy positions voters seek from their elected officials.

Results show that 71 percent of Americans think it’s important to reduce the country’s prison population. Of them, 87 percent were Democrats, 67 percent Independents and 57 percent were Republicans.

The Republican camp included 52 percent of Trump voters.

Of those interviewed about jail size, 68 percent said they would be more likely to vote for an elected official if the candidate supported reducing prison population and using the savings to reinvest in drug treatment and mental health programs.

The poll also found that 72 percent of Americans would be more likely to vote for an elected official who supports eliminating mandatory minimum laws, and 84 percent of Americans believe that people with mental health disabilities belong in mental health programs instead of prison.

Additionally, 71 percent of Americans agreed that incarceration can be counterproductive to public safety, including 68 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Trump voters.

Another 61 percent of Americans believe that people who have committed crimes involving violence can turn their lives around.

“Americans reject President Trump’s 1990s – era tough-on-crime approach and overwhelmingly believe in a different and smarter approach,” said Udi Ofer, deputy national political director and Campaign for Smart Justice director at the ACLU.

“The data is clear — when it comes to criminal justice, Americans want reform and rehabilitation, and reject President Trump’s outdated political playbook,” she added. “Trump and Sessions are out of touch with what voters want, including in their own party.”

This article originally published in the November 27, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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