Swing state voters support criminal justice reform, according to this new poll


Voters in half a dozen swing states support efforts to reform the criminal justice system with large majorities, according to a poll released today by the U.S. Justice Action Network, an advocacy group.

Most of the 3,100 likely voters who were surveyed last month—both Republicans and Democrats—agreed that change needed to happen.

In Florida, for example, 63% of respondents agreed the federal government should make it easier for released prisoners to find jobs. 69% said that federal prisons house too many nonviolent criminals. And 74% believed the government is spending too much money keeping nonviolent offenders behind bars.

Similar results were seen in North Carolina, Nevada, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin:

Big majorities of likely voters in all six states also said they supported two specific reforms—allowing judges more discretion in sentencing nonviolent criminals and making all sentencing changes retroactive.

“This polling proves that criminal justice reform isn’t just sound policy,” Holly Harris, the group’s executive director, told reporters. “It’s smart politics.”

In a highly polarized political climate, the poll suggests that criminal justice reform is one of a rare few areas of broad bipartisan agreement. Republican voters were only slightly less likely to support the reforms than Democratic ones, Harris said, but her organization did not immediately release detailed statistics showing this.

For politicians who take on mass incarceration, “there’s this initial concern that they’re going to be perceived as soft on crime, and that’s not what we found,” said Ed Goas of the Terrence Group, the polling firm that conducted the study. “The reason why you get this broad support is that this is talking about solutions.”

The new findings come as some advocates have worried that the Senate might not pass a highly-anticipated criminal justice reform bill this year. A group of conservative Republicans have come out in strong opposition to the bill, which would loosen mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. And the looming Senate battle over a potential Supreme Court confirmation would likely sap attention from any effort to forge a deal.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have incorporated criminal justice reforms into their platforms, and both talk regularly about rethinking sentencing and closing private prisons. The Republican presidential hopefuls, on the other hand, have been more reluctant to critique the system. Senator Ted Cruz, for example, has led the fight against the Senate reform bill, arguing it would lead to hardened criminals being released.

Maybe the Republican candidates should take a look at the polling data. This survey, at least, suggests that embracing reform is a winning issue.

Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.

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