Criminal Justice

ACLU Poll: Majority of Americans, Including Trump Voters, Say Prison Population Should Be Reduced

"Americans reject President Trump's 1990s-era tough-on-crime approach and overwhelmingly believe in a different and smarter approach"


A majority of Americans, including Trump voters, say there are problems with the criminal justice system and that the prison population should be reduced, according to a poll by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released Thursday.

In a telephone survey of 1,003 U.S. residents conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group for the ACLU, 55 percent of respondents said there are serious problems in the criminal justice system that should be fixed immediately. Another 36 percent agreed that there are some problems in the system that should be fixed eventually.

Seventy-one percent of respondents also said that it's important to reduce the U.S. prison population, including 57 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Trump voters polled.

In a statement, Udi Ofer, ACLU's deputy national political director, said the poll "demonstrates near-consensus support for criminal justice reform, including reducing the prison population, reinvesting in rehabilitation and treatment, and eliminating policies like mandatory minimums. Americans believe that resources should be shifted from incarceration to rehabilitation."

"Americans reject President Trump's 1990s-era tough-on-crime approach and overwhelmingly believe in a different and smarter approach," he said.

The U.S. currently incarcerates roughly 2.2 million people, but there's been growing momentum over the past few years to reduce prison and jail populations, as well as divert people from coming into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.

Several major cities have launched initiatives, backed by the MacArthur Foundation, to change their bail practices, and voters have elected reform-minded district attorneys in key races, most recently in Philadelphia.

Not everything is trending in the same direction. The number of incarcerated women has been rising precipitously. States are passing harsh new mandatory minimum and felony murder laws in response to the opioid crisis. And while many states—most notably red states like Texas—have slowed or reversed prison population growth in response to ballooning costs and high recidivism rates, similar efforts at the federal level are stalled.

Among the other findings of the survey: 72 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for someone who supports eliminating mandatory minimum laws, and 68 percent said they would vote for a candidate who supported reducing the prison and jail population and reinvesting the savings in drug and mental health treatment.