There’s overwhelming bipartisan support among Illinois voters for criminal justice reforms being promoted by Illinois’ Republican governor, according to a new poll released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
Benjamin Ruddell, the ACLU of Illinois’ criminal justice policy attorney, said their poll of 800 voters from across the state, and from all political persuasions, produced several results, including that nearly three-quarters of those polled agreed the state’s criminal justice system is broken.
“And the numbers were not that different among Democrats, Republican and independents,” Ruddell said. “Seventy percent or more of those groups agree that the criminal justice system in the state of Illinois is broken.”
Ruddell said criminal justice reform is something that lawmakers from both sides can get behind.
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“All the fights about the budget and the other partisan wars that are going on, amidst all of that 69 percent of the voting public still feels like it's a top, high, urgent priority for us,
as in us I mean the legislature, to address the criminal justice system now,” Ruddell said.
Meanwhile Ruddell said politicians should take note: the vast majority of voters taking the poll support a smart on crime, rather than a tough on crime, approach to fixing the state’s criminal justice system.
“Despite incarcerating so many people,” Ruddell said, “the system doesn’t seem to be keeping communities that safe or achieving the goals of getting a good value for our public safety dollar.”
Among the many proposals, a majority of voters taking the poll agreed with was reducing penalties for nonviolent drug possession offenses.
“And that particular proposal received approval from 78 percent of voters that we polled,” Ruddell said.
“Even stronger support for diverting nonviolent offenders away from prison and into community service or treatment,’ Ruddell said, “eighty-eight percent of voters, which is an astounding number I think, support that proposition.”
As for politicians worried they may look soft on crime by supporting reforms, Ruddell says the poll indicates the opposite.
“Now is no time to compromise or propose half measures because we fear the tough on crime politics, gotcha-type politics of the past,” Ruddell said, “because the public is going to back you up on this so let’s get it done.”
Democratic Representative Elaine Nekrtiz said last week there have been several adult and juvenile criminal justice reform measures in the past year and that’s “the one place the legislature and the governor already agree and can make significant progress.”