The results of a recently released Illinois Policy Institute poll shows that a majority of Illinoisans believe the state’s criminal justice system is unfair and needs to be overhauled.

The poll, conducted with 500 registered voters from all sides of the political spectrum, showed that 58 percent of them believe the state’s criminal justice system “has been ineffective at keeping communities safe,” and 56 percent believe the system isn’t fair.

“This report shows majorities of liberals, moderates and conservatives have voiced support for major reforms,” said one of the survey’s authors.

Some of the suggested state reforms in the Institute's report include reducing prison population, ending money bail and removing employment barriers for former offenders.

Other statistics in the statewide poll: 87 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Independents believe a candidate can still be tough on crime while supporting reforms; 53 percent said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports reforms lowering the number of nonviolent offenders in prison; 82 percent of respondents want drug users to be offered treatment instead of being sent to prison.

Greg Newburn, state policy director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said he doesn’t doubt the findings because the results are all too familiar.

“The results of this poll, which echo the results of many other polls around the country, show that voters, whether you’re conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, Independent…across the ideological spectrum, people are coming to the same conclusion: that we can just do better than the status quo,” he said.

Newburn said more and more people are waking up to the fact that criminal-justice reforms are needed to not only improve the system in Illinois and elsewhere, but to save tax money being wasted on a flawed system.

“Every year that goes by we have more data and more evidence about what works and what doesn’t work. And now what we’ve seen over the last 10 years or so (is) states across the country are experimenting in new ways,” he said. “People realize that there are better, more efficient waysto use tax dollars when it comes to public safety.”

Newburn said one of the quickest ways to reduce taxpayer costs and improve the system is to address laws dealing with low-level drug offenders, which he said were draconian.

“When you look around and you see that we’re locking up thousands of low-level drug offenders for years and years at a time, it’s natural to ask whether we’re getting the biggest bang for our buck there – public safety – or whether there are better, smarter ways to spend those dollars,” hesaid.

The Illinois News Network is an independent project of the Illinois Policy Institute.
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