Friday, January 30, 2009

Poll Finds Strong Support Across Racial and Ideological Lines for Improving Rehabilitation Services for Prisoners and Ex-Offenders

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A recent poll has found that Americans across the country and in Georgia overwhelmingly support providing progressive rehabilitation and education services for inmates and ex-offenders recently released from prison, underscoring that the nation appears ready to shift criminal justice policies away from mass incarceration, which has not been making communities safer.

Seventy-two percent of respondents nationally and 86 percent of those in Georgia said they are concerned about crime in their community, according to the poll conducted in December 2008 by Zogby International for Community Voices at Morehouse School of Medicine. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of respondents said it is "very important" to improve access to job training, drug treatment, mental health care, mentoring and family assistance before and after inmates are released.

"The poll results strongly indicate that Americans have determined that mass incarceration of criminals, a policy that has been in existence since the 1960s, is not making their neighborhoods safer," said Dr. Henrie Treadwell, director of the Community Voices program. "The nation is crying out for a new policy that rehabilitates criminals and better prepares them to be productive when they are released."

Dr. Treadwell noted that largely because of tougher sentencing, particularly for drug convictions, the incarceration rate in the United States is the highest in the world at 715 inmates per 100,000 residents, far outdistancing the Russians, who are second at 584 per 100,000.

"Communities recognize that the mass incarceration policy needs to be replaced with a mass rehabilitation policy," Dr. Treadwell said. "Our neighborhoods need better health, education, job training and counseling services for inmates that are returning to their communities."

Among the poll results indicating that Americans want to move in that direction:

-- 70 percent of the national respondents and 69 percent of Georgians
said they would rather see additional state money spent on treatment
programs and other services for ex-offenders than on constructing new
-- 93 percent nationally and 91 percent in Georgia said that former
felons should be provided with job training.
-- Overwhelming percentages supported providing student loans (80 percent
nationally, 78 percent Georgia), public housing (79 percent
nationally, 73 percent Georgia) and medical services (88 percent
nationally, 84 percent Georgia).

The poll findings cut across ideological lines. Of the 1,039 people interviewed nationally, only 20 percent identified themselves as liberals, while the remainder were moderate (27 percent), conservative (33 percent), very conservative (8 percent) or non-ideological (12 percent). Strong agreement across racial-ethnic lines was found in a national sample that was 74 percent white, 13 percent African-American and 9 percent Hispanic.

"Clearly, Americans are looking for public policies that make communities safer and don't just lock people up to make them more hardened criminals when they are released," Dr. Treadwell said. "We have new leadership in Washington. Hopefully, ending mass incarceration and vastly improving rehabilitation services will be a critical part of the 'change' agenda."

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