Polling Shows Republican Voters Support Criminal Justice Improvements
Mississippi’s incarceration rate leads the world, and a majority of Mississippi Republicans support reducing the state’s prison population, according to recent polling of likely Republican primary election voters.
Earlier this year, award-winning polling firm Cygnal conducted a poll for Empower Mississippi to gauge Republican opinion on criminal justice issues in the state.
The results show that while more than 90% of Republicans believe Mississippi has a crime problem, over half support reducing the state’s prison population in ways that keep the public safe. Less than 10% of those polled believe Mississippi isn’t locking up enough people.
These results are consistent with national polling recently conducted by Benenson Strategy Group and Public Opinion Strategies. According to a report by the American Conservative Union’s Nolan Center for Justice released in March, this polling suggests that Republican and conservative voters want both greater public safety and less incarceration. According to the report, around 60% of GOP and “very conservative” voters believe it is important to reduce the jail and prison population, and Republican voters strongly support policy proposals that would safely reduce the prison population. Moreover, the report points out that “voters from both parties no longer support incarceration as the only or most effective public safety strategy.”
Maintaining such a large prison population is incredibly expensive. Mississippi spends more than $400 million annually on the state’s prison system. When informed of this statistic, 52% of voters believed the state should work to reduce the current prison population, while 35% believed the state should invest in more new prisons.
Ultimately, we believe crime prevention is the best way to address overincarceration. To that end, our recent violent crime report suggested returning to “swift and sure” consequences and treating some underlying problems to deter crime. This requires increasing police presence, focusing prosecutors’ time on the most serious crimes, targeting underlying issues such as mental health and substance use disorder, and preparing incarcerated people for release so they are less likely to re-offend.
All of these are popular among GOP voters. While only 12% supported longer sentences as the best solution to addressing crime, nearly 3 times that many (34.2%) supported swifter action in catching and prosecuting offenders. More than 32% supported enhanced policing efforts, such as more police on the streets and better training for police, while 17% supported prioritizing violent offenders over non-violent or drug offenders.
Most Republican voters believe drugs and alcohol are the biggest drivers of crime in Mississippi. A recent report by the state’s Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force cited research that suggests “as many as 65% of people in prison have a diagnosable substance use disorder and another 20% were using drugs when they committed the offense that led to incarceration.” Addressing these issues at the community level is an effective way to prevent crime and reduce incarceration.
Research by the Congressional Research Service shows that 95% of those incarcerated will at some point re-enter society, so preparing incarcerated people to successfully re-enter society is critical to improving public safety and reducing incarceration. Polling suggests that GOP voters overwhelmingly support these efforts. More than 70% of respondents agreed that the state should spend money to reduce recidivism and help former prisoners re-integrate into society successfully.
Mississippi can be tough on crime and smart on crime in ways that both improve public safety and safely reduce the state’s world-leading incarceration rate. As this polling demonstrates, Mississippi Republican voters support this approach to improving the state’s criminal justice system.