HARTFORD, CT—A new poll of likely Connecticut voters shows strong support for criminal justice reform across the ideological and political spectrum.
The poll released Tuesday found 58 percent of the voters agree it’s important to reduce the number of people in prison, and 72 percent agree that prison is not the only answer to crime.
The poll was conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut’s campaign for Smart Justice.
Voters were asked about their views on the size of Connecticut’s prison system, the purpose of the criminal justice system, treatment of people returning to society after incarceration, how to respond to drug addiction within the context of the criminal justice system, the existing Earned Risk Reduction Credit program, and what types of policy positions voters seek from their elected officials.
The poll found that 82 percent of Connecticut voters, including 92 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of unaffiliated voters, and 71 percent of Republicans, say that people who have been convicted of a crime can turn their lives around with help.
Additionally, the poll said that 86 percent of Connecticut voters support the existing Earned Risk Reduction Credit program, including 53 percent who strongly support it.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski has been critical of that program, which was adopted by the state in 2011.
The poll, conducted by Benenson Strategy Group between Sept. 5 and Sept. 10, included 507 telephone interviews with registered Connecticut voters across the state who indicated they were likely to vote in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Thirty-five percent of participants identified as conservative, 34 percent as liberal, and 29 percent as moderate. The poll had a 4.3 percent margin of error.
The poll also found that the majority of Connecticut voters recognize racial bias in the criminal justice system — only 38 percent agree that everyone, regardless of race or ethnic background, is treated fairly by the criminal justice system in Connecticut.
“The results are clear — Connecticut voters believe it is important to reduce the number of people imprisoned in our state,” Sandy Lomonico, criminal justice organizer of the ACLU of Connecticut, said. She also urged candidates running for office this November “to listen to Connecticut voters.”
The poll data comes a day after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy trumpeted statistics that show crime trending downward in Connecticut while criticizing candidates for office who he said are misleading the public by saying the state is not safer than it’s been in decades.
A 2018 mid-year update on crime trends shows that overall reported crime in 2017 was the lowest in 50 years.
“Smart Justice’s poll shows that Connecticut voters reject the failed, so-called ‘tough on crime’ policies of the 1990s and instead support reducing the prison population, investing in rehabilitation, and creating policies like anti-discrimination protections for formerly incarcerated people, David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said.
“The vast majority of Connecticut voters support smarter approaches like the Earned Risk Reduction Credit program and reject wasting valuable government resources on incarcerating too many people,” McGuire added.
The criminal justice landscape has been a place where Democrats and Republicans have been able to find common ground.
Laast year, the right-leaning Koch Brothers teamed up with Malloy and former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett to host a conference on criminal justice reforms, like those that have been implemented in Connecticut.
Asked if he believes the poll will be seen with a cynical eye by critics because its results support basically all the criminal reform initiatives backed by the ACLU, McGuire said the results are the results.
“These results show what Connecticut voters care about,” McGuire said. “It undermines the efforts of those who are arguing to wind back some of the reforms that have already been made.”
The poll’s respondents included more conservatives than liberals.
On Monday, Malloy touted the drop in crime over his eight years in office.
“We have to remember that this data represents real change in our communities — our policies are making our neighborhoods safer while at the same time providing young people who may otherwise get trapped into a cycle of crime the ability to lead successful lives,” Malloy said.
The governor went on: “When you hear crime is out of control on campaign trail — anyone who is saying that is intentionally misleading the public.”
“They are lying,” Malloy said. “Facts are facts. Statistics are statistics. The reality is that we are enjoying the safest period of our existence in 50 years.”