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  • Inmates sit in a classroom at the Orange County jail in Santa Ana, California May 24, 2011.

    Inmates sit in a classroom at the Orange County jail in Santa Ana, California May 24, 2011. | Photo: Reuters

Published 13 September 2016

The findings rebuke the tough-on-crime rhetoric that has defined the political debate in the U.S. for a generation.

A first-of-its-kind survey in the U.S. finds that victims of crime “overwhelmingly favor” law-enforcement policies that prioritize rehabilitation over incarceration and want more public investment in education and treatment programs for substance abuse.

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The report, by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, found that two-thirds of victims surveyed prefer a criminal justice system that focuses more on rehabilitation to combat recidivism, rather than merely punishment.

Nearly three-quarters of victims polled said that they would like to see the justice system provide treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues, and, when feasible, and convicts sentenced to community service rather than incarceration. By a margin of 15 to 1, victims would prefer to see an increase in funding for schools and education over more investment for prisons and jails. By a margin of 10 to 1 victims also preferred investing in job creation rather than subsidizing new jail and prison construction.

The report also found that victims of crime are more likely to be from low-income backgrounds, relatively young, and people of color. People who survived violent crime are four times as likely to experience repeat victimization, often for many years and many do not receive help recovering from crime.

“These views are not always accurately reflected in the media or in state capitols,” the report stated. The U.S. has the world's highest rate of incarceration and nearly a quarter of the total world prison population. Critics have called U.S. prison policy a “prison industrial complex,” where private, for-profit prisons have a vested interest in a swollen prison population.

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Statistically, incarceration rates, particularly among young people of color from disadvantaged backgrounds, skyrocketed after Bill Clinton introduced mandatory minimum sentences for crimes such as drug possession and three strike rules for offenders. At the time, these reforms were also supported by Hillary Clinton.

“The current criminal justice system’s one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for low-income communities of color... Instead of jails and prisons, we need more emphasis on rehabilitation to help people turn their lives around,” said Doris, a respondent in the survey who forgave her son's murderer.

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