A new statewide survey released by the Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ) challenges conventional wisdom on victims’ views on criminal justice policy.
Despite popular assumptions that victims support long prison sentences, the vast majority of crime survivors in Michigan believe the criminal justice system invests too little in rehabilitation and treatment and focuses too much on punishment.
According to the survey, crime victims want accountability, but they also believe, by a margin of 4 to 1, that prison makes people more likely to commit crimes in the future.
Victims prefer options beyond incarceration and would rather their taxpayer dollars be spent on education, job training, and workforce development. These views hold true across demographic groups, with wide support across race, age, gender, and political party affiliation.
In order to achieve true safety in our communities, our voices — the voices of crime survivors— must be heard,” said Aswad Thomas, MSW, Chapter Development and Membership Director, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. “What we’re hearing loud and clear from crime survivors is that we need to invest in new safety priorities that stop the cycle of crime, such as mental health treatment, drug treatment, and trauma recovery services.”
Among the key findings:
More than 6 out of 10 victims (64 percent) support shorter prison sentences and more spending on prevention and rehabilitation programs over sentences that keep people in prison for as long as possible
3 out of 4 victims (73 percent) believe rehabilitation, drug treatment, and mental health treatment more effectively prevent future crimes than punishment through incarceration
By a margin of 8 to 1, victims think Michigan should invest more in job training and workforce development than in prisons and jails
By a margin of 12 to 1, victims think Michigan should invest more in education and neighborhood health than in prisons and jails
7 out of 10 victims believe that prison worsens mental illness and makes people with mental health issues more of a safety risk, rather than rehabilitating them
8 out of 10 victims support reducing prison sentences for people in prison who participate in rehabilitation, mental health, substance abuse, or educational or vocational programs
8 out of 10 support prosecutors focusing on solving neighborhood problems and stopping repeat crimes through rehabilitation, even if it means fewer prison convictions
1 in 4 Michiganders has been victimized in the past 10 years, and nearly half (48 percent) of those report being the victim of a violent crime.
Past chair of the West Michigan Policy Forum, Doug DeVos, observed, “It is no surprise that victims of crime in Michigan are clear in their understanding of the need for criminal justice reform. Over-incarceration has been devastating for individuals, families and communities. Criminal justice reforms under consideration in our Capitol would enhance public safety and prioritize rehabilitation. More than 80% of Michigan inmates will be released and re-enter our local communities; instead of maximizing prison time and releasing parolees without options we have a moral responsibility to create real opportunity for them to return prepared to contribute to the well being of our community. Compassionate criminal justice reform will make our communities safer and better, which is the right thing to do for all of us.”
According to the survey, the majority of victims of violent crimes support proposals to reform the criminal justice system. In some cases, victims of violent crime are even more likely to prefer alternatives to prison.
The survey also shows that (1) too many victims suffer from trauma with no help from the criminal justice system; (2) victims prefer shorter sentences and more spending on prevention and treatment to long prison sentences; (3) victims support policies that restore judicial discretion, utilize risk and needs assessment in decision-making, and reduce sentence lengths for people who engage in rehabilitative programming.
These findings point to several recommendations that align with crime victims’ views on safety and justice policy:
Conduct regular victimization studies in Michigan
Increase investments in evidence-based services that protect victims and stop the cycle of crime, and expand Michigan’s trauma recovery center network.
Target victims’ services funding for the communities that have been most harmed by crime
Advance sentencing and corrections policies that more closely align with crime victims’ needs and that place more emphasis on investments in new safety priorities that improve community health.