Wide Majorities Continue to Reject Failed Approaches of Past; Believe Prevention, Not Incarceration, is Key to Addressing Rising Violence


August 6, 2021


Will Matthews, (909) 261-1398; [email protected]

OAKLAND, Calif. – An overwhelming number of likely California voters continue to support policies to reform the criminal justice system and prioritize crime prevention over incarceration, according to a new survey conducted by David Binder Research and made public this week.

While there is growing concern among voters about rising violence, the survey reveals voters are also clear that mental illness, homelessness and the rapid increase in the cost of living are the main drivers, and that punishment through long prison sentences are not an effective response.

“Voters continue to recognize that the failed ‘tough on crime’ approaches of the past were failures, they wasted billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars and they did not make us safer,” said Tinisch Hollins, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice. “Everyone deserves to feel safe in their neighborhoods and communities and this survey makes clear that voters understand the best way to achieve that is by investing in community-based programs proven to help prevent harm from occurring in the first place.”

According to the survey of 1,000 voters likely to vote in the November 2022 election, 65 percent of voters think that crime is getting worse, with many voters expressing most concern about violent crime. 

Strong majorities of voters – including two in three across both parties – think the three things most responsible for rising crime are untreated mental illness, the rise in the cost of living and increased poverty, and homelessness.

By a more than 2-to-1 margin, voters believe investing in rehabilitation, mental health treatment and drug treatment is a more effective way of preventing future crime than punishment through incarceration. And a majority of California voters prefer shortening prison sentences and spending more money on crime prevention and rehabilitation over sentences that keep people in prison for as long as possible, according to the survey.

Additionally, and in line with voter opinion on what contributes to crime and the best ways to address it, support is high for policies to expand treatment, rehabilitation, trauma recovery, and community-based violence prevention.

At least eight in 10 support expanding police community engagement strategies, expanding trauma recovery centers for victims of violent crime, increasing community-based violence prevention, and expanding community-based victim services. Over seven in 10 support creating a 9-1-1 for mental health crisis response, requiring treatment for those who commit crimes as a result of substance abuse or mental illness, and reducing sentences for those who participate in rehabilitation and treatment programs.

Each policy tested has majority support across party lines.