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Most Americans Support Rehabilitation Over Jail Time

Roughly 11 million people cycle through the 3,283 local jails across the United States every year. Most of those locked up in local jails have not actually been convicted of a crime, but are either awaiting trial or waiting to make bail; those who have been convicted are serving time for minor offenses. And while a tough-on-crime administration is trying to bring more punitive and longer sentences back into vogue, a new survey finds that most Americans believe non-violent offenders should be rehabilitated, rather than punished.

The survey, conducted by RTI International and Zogby Analytics, polled over 3,000 people in December, and found that 62 percent of Americans believe rehabilitation or treatment is more appropriate than jail time for non-violent offenders. Almost three-quarters of Americans supported rehabilitation over incarceration for offenders with a mental illness. Eighty-six percent were opposed to pre-trail detention for non-violent offenders whose crimes did not result in serious property damage.

These findings appear at odds with the country’s recent history of criminal justice: Nearly all of the growth in jail populations over the last 15 years is due to the detention of those awaiting trial.