New Poll Shows Strong Support for Criminal Justice Reforms

Majority of Vermonters back initiatives to reduce incarceration, increase investments in community-based alternatives


January 29, 2020

MONTPELIER, Vt.—A new statewide poll of Vermont voters shows “strong, consistent, and broad-based support” for criminal justice reform, with two in three voters supporting a reduction in the prison population through investments in community-based alternatives, and a majority saying they “strongly” support such reforms.

These findings come as legislators are working to advance a major criminal justice overhaul, part of an ongoing “Justice Reinvestment” process. The Senate Judiciary Committee introduced sweeping legislation last week to reform Vermont’s community supervision system, institute presumptive parole, and reduce sentence lengths for good behavior, which could significantly reduce the number of people in Vermont's prisons.

ACLU of Vermont Advocacy Director Falko Schilling: “Vermonters are saying loud and clear: we need smarter criminal justice policies that invest in people, not prisons. Thankfully, many state leaders are hearing them and responding. The ACLU supports those efforts, and we will continue working to ensure that our criminal justice system is humane, equitable, and rooted in community-based solutions.”

The poll showed support for a wide range of specific policy reforms, several of which are now under consideration in the legislature. They include:

  • 81 percent of voters said they support community-based alternatives to incarceration for offenses resulting from substance misuse, mental health conditions, and poverty, with 57 percent voicing “strong support.”
  • Two in three people support reforming Vermont’s community supervision system, including eliminating the practice of returning people to prison for “technical violations” like drinking or being late for curfew.  
  • 77 percent support better system-wide data collection, including from courts and elected prosecutors, with 55 percent showing “strong support.”
  • 70 percent support reforming Vermont's sentencing laws to reduce sentence lengths to be consistent with current research and best practices.

The results are consistent with a May 2018 poll showing two in three Vermont voters were more likely to support candidates who would reduce the number of people in Vermont’s prisons and increase alternatives to incarceration like drug treatment and restorative justice.

ACLU of Vermont Executive Director James Lyall: “This poll shows broad, deep, and consistent support for reforming Vermont’s criminal justice system. This is further indication that Vermonters, like millions of other Americans, have rejected the misguided, “tough on crime” era and are eager for a different approach. As state leaders consider legislation this year—and as political candidates develop their own criminal justice proposals—they should advance ambitious and far-reaching reforms, knowing that support among their constituents is strong.”

The poll of 500 Vermonters was conducted earlier this month by Lake Research Partners and has a margin of error of +/- 4.4%.

Lake Research Partners Partner Daniel Gotoff: “The data paints a very clear picture of Vermont voters’ desire to reduce the state’s incarcerated population by investing instead in community-based alternatives. This is especially true when it comes to people whose offenses result from substance misuse, mental health conditions, and poverty, and people with histories of complex trauma such as physical, sexual, or mental abuse. What’s even more striking is that even after voters hear strongly-worded attacks on proposed reforms (we pulled no punches in this survey), they remain overwhelmingly supportive.”

Read or download the poll results below.