WASHINGTON, DC — New data released today by FWD.us in a brief titled “Black Voters Want More Safety and More Justice” shows that criminal justice reform continues to be a major priority for Black voters ahead of a midterm election in which their views on crime and incarceration have been widely distorted for political gain.
The brief includes results from a new nationally representative survey of likely voters in the 2022 midterm elections conducted by leading Democratic and Republican pollsters, Benenson Strategy Group and Public Opinion Strategies, and demonstrates the ways in which the views of Black voters have been misrepresented by opponents of criminal justice reform. Despite the disingenuous attempts of some candidates to scapegoat criminal justice reform and make crime a political wedge issue in the midterms, Black voters remain steadfast in their support for reforms to reduce incarceration and roundly reject a return to the failed policies of the “tough on crime” era.
“There is no criminal justice reform without Black people, both as a matter of politics and a matter of policy. Black people have long been at the center of many of the most significant political, grassroots, and intellectual advancements to end mass incarceration,” said Rena Karefa-Johnson, Director of National Programming at FWD.us. “While some politicians may be trying to score cheap political points by weaponizing legitimate concerns about gun violence to peddle ‘tough on crime’ tactics, Black voters have long understood that true public safety requires, rather than conflicts with, ending mass incarceration.”
Among the key findings in the brief:
3 in 4 Black voters (77%) believe the criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul or major reform;
8 in 10 Black voters believe it is important to reduce the number of people in jail and prison, and 81% of Black voters would either be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported reducing incarceration or say it wouldn’t affect their choice;
By a 4 to 1 margin, Black voters are more likely to believe we need more reforms to reduce incarceration (53%) than to believe we should undo policy changes that have reduced incarceration (13%);
Black voters support a wide range of policy reforms at the state and federal level to reduce incarceration, including allowing people in prison to earn additional time off their sentence for following prison rules and participating in rehabilitation programs (81%), ending the practice of keeping people in jail before their trial if they have been charged with a nonviolent crime (78%), and creating a process for judges or prosecutors to review and possibly resentence on a case-by-case basis after a person has served at least 15 years in prison (77%);
Black voters believe inflation (21%) and the economy (17%) are the most important issues in the midterm elections, and rank other issues that affect their safety – such as gun violence (10%), racism and discrimination (8%), and political extremism (5%) – as priorities over crime (4%).
FWD.us has worked in partnership with lawmakers in Mississippi, New York, and Oklahoma to advance long overdue reform to the criminal justice system. Few understand the need for safe and significant reduction to incarceration better than the local Black leaders working on criminal justice reform.
“The racial disparities at every level of the criminal justice system have caused generations of harm and stolen countless opportunities from Black communities,” said State Senator Rev. Dr. George E. Young of Oklahoma. “Our communities will never be safe until we continue the critical work of advancing policy that reduces our jail and prison populations and expands freedom and opportunity for those directly impacted by the justice system. ”
“Contrary to the constant fear-mongering from some politicians and some members of the media, the most recent data shows there is no connection between a spike in crime and bail reform in New York State,” said Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, who represents New York State’s 55th District in Brooklyn. “We can have common sense criminal justice reform while also preserving civil liberties and public safety. The safest communities are the ones with the most resources, not the highest jail populations. Decades of disinvestment in Black and brown communities like mine has led to under-resourced and over-policed communities that continue to be preyed on by our criminal legal system. Some people would like to fill Rikers Island with people of color, carting us off to a jail system where 17 people have died this year, eclipsing the total from all of 2021. We need to build stronger communities, instead of putting people in cages.”
These views stem from the fact that Black communities are simultaneously the most harmed by crime and incarceration. Research shows that Black people are disproportionately victims of violent crime, including during the recent rise in gun homicides. According to one estimate, more than two-thirds (68%) of Black people or someone they care for has experienced gun violence. At the same time, Black people are incarcerated in state prisons at five times the rate of white people and 50% more likely to have an immediate family member who has spent time in jail or prison.
“Black voters have long understood that more arrests and more incarceration will not lead to more safety in our communities,” said Derrick Simmons, Mississippi State Senate Minority Leader. “It is the job of all elected officials who hold themselves out as accountable to Black voters to listen to Black people’s demands for real solutions to advance public safety that include ending mass incarceration.”
Data in the new brief comes from a nationally representative survey of N=1,405 likely voters including N=352 Black voters in the midterm elections. The survey was fielded October 6 – October 10, 2022, and the results were weighted to reflect the American electorate. The margin of error is ± 5.18% at the 95% confidence level.