Voters nationwide and in Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania indicate overwhelming support for reforms that address mass incarceration


WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an extremely fractured and politically polarizing time, newly released polling shows that support for criminal justice reform – and specifically for reducing the number of people in jail and prison – remains high across parties, with majorities of Republicans and Independents saying that it is important, and with particularly high support from Democrats and Black voters. The national poll, conducted by BSG on behalf of, sampled likely and unlikely voters nationwide and oversampled Black voters. It was complemented by three state polls in key swing states with large populations of Black voters in Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and was fielded between February 13-20, 2024.

Despite much hand-wringing about how both the realities and the politics of crime defined elections over the past two years, high support for criminal justice reform has remained largely unchanged since conducted a similar poll in 2022. Voters in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan support reform just as much or more as the national average.

While public opinion research consistently shows Black voters take safety and crime in their communities more seriously than the average voter, any assumption that they have abandoned their commitment to reducing incarceration is not borne out by the data. Black voters remain both motivated by and committed to criminal justice reform, and specifically to reducing the number of people in jail and prison.

The detailed poll memo and national & state toplines can be viewed here and here.

Key findings from the poll include:

  • Overwhelming support for criminal justice reforms remains high across all political parties, with majorities of Republicans and Independents supporting reform, and with support especially high with Democrats and Black voters
  • Voters strongly supported specific policies that would reduce jail and prison populations including sentencing reforms, parole reforms, pretrial reforms and, especially, the First Step Act remains astoundingly popular
  • Nationally, 67% of likely Black voters say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported criminal justice reform, compared to only 8% who would be less likely
  • Voters (particularly Black voters) say mass incarceration causes many of the issues that lead to unsafe communities such as homelessness, poverty, and drug and mental health challenges; and voters across political parties believe that most elected officials talking about crime rates are playing politics with the issue of public safety

“Black voters from across the country recognize the shortcomings of our current criminal justice system – failing to rehabilitate people, not reducing crime, and ignoring pressing social problems that continue to go unrecognized,” said Rena Karefa-Johnson, Vice President, National Initiatives at “There’s clear opportunity for candidates to embrace meaningful reform, but it is essential to put actions over rhetoric as voters have continued to say they will support elected leaders that put community safety, reuniting families, and justice at the forefront of policy-making.”

“The vast majority of voters – around 78% – support criminal justice reform, and they want elected leaders to reduce incarceration and follow evidence-based solutions that actually make communities safer,” said Shannon-Janean Currie, Vice President at BSG. “Voters recognize that these solutions – like funding mental health and substance use treatment, access to education, re-entry programs, and access to safe and affordable housing, rather than relying on the failed mass incarceration policies of the past – are the interventions that truly strengthens communities.

“Mass incarceration continues to be one of the single largest threats to civil rights in this country so it should be no surprise that Black voters remain deeply committed to and motivated by criminal justice reform,” said Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League. “We cannot afford to return to the failed “tough on crime” narratives and policies that ballooned our jail and prison populations, disproportionately harming Black communities. Candidates who claim to support racial justice must also stand firmly behind commitments to advance criminal justice reform and end mass incarceration.”

“We deserve Justice; We deserve Safety; We deserve Democracy. We should not be forced to decide between the three,” said Michael Blake, Founder & CEO, KAIROS: Democracy Project & Atlas Strategy Group, Former Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee and New York Assembly Member. “The powerful poll results from prove that Democrats can run on the policy of embracing criminal justice reforms because it will not run away voters. We can decrease mass incarceration while we increase public safety. We can strengthen the economy while not being weak on our values. We can do policy and politics together so that Communities of Color come together to vote for Democrats.”

“It’s time for politicians to wake up and realize people are done voting for “tough on crime” candidates whose “lock em up” ideas always backfire. The continued popularity of Trump’s First Step Act proves that smart reform is still a winner across party lines. Black voters want safer streets— and this poll shows they see a fairer, smaller and more focused justice system as the best way to go,” said Van Jones, Dream Machine Innovation Lab. 

“These poll results demonstrate what many of us who have been organizing Black, brown and working-class communities already knew: voters have never stopped demanding more freedom and more justice from our broken criminal legal system. The movement to end failed “tough on crime narratives” came out of the communities most ravaged by them. If Democrats want to win, they need to stand firmly behind criminal justice reform,” said Maurice Mitchell, National Director of the Working Families Party. 

“These poll results reflect what I have consistently heard as someone who has spent over 25 years speaking to, organizing and uplifting the voices of Black voters, and especially Black voters in the South: we want real criminal justice reform that brings people home and transforms our unjust criminal system,” said LaTosha Brown, Co-Founder of Black Voters Matter Fund and Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute and Founder of Southern Black Girls & Women’s Consortium. “For far too long, Black communities have borne the brunt of the ways in which harsh sentences and mass incarceration harm and destabilize communities and families, without making us any safer. Black voters have a clear understanding that we deserve more freedom and justice from our elected officials, and that those efforts are critical to the work of building and investing in safe, thriving communities.”

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