Friday, May 04, 2018

Opioid epidemic may have soured rural American attitudes about prisons

A recent poll indicates that an increasing number of rural Americans think there are too many people in the nation's prisons. The poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and the Vera Institute of Justice, "provides the latest data in a growing body of evidence suggesting that Americans actually want fewer prisons—and now favor policies and politicians that put fewer people in them," Vann Newkirk reports for The Atlantic.

Overall, 40 percent of those polled said too many Americans are in jail. And among rural respondents, 61 percent said that constructing more prisons doesn't actually reduce crime, compared with a little over two-thirds of the general population. But most new jail construction is happening in small towns and rural areas. And an increasingly higher percentage of rural residents are being jailed. The Vera Institute's Jasmine Heiss wonders: "There's the obvious question about whether that trend and the shift are the result of a continuing adherence to a tough-on-crime narrative in small places.

The increased rural support for prison alternatives such as drug treatment programs may be because of the opioid epidemic, which has hit rural areas hard. "In a political landscape full of wedge issues designed to splinter voters into factions, perhaps incarceration could be emerging as the opposite: a coalition-building issue that can bridge the vexing urban-rural divide," Newkirk reports.

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