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Published as Michael M. O'Hear & Darren Wheelock, Public Attitudes Toward Punishment, Rehabilitation, and Reform: Lessons from the Marquette Law School Poll, 29 Fed. Sent'g Rep. 47 (2016). © 2016 by the Regents of the University of California on behalf of the Vera Institute of Justice. Copying and permissions notice: Authorization to copy this content beyond fair use (as specified in Sections 107 and 108 of the U. S. Copyright Law) for internal or personal use, or the internal or personal use of specific clients, is granted by the Regents of the University of California on behalf of the Vera Institute of Justice for libraries and other users, provided that they are registered with and pay the specified fee via Rightslink® on Caliber ( or directly with the Copyright Clearance Center,

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29 Federal Sentencing Reporter 47 (2016)


Since the late 1990s, many opinion surveys have suggested that the American public may be growing somewhat less punitive and more open to reforms that emphasize rehabilitation over incarceration. In order to assess current attitudes toward punishment, rehabilitation, and the criminal justice system, we collected survey data of 804 registered voters in Wisconsin. Among other notable results, we found strong support for rehabilitation and for the early release of prisoners who no longer pose a threat to public safety. However, we also found significant divisions in public opinion. For instance, while black and white respondents largely shared the same priorities for the criminal justice system, black respondents tended to see the system as less successful in achieving those priorities. Additionally, we found significant differences in the views of Democrats and Republicans, with Republicans more likely to favor punishment as a top priority and Democrats more likely to support rehabilitation. Finally, we found that survey respondents that hold negative views of African Americans are significantly less likely to support rehabilitation, even after statistically controlling for the other variables in the model.

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