Most Americans support psychiatric care instead of prison for criminally insane

August 04, 2016, 6:46 PM GMT+0

A large majority of Americans agree that people who are insane and commit violent crimes should get treatment instead of going to jail, but just under half think they should never be released

John Hinckley, Jr., the man who tried to assassinate president Ronald Reagan is set to be released after spending 35 years in psychiatric care. A federal judge has ruled that he is no longer a threat to society and that he is to be released to live full time with his mother in Virginia. His acquittal in 1982 prompted the federal government and most states to rewrite their insanity laws in order to make it harder for people to claim insanity as a defense against criminal prosecution.

YouGov's latest research shows that 65% of Americans agree that people who commit violent crimes, but who are judged to have been insane at the time of the crime, should be committed to a psychiatric institution rather than sent to prison (21%). Younger Americans, however, are notably more likely to believe that people who meet the requirements of criminal insanity should be imprisoned anyway. 33% of under-30s believe prison is appropriate, compared to only 5% of over-65s.

Nevertheless, younger people are also the most likely to say that it is right that people committed to psychiatric institutions for violent crimes should be released once they are deemed to no longer be a threat to society. This position is held by 37% of under-30s, compared to only 11% of over-65s.

Asked specifically about the release of John Hinckley, only 20% of Americans approve of his release into his mother's care. 59% disapprove of the decision, with Republicans (76%) being particularly opposed to his release.

Full poll results and margin of error available here.