Americans tend to say that too many people are imprisoned, and that prison's main purpose is to take violent criminals off the street instead of punishment or rehabilitation
The United States imprisons more of its people than any other country, with 2.4 million Americans behind bars at any given moment. Proportional to the population, there are four times as many people in prison today than there were in the 1980s, and most of these people are incarcerated for non-violent offenses. In California prisons have become so overcrowded that the federal government has threatened to appoint someone to release prisoners early, after the state has failed to deal with a problem that the Supreme Court ruled makes imprisonment there 'cruel and unusual punishment'. Some studies suggest that full prisons and harsh sentences may do the job, however, as crime is now the lowest it has been for decades.
The latest research from YouGov shows that despite the growing attention paid to prison conditions, only 17% of the country think that living conditions for convicted prisoners are 'too harsh'. 22% say that conditions are 'about right', while 43% think that conditions are actually 'too easy'. There is a dramatic partisan divide on this issue, as 65% of Republicans say that prison conditions are 'too easy' and only 7% say 'too harsh', while only 28% of Democrats say that conditions are 'too easy'. Another 28% of Democrats say that conditions are 'about right' and 26% say that conditions are 'too harsh'.
If the public were to get their way, however, the overcrowding problems could be resolved. 40% of the country says that too many people who have committed crimes are imprisoned in the US, while 13% says that the incarceration rate is about right. 26% think that too few people are imprisoned. Democrats (51%) and Independents (39%) are more likely than Republicans (24%) to say that the US imprisons 'too many' people who have committed crimes.
Over 60% of people in American prisons may have been convicted of non-violent crimes, but 46% of Americans say that they think the main purpose of prison is to take violent criminals off the streets. 19% say that the purpose is either punishment or rehabilitation and only 10% think that prison's main purpose is to act as a deterrent.
Full poll results can be found here.