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Public Support for Prison Reduction

Public Support for Prison Reduction


Synopsis: Oregonians are open to a number of prison reduction policies, but favor policies that protect the public and uphold offender accountability.


Community Need

Correctional spending is one of the largest and fastest growing parts of the Oregon budget. Correctional spending increased almost threefold over the last 15 years, from close to $400 million in 1993-1995 to $1.4 billion in 2009-2011. Moreover, the Department of Corrections (DOC)’s share of the state budget almost doubled since the mid-1980s. In the context of declining revenue forecasts and increased demand for public services, state agencies are under pressure to reduce costs and operate more efficiently.


Given these pressures to reduce corrections costs, researchers wanted to gain an understanding of whether Oregonians would support reducing the prison population.


Primary Research Question(S)

Should Oregon shrink the size of the prison population to reduce government spending?

Research Design

Results for this report are based on telephone interviews conducted June 15 – July 27, 2010, among a random sample of 1,569 adults 18 years of age or older living in the state of Oregon. The Portland State University Survey Research Laboratory conducted the interviews in English and Spanish. Racial and ethnic minorities were oversampled to obtain more reliable results from members of these sub-groups. Women were overrepresented due to their higher participation rates. The subsamples are weighted so that the results accurately reflect the proportion of women in the population of Oregon.


The authors did not cite any limitations to this study.


Research Findings

  • Nine out of ten Oregonians support at least one policy that could reduce the prison population.
  • Targeted policies that protect the public and maintain accountability are favored.
  • Across-the-board reductions to prison sentences to reduce government spending are opposed.
  • Victims of crime are no more, or less, likely to support reducing the use of prison to cut government spending.
  • Just 14 percent of Oregonians believe that “punishment—such as longer sentences and more prisons” should be the top priority for dealing with crime. Prevention was favored by 42 percent of those surveyed, law enforcement was endorsed by 23 percent, and the remaining 20 percent selected rehabilitation.

Main Implications

To lower correctional costs, Oregon will need to reduce the number of offenders sent to prison or reduce the length of time offenders are incarcerated. Researchers found that Oregonians are open to these options, but they favor targeted policies that protect the public and uphold offender accountability. Oregonians want safe communities and effective punishments. Where cost-effective alternatives to incarceration exist, these options are likely to receive broad public support. Citizens are receptive to the need for better returns on their public safety investments.


Sundt, J.L. (2011). Oregonians Report Broad Support for Policies that Could Reduce Prison Population. Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute