"Perhaps to the surprise of some, the National Survey on Victims’ Views found that the overwhelming majority of crime victims believe that the criminal justice system relies too heavily on incarceration, and strongly prefer investments in treatment and prevention to more spending on prisons and jails," according to the report.
By two-to-one, victims said the criminal justice system should focus more on rehabilitating people who commit crimes, as opposed to punishing them. By similar margins, the victims preferred shorter prison sentences over keeping criminals incarcerated "as long as possible."
These findings mirror what other polls have shown on general public attitudes toward prison. A 2012 survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 84 percent of the public, including strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans, agreed that money should be shifted from locking up nonviolent inmates to alternative programs, like probation and parole.
But congressional efforts to implement policies like these have often been stymied by "tough-on-crime" senators, including Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who are skeptical of many reform efforts. They often cite the experiences of crime victims and their families in their arguments against reform.
For instance, in 2009 Feinstein and Republican Sen. Jon Kyl argued in an op-ed that "for too long, our court system has tilted in favor of accused criminals and has proven appallingly indifferent to the suffering of crime victims."
In 2014, Grassley argued on the Senate floor that "lower mandatory minimum sentences mean increased crime and increased victims. Why would we vote to increase crime and create more crime victims?"
But the new survey suggests that crime victims' interests don't always align with those of the tough-on-crime lawmakers who invoke their names. The survey suggests this may be because many crime victims don't see prison as an effective tool for reducing the crime rate and preventing others from being victimized.
For at least some crime survivors, these commutations represent an important step toward a more just, less violent society. The survey report quotes Judy Martin, an Ohio woman whose son was shot and killed in a parking lot.
"The way our criminal justice system is set up currently doesn’t allow for redemption," Martin says. "We must treat each other, even those among us who have made serious mistakes, with more humanity. It’s the only way forward."