Criminal Justice Survey: rehab over jail

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A recent survey paid for by Mecklenburg County could show a shift in attitudes regarding how criminals are treated in the criminal justice system.

68-percent of those survey said they want tax dollars to fund more rehabilitation programs, like job training and education, over incarceration.

Another 85-percent said rehabilitation should be the main goal of sentencing.

Instead of being sent to jail, respondents said the homeless (81-percent) and the mentally ill (91-percent) should be diverted to some kind of care to address their issues.

To view the survey, click here.

Mecklenburg County Judge Theo Nixon said the survey results pleasantly surprised him. "So many people have really turned around on the issue of incarceration and rehabilitation, with more focus on trying to fix the problem," he said.

Nixon is a former defense attorney who now works closely with treatment courts in Mecklenburg County. They are often on the chopping block when it comes to state funding, but Nixon says Drug Treatment Court, DWI Court, and Mental Health Court really work.

He says they're cheaper than paying $110 a day to house someone in jail.

Not everyone supports the survey results. Neighborhood leader and Court Watch founder, Marcus Philemon calls the survey "smoke and mirrors."

He says it was flawed from the beginning because respondents were asked vague criminal justice questions. He also pointed to a sample size of 500 in a community of more than 900,000 people.

"The system already gives people second chances," said Philemon. He said if a respondent was told a burglar who broke into their home would only receive probation, the results may have been different.

"I think the survey results reflect what many scholars have been thinking and what social justice advocates have been thinking for a while," said Dr. Ebonie Cunningham Stringer with Wingate University referring to the cost of incarceration and high rate of recidivism.

She said the survey will only have true impact on policy and funding, if lawmakers listen.

Cunningham Stringer said society also seems to be turning from a "tough on crime era," which she said can be cyclical.

Copyright 2012 WBTV. All rights reserved.