Most Texans Support Criminal Justice Reform, New Survey Reveals


Photo of a judge's gavel and the scales of justice
Survey responders were asked about several aspects of policing and punishment in the state – from how arrests are made to granting of bail and training of police officers. The survey is part of a five-year project from the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs and Executive Master of Public Administration Program at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University.

Photo of a demonstration in the streets
The Texas Trends Survey 2021 measured opinions during a year that criminal justice issues have sparked demonstrations across the country. To most questions, responders voiced general support for rethinking related laws and policies in the state.

When it comes to political issues in Texas these days, it seems a lot easier to find sharply divided opinions than general agreement. But a new statewide survey found clear majority support for one matter in the public eye – criminal justice reform.

The Texas Trends Survey project is a new five-year survey project from the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs and Executive Master of Public Administration Program at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University.

Two issues concerning police found support from more than three out of every four responders – prosecuting officers who use excessive force (79% supported) and requiring more extensive conflict de-escalation training (86% in favor). More racial bias training for officers was favored by 74%.

In addition, most responders believe crime would be reduced if laws prevented judges from granting bail to a suspect who: has a prior conviction for a violent crime (80%) or is already out on bail for another crime (75%). A proposed reform allowing first-time offenders accused of nonviolent crimes being released to await trial without paying bail was supported by 65% of those who answered the survey.

“When you examine these responses, you will hear Texans voicing the need to address these inequities. We are in the midst of a renewed awakening on issues such as excessive police force and racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and it is critical to hear the message clearly,” said Michael O. Adams, professor of political science and founding director of the Executive Public Administration Program at TSU.

When it came to police budgets, the survey revealed opposition to change. Cutting budgets was opposed by 75% of responders, while using some police monies to fund social services met with 52% disapproval.

“This study finds most people agreeing on the need to reform several key aspects of current criminal justice practices, including bail requirements, ‘stop and frisk’ policies, specialized training for police officers and perceptions concerning race. However, we found opposition to cutting police budgets or diverting police funds to pay for increased social services,” said Mark P. Jones, a research associate at the UH Hobby School and a political science professor at Rice University.

The survey also checked attitudes about legalizing the sale and recreational use of marijuana (67% supported), and of methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin and opioids (84% opposed).

“While there is general agreement on these issues across lines of demographics and partisanship, it is also instructive to consider the survey’s breakdown of which issues inspired more firmly held positions versus which prompted mostly ‘somewhat agree’ responses. Regardless, the survey does make clear the time has come to take a hard look at how policing is done in this state and the inequalities that exist in dealing with offenders,” Renée Cross, senior director of the UH Hobby School, said.

This year’s survey was fielded between Oct. 4 and 21 in English and Spanish, with 2,067 YouGov respondents 18 years of age and older. Read the Texas Trends Survey 2021 / Criminal Justice report to learn in detail where Texans stand on these important issues, including how opinions differ across gender, race/ethnicity, generation and partisan divides.

Also available are two previously released reports on other Texas Trends Survey 2021 topics – Abortion and Transgender Athletes Policies, as well as the state’s Election Reform and Redistricting. The upcoming fourth, and final, release of this year’s survey results will focus on Texans’ opinions surrounding electric vehicles.

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