Some 58% of Americans believe the U.S. criminal justice system is not tough enough in its handling of crime, marking a sharp reversal from a similar survey in 2020 when a record-low 41% said the same. Another 26% of U.S. adults say the system is about right, while 14% think it is too tough. The latest readings from Gallup’s Oct. 2-23 annual crime survey mark the sixth time the question has been asked since 1992. Three readings between 1992 and 2003 found solid majorities of Americans, ranging from 65% to 83%, saying the criminal justice system was not tough enough on crime. The next time the question was asked, in 2016, found that fewer than half of U.S. adults thought the system needed to be tougher and nearly as many said it was about right. These views remained generally steady in 2020.
Majorities of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have called for the criminal justice system to be tougher across all years, but the percentages of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents holding the same opinion have ranged from 25% to 62%. Democrats' view that the system is too tough has been between 6% and 35%. In the new survey, three-quarters of Republicans think the criminal justice system is not tough enough, 16% say it is about right, and 7% believe it is too tough. Democrats are more divided, with a 42% plurality saying it is not tough enough, 35% about right and 20% too tough. While a 63% majority of white adults say the criminal justice system is not tough enough, fewer people of color, 49%, agree. Another 29% of people of color think the system is about right and 20% say it is too tough, which is slightly higher than the 12% of White adults who say the same. When asked which should be the greater priority for the U.S. criminal justice system today, 55% favor strengthening law and order through more police and greater enforcement of the laws, while 42% prefer reducing bias against minorities by reforming court and police practices. When this question was last asked in 2016, just under half favored strengthening law and order. Most adults think the criminal justice system should focus on strengthening law enforcement rather than reducing bias against minorities, but they believe targeting social and economic problems is key to lowering the crime rate.