New National Survey Reveals Major Gaps in U.S. Public Safety System

In Spite of $300 Billion Spent Annually on the Criminal Justice System, Crime Victims, Americans Living with Mental Health Issues and People with Past Convictions Say They Are Left without Help and Safety 

New Shared Safety Coalition Urges Congress to Respond to Voters’ Safety Priorities Focused on Data-backed Solutions of Prevention, Rehabilitation, Reentry, and Safely Reducing Incarceration 


Most crime victims and Americans with mental health issues  don’t receive support or treatment, according to a new nationwide survey released today, called “America’s Safety Gaps Survey.” Less than one-third of crime victims receive help following their victimization and less than half of Americans with a mental health or substance abuse issue receive treatment, a gap that undermines the ability to stop cycles of crime and the resulting harm.

“In the midst of a global pandemic that’s exposed the health risks in our criminal justice system and national calls for reform and racial equity, Congress and lawmakers at all levels of government have a responsibility to transform our country’s approach to public safety in a manner that improves health, safety and fairness for all,” said Robert Rooks, chief executive of Alliance for Safety and Justice. “When it comes to our safety priorities, Americans agree far more than we disagree. Lawmakers should listen to their constituents and prioritize funding for what’s proven to work.”

The report, based on a survey commissioned by the Alliance for Safety and Justice and released by the newly launched National Coalition for Shared Safety (NCSS), offers a sobering assessment of the U.S. government’s failure to help address the major issues that fuel cycles of crime and the lack of safety for people across the country. The report raises serious concerns about current public safety spending that has been dominated by $300 billion spent annually on the criminal justice system. The study also demonstrates wide agreement amongst voters across the political spectrum, and in cities, suburbs and rural areas, on where the nation’s public safety budget and policy focus should be shifted.

“For more than a decade, since my bipartisan Second Chance Act was signed into law, I’ve been focused on reducing recidivism and ensuring those re-entering our communities have a second chance at living up to their God-given potential while also supporting policies to keep our families and communities safe,” said Senator Rob Portman of Ohio. “America’s Safety Gaps Survey provides a clear view of where greater public safety investments and collaboration are needed in the United States. This report states that less than one in three victims of crime receive any kind of support in the aftermath.  Meanwhile, of the more than 70 million Americans with a criminal record, seven in 10 of those individuals report difficulty finding a job.  Whether it is ensuring that victims of crimes are helped to be made whole or making sure that the tens of millions of Second Chance individuals are able to create their own future, rather than be held back by their past, we should work together to craft and support bipartisan policy solutions.”

The nationwide survey demonstrates broad support for data-backed solutions such as trauma recovery, violence prevention and reentry programs, and an acknowledgment that an over-reliance on the criminal justice system, policing and incarceration have been ineffective public safety strategies.

The full report on America’s Safety Gaps Survey is available here.

“Elected officials should take a hard look at the findings in this survey and consider how we might build a public safety system that actually helps the people it’s intended to support,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13). “Voters and crime victims agree that lawmakers should fund public safety programs that are proven to work, such as violence intervention, mental health treatment, trauma recovery, and reentry. We owe it to the communities harmed and excluded from the current system to rethink our public safety spending with their needs prioritized.”

Experts in violence prevention, trauma recovery, mental health, and reentry joined a media call on Wednesday to discuss the survey, and their work together to demand concrete reforms to close the safety gap and urge federal, state and local lawmakers to support effective and popularly supported priorities shared by Americans across the country.

Key findings of the study, commissioned by the Alliance for Safety and Justice and conducted by David Binder Research and GS Strategy Group, include:

  • One in five people have been crime victims in the past 10 years. Seventy-three percent of violent crime victims have been repeatedly victimized. But less than one in three crime survivors report receiving help, such as financial assistance, mental health support or counseling, medical assistance, or other support that help with recovery and stability.
  • Among the minority of crime victims who do receive help, very few were helped by the criminal justice system —
    less than one in five reported receiving help from the police and a similar proportion received help from prosecutors. Most received help from loved ones, health care providers, and community-based organizations.
  • Of the respondents who indicated an issue with substance abuse, less than half (43 percent) received any treatment; a similar proportion of those indicating a mental health issue reported receiving any treatment.
  • Of respondents living with a past felony conviction, nearly seven in ten said they have had difficulty finding a job, six in ten said they had struggled to pay criminal justice debts, such as fines and fees and nearly six in ten said they had difficulty finding housing.
  • Over four out of five voters chose community-based violence prevention, mental health responses, and job training and placement for people released from prison as their priority public safety investments; less than 16 percent selected jails and prisons
  • Nearly eight in ten voters support expanding the 911 system so that calls for mental health and substance abuse issues are directed to trained mental health professionals instead of police.
  • Nearly three out of four voters support authorizing alternatives to incarceration such as community service or electronic monitoring for individuals arrested for low- level crimes.

The survey found voters roundly reject jails and prisons as a pathway to safety, with significant support for safely releasing people incarcerated to reduce the spread of COVID.

  • Two out of three voters support authorizing the release of some people from jails and prison who are already set to be released soon, or who are elderly or sick.
  • Across political party affiliation, more than 6 in 10 voters support such safe releases.

In support of the release of America’s Safety Gaps Survey, the following members of the National Coalition for Shared Safety released statements.

“The criminal justice system has turned its backs on crime survivors like me – plain and simple,” said Aswad Thomas, managing director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. “I was shot in an attempted robbery and almost lost my life. The criminal justice system did nothing for me and did nothing to stop the cycle of violence that led to my shooting. It’s time to support crime survivors, and stop treating us like an afterthought.”

“As we look to rebuild our economy and get people back to work post-pandemic, there is a growing consensus among business leaders that we must direct public funds towards building an effective, fair and equal criminal justice system that prioritizes equality, crime prevention and recovery,” said Celia Ouellette, the chief executive officer of the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, an international organization supporting companies engaged in justice reform. “These priorities, outlined in the Shared Safety framework, are overwhelmingly supported by the public. They should be reflected in our budgets too.”

“Over the last two decades, the field of violence prevention has demonstrated significant effectiveness in ensuring public safety for all,” said Fernando Rejón,
executive director of the Urban Peace Institute. “Nearly 80 percent of voters support the investment in street outreach workers to strengthen a community-based public safety infrastructure to address violence and achieve safety. The vision is clear, as part of a new shared safety agenda policies that support the implementation of non-traditional safety strategies are important to the nation’s future.”

“Addressing the root causes of violence can’t wait, which is why we need to reprioritize our investments now,” said Fatimah Loren Dreier, executive director of the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention. “For those of us who work in frontline violence intervention, we know that health-based approaches, like hospital-based violence intervention, save lives and interrupt cycles of violence. Unfortunately, these programs are woefully underfunded while criminal justice spending continues to increase. In fact, 2 out of every 3 voters support expanding these critical services.”

“The great news about this report is that Americans get it. They clearly understand that our current approach focused on punishment and incarceration isn’t working to keep people safe,” said Esta Soler, President and Founder of Futures Without Violence. “We were particularly heartened to see that an overwhelming majority (81 percent) of voters support using federal government funding to help more victims of violence get access to programs that help them recover, and similarly high numbers support expanding emotional support and recovery services for children who have been exposed to violence. These are things we know work to break the cycle of violence and trauma.”

“At Trauma Recovery Centers, we see how violent crime can turn victims’ lives upside down,” said Alicia Boccellari, chair of the National Association of Trauma Recovery Centers. “Right now, fewer than 1 in 3 victims receive the help they need to recover. Voters want safety policies that prioritize investment in all of our communities, and the ability for every survivor of violent crime to get the help they need to heal.”

“The need for proven violence intervention front line professionals to play a more expansive role in comprehensive public safety and community intervention has become evidently clear,” said Aquil Basheer, founder and executive director of Professional Community Interventionalists Training Institute. “Nearly 8 out of 10 voters fully support and validate the need for our expertise in their communities. Community-based violence intervention workers put the public back in public safety. Governmental budgets and policy roadmaps must be inclusive of this reality, structured to acknowledge this truth, and reflect authentic support of this fact.”

“Violence can be prevented and communities made safer and healthier through community-based approaches,” said Dr. Gary Slutkin, founder and chief executive officer of CURE Violence Global. “These survey results reveal that nearly eight in ten voters support increasing investment in these approaches. Cure Violence Global has spent the last 20 years helping communities to implement violence prevention programs – and proving that they can work, with reductions in violence of up to 70 percent. Many more communities need community-based solutions, and this is the moment to make it happen.”

“The results of this survey illustrate what we have heard from victims and survivors for years – when less than one in three receive help after their victimization, there are simply not enough resources to help them rebuild their lives,” said Renee Williams, executive director of National Center for Victims of Crime. “We are encouraged by the overwhelming response of voters to expand funding for services for this recovery, and will continue to advocate for government spending priorities to align with this feedback.”

“People living with past convictions shared in this national survey match what we hear – that there are major obstacles for them to get back to work, find housing, and access stability,” said Genevieve Martin, executive director of Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation. “To be frank this is the reason we (Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation) exists – A majority of U.S. voters support removing the government regulations that block people with old convictions from opportunity. It’s necessary public policies align with the consensus across the country which will in turn make us all safer.”

“Violence is a major public health issue and a leading cause of premature death,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of American Public Health Association. “A comprehensive approach that scales up prevention efforts is necessary in order to meet the truest needs of our communities. With nearly eight in ten voters that support increasing the use of community-based violence prevention workers to help prevent crime, all levels of government should acknowledge this ideology to help shape budgeting and policy decisions. Adding these efforts to other coordinated strategies will help to engender  healthy, safe and thriving communities.”

“Every year the thousands of people who come to CEO and other community-based organizations after incarceration are looking for opportunity in the face of the tremendous barriers,” said Sam Schaeffer, executive director and chief executive officer of Center for Employment Opportunities. “As this survey shows, a majority of US citizens believe there are too many unnecessary roadblocks hindering their success. We should be making it easier, not harder, for people to achieve mobility when they come home from prison.”

“Reentry support is a critical safety solution for this country, because of the safety gaps we have widened by continuing to grow a costly system of over-incarceration, said Susan Burton, founder and president of A New Way of Life. “As someone who decades ago needed substance abuse treatment, but instead received a prison sentence, I know this survey speaks to how our misplaced priorities affect people across the country. American voters’ support for reentry and other proven community-based efforts as key safety priorities is encouraging and should lead lawmakers to invest in these solutions.”

The full report on America’s Safety Gaps Survey is available here:


The National Coalition for Shared Safety represents leading organizations building out the safety solutions communities need to effectively prevent and stop cycles of crime.

The Coalition is made up of service providers that serve crime survivors, people with past convictions, and communities, as well as public health providers and business leaders all joining together to change our nation’s approach to public safety. Our organizations specialize in trauma recovery, health and mental health, violence prevention and reentry support. Coalition members include Alliance for Safety and Justice, American Public Health Association, A New Way of Life Reentry Project, Center for Employment Opportunities, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, CURE Violence Global, Doctors for America, Futures Without Violence, Health Alliance for Violence Intervention Programs, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and the National Association of Trauma.

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