MARCH 11, 1996

RALEIGH - The public wants inmates working, longer prison sentences and community punishment programs, according to a recent public opinion survey.

The survey, produced by John Doble Research Associates of New York, was submitted at the request of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation which funds a project within the N.C. Department of Correction to promote effective community punishment programs.

"This survey is consistent with many of the changes Gov. Jim Hunt is pushing in regards to making the criminal justice system work better," Correction Secretary Franklin Freeman said. "The survey shows that the public overwhelming supports truth in sentencing which was brought about with the 1994 Structured Sentencing Act. The Department of Correction has established counseling and day reporting centers for non-violent offenders in 79 counties. Community corrections is far less expensive than prison and reserves valuable prison space for violent offenders."

The Doble group conducted a series of four focus groups in Durham, Greenville, Charlotte and Asheville in June 1995. The group represented a cross section of North Carolina's population. The report integrates survey results with comments from the focus groups.

The survey showed that the public believes the crime rate is increasing because of the erosion of family values and that rich people are better served by the criminal justice system than the poor. They want offenders to be punished as well as rehabilitated.

"Nearly two-thirds of North Carolinians think prisoners are idle all day, while in fact more than 18,000 are working, and working hard in jobs such as the Governor's Community Work Program used by state and local municipalities," Freeman said.

The report showed that North Carolinians are enthusiastic supporters of alternative punishments, especially boot camps, restitution and community service. Half-way houses and electronic house arrest are not as well regarded.

While participants in the Doble survey said they wanted most violent offenders to serve more time, they also wanted to know the details of a crime case before determining whether an offender should go to prison.

Members of the focus group said they felt prison is an easier life than what inmates would face on the outside. "The idea of prison used to conjure up guys swinging sledgehammers and cracking rocks," one Asheville man said. "Now they have three hot meals a day, televisions, conjugal visits."

"North Carolina inmates do not have conjugal visits and prison meals do not compare to Mom's cooking. These are a few of the myths that need to be dispelled," Freeman said. "While those surveyed give the N.C. correctional system low marks, the past few years have shown a massive construction program that doubled the state prison capacity in three years' time. As a result, inmates are serving longer sentences and they are working hard while incarcerated.

"This survey gives the Department of Correction a better idea of what the public wants as well as the need to provide more information on work programs, prison construction and sentencing changes. We appreciate the efforts of the Doble survey and will use their data to continue to improve the criminal justice system," Freeman said.

Reporters who would like a copy of the 58-page report may contact Virginia Price at