Poll shows bipartisan support for criminal justice reform

Poll shows bipartisan support for criminal justice reform
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More than half of voters believe federal prisons house too many drug offenders, according to a national poll from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The poll found that 61 percent of voters think there are too many drug offenders behind bars and say more of that space should be used for people who have committed acts of violence or terrorism.

Out of 1,200 voters surveyed by phone last month, almost eight in 10 voters, 79 percent, say judges should be given the flexibility to determine sentences based on the facts of each case when considering drug offenses, while 77 percent say the same policy should be used for all cases. Only 18 percent find the proposal unacceptable for drug cases and 19 percent find it unacceptable for all cases.

Though the poll said Democrats and independents are most likely to prefer judicial discretion to mandatory minimums, 60 percent of Republicans and 66 percent of law enforcement households agree that changes to the current system are needed.

The Mellman Group and Public Opinion Strategies, which conducted Thursday's poll on behalf of Pew Charitable Trusts, found that 85 percent of voters support allowing offenders to earn up to an additional 30 percent off their sentences if they participate in programs to reduce their likelihood of commiting other crimes.

Voters also showed little support for 10-year mandatory minimums for low-level drug offenders, with only 20 percent of voters saying the person paid to carry drugs from one location to another should get a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

“Voters are ready and willing to reform the criminal justice system in ways that reduce the size and cost of the federal prison system, while improving outcomes,” a report accompanying the poll said.

The data comes as lawmakers on Capitol Hill negotiating over legislation to reform the criminal justice system.