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Survey Finds Overwhelming Bipartisan Majorities Support Bill Giving Judges Discretion to Moderate Prison Sentencing


Survey Finds Overwhelming Bipartisan Majorities Support Bill Giving Judges Discretion to Moderate Prison Sentencing

Favor Reducing Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenses, Allowing Early Release for Elderly, Terminally Ill

PR Newswire

WASHINGTON, Aug. 21, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- A new survey finds overwhelming bipartisan support for provisions in a bill, sponsored by U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), giving judges greater discretion to ease prison sentencing, Some provisions are also contained in the House-passed First Step Act. The survey, conducted by the Program for Public Consultation (PPC) at the University of Maryland, was released today by the nonpartisan organization Voice of the People.

Both pieces of legislation would roll back mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses set in the 1990s in response to a surge in crime, which has since abated.

Respondents were presented a background briefing and asked to evaluate arguments for and against reducing mandatory minimums for serious drug offenses and other reforms, before making recommendations.  

In conclusion, 83% favored lowering the mandatory minimum from 10 to five years in prison for one serious drug offense (Republicans 76%, Democrats 90%).  Three quarters (75%) favored reducing the mandatory minimum from 20 to 15 years for two such offenses (Republicans 66%, Democrats 84%).  Seventy percent favored reducing the mandatory minimum of life imprisonment for three such offenses (known as 'three strikes and you are out') to 25 years (Republicans 61%, Democrats 80%).

"A strikingly bipartisan consensus favors dialing down the mandatory sentences of the 'war on drugs' period," commented Steven Kull, director of PPC. "Americans seem to feel we have gone too far in locking people up."

Three quarters (74%) favor allowing judges to release inmates 60 years or older who have completed at least two thirds of their sentence (Republicans 67%, Democrats 83%).  Eighty two percent support allowing early release for terminally ill prisoners (Republicans 79%, Democrats 87%), and 81% for prisoners needing to be in an assisted living facility (Republicans 77%, Democrats 86%).

Large majorities (overall 78%, Republicans 68%, Democrats 87%) favor allowing judges to determine whether prisoners – convicted as juveniles who have served at least 20 years – still pose a threat to society, and, if not, to release them with 5 years of supervised release.

Support is overwhelming (84%, Republicans 79%, Democrats 89%) for allowing the Bureau of Prisons to have selected prisoners serve the last 10% of their sentence in a monitored home setting, provided they pose a low to moderate risk and participate in a recidivism reduction program. Sixty four percent (Republicans 52%, Democrats 75%) go further, favoring allowing this option for the final 20% of sentences for such inmates.

Starting in 1986, sentencing guidelines counted an amount of crack cocaine equivalent to 100 times that amount of powder cocaine.  In 2010, this was reduced to 18 times that of powder cocaine. Seventy-four percent (Republicans 64%, Democrats 84%) favored making this guideline retroactive to those sentenced before 2010.    

Persons transporting or storing illegal drugs or money related to drug deals are subject to mandatory minimums.  The proposal creating a new category called 'couriers,' who would still be subject to punishment but not mandatory minimums, was favored by 74% (Republicans 64%, Democrats 83%). 

The survey was conducted online from July 10-23, 2018, with a national probability-based sample of 2,417 registered voters, provided by Nielsen Scarborough their sample of respondents, who were recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households. The margin of error is +/- 2.0%.

The public can go through the same online survey (called a "Policymaking Simulation"):

Contact: Steven Kull, or 202-232-7500 


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SOURCE Voice of the People

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