A survey from the LA Times and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences this week reveals Californians are more concerned about the troubled financial times than they are about releasing some offenders from prison. The survey showed most would rather see prison sentences be relaxed than spend any more money on incarceration.
According to the Times, the survey sampled 1,507 registered voters in the state and was conducted by two firms in the Washington, D.C., area, one a Democratic firm and the other Republican. The findings are a clear shift from the tough on crime attitudes of decades past when most supported harsh penalties and lengthy sentences even for nonviolent offenders.
California’s Three Strikes Law, which serves to incarcerate offenders who have two prior convictions with a potential life sentence, was passed in 1994 with 70% of voters approving, a sign of the times for sure. Now, however, the Three Strikes offenders are just some of those that Californians wouldn’t mind being released early.
The survey was taken six weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered more than 33,000 of California inmates be moved out of the overcrowded system. This paired with opposition to higher taxes when things like education and health care are being cut, all helped to swing the public’s opinion.
Of the findings:
- 70% said they would approve of the early release of some nonviolent, low-level offenders
- 80% approve of keeping low-level, nonviolent offenders at the county level rather than state prisons
- 60% (with the majority of both political parties) support reducing life sentences for third strike offenders who were convicted of nonviolent third offenses, like drug possession charges.
But there are still those that resist any early releases or seeming leniency towards those convicted of criminal offenses. 12% of respondents said they would accept cuts to healthcare or education in order to pay for more prisons.
This year California is set to spend $9.8 billion on the prison system; this is third in state expenditures, next to only healthcare and education.
Governor Jerry Brown plans on calling on the counties for assistance with complying with the court order. He plans on shifting some responsibility to the counties for low level offenders. He also plans on having parole violators handled at the county level as well. His plan has received overwhelming support among voters.
Although people seem to support early releases and lightened sanctions for those people already sentenced and serving time, little has been done to change the sentencing practices that sent them there in the first place. This means that the courts are still sending people to prison on a daily basis, often for nonviolent offenses.
If you are charged with a criminal offense in California, you want to know that you will get the best results possible on your day in court, not years after. Contact our offices today to discuss the specifics of your case and how we might be able to help.