Poll Finds Strong Public Support for Federal Sentencing Reform

Large majorities of Democrats and Republicans would abolish mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses.



A new poll finds that more than three-quarters of Americans favor abolishing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders, a big jump in support since the last time the question was asked. The survey, commissioned by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and conducted last week by Public Opinion Strategies, asked 800 registered voters, "Would you favor or oppose eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent offenders so that judges have the ability to make sentencing decisions on a case?by?case basis?" Seventy-seven percent of the respondents thought that was a good idea, compared to 59 percent in 2008. More generally, 79 percent agreed that "the federal government is spending too much money on locking up nonviolent offenders and should shift that funding to other pressing public safety priorities like local law enforcement, victims services, and stricter probation and parole."

The sentencing reform legislation that has the best shot of being enacted by the current Congress does not go nearly as far as the change described in the poll, so it seems plausible that an even larger majority of voters would approve of it. If hesitant Republican legislators need more reassurance, they should note that abolishing mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses is popular within their own party, with support from 71 percent of Republicans (compared to 86 percent of Democrats). Furthermore, supporters of sentencing reform are more inclined than opponents to vote based on that issue: 42 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a congressman who supported scaling back mandatory minimums, while only 13 percent said they would be less likely to vote for him.

"In 25 years, I have never seen such deep and wide support for eliminating mandatory minimum sentences," says FAMM President Julie Stewart. "What these results tell me is that Congress shouldn't tinker around the edges. The public wants bold reform and is committed to supporting members of Congress who embrace bold reform."