Criminal Justice

Poll Shows Wide Support For Criminal Justice Reform Bill In Congress

Prosecutor groups and criminal justice reform advocates are putting out dueling polls on a major bill in Congress.


Adolphe Pierre-Louis/ZUMA Press/Newscom

A new survey shows wide support among registered voters for provisions in a major criminal justice bill in Congress, in sharp contrast to a survey promoted by a group of federal prosecutors released last week showing opposition to the bill.

According to a national survey of 1,234 registered voters conducted online between Oct. 11-12, 82 percent of respondents approved of the specific provisions in the FIRST STEP Act, a prison reform bill that passed the House by a wide bipartisan margin this May.

Additionally, 82 percent supported allowing non-violent offenders to finish their sentences in home confinement in order to ease their integration back into society, and 76 percent of respondents agreed with the FIRST STEP Act's "good behavior" provision that would expand the number of days non-violent offenders can have removed from their sentence.

The survey was conducted by In Pursuit Of, LLC, a communications firm connected with the Koch network of conservative advocacy groups, for the organization Freedom Partners.

The FIRST STEP Act would, among other things, expand eligibility for reentry programs and halfway houses, increase "good time" credits, require inmates be housed within 500 miles of their homes, and ban the shackling of incarcerated women in federal prisons. The Senate version is also expected to include several measures reducing federal mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes.

The bill is now awaiting action in the Senate. Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told reporters last week that he would bring the bill to the Senate floor if it had at least 60 votes.

But despite support from a large number of Republicans, conservative groups, and the White House, it faces stiff opposition from the Justice Department and staunch law-and-order conservatives such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who especially oppose reductions in mandatory minimums.

The Foundation for Safeguarding Justice, a group aligned with the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys (NAAUSA), which represents federal prosecutors, released its own poll last week showing what it says is widespread opposition to reducing federal penalties for drug traffickers.

The Washington Free Beacon reported last week:

The survey was administered by ORC International and commissioned by the Foundation for Safeguarding Justice, a group which represents the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, who are opposed to FIRST STEP. ORC asked respondents if they would "support or oppose a proposal to reduce penalties for traffickers in heroin, fentanyl, and similar drugs?" with 74 percent saying they would oppose the proposal. Majorities opposed the idea across all demographic groups, including both genders, three races, and all age groups […]

ORC further polled respondents on how they would feel if their congressional representative backed such a proposal. While 7 percent said it would make no difference, 66 percent said they would think less highly of their representative, and only 19 percent said they would think more highly. A majority also said that the federal government was not tough enough on handling drug trafficking, likely reflecting public awareness of the ongoing fentanyl crisis.

"Law enforcement organizations have soundly rejected these proposals, noting their endangerment to law-abiding Americans and the additional leverage they would provide to criminal gangs and drug cartels," the Foundation for Safeguarding Justice said in a press release accompanying the poll. "This new survey confirms that the American people share the same concerns."

But the results are the complete opposite of what polls by other conservative groups and criminal justice advocacy organizations have found. A previous July poll by Freedom Partners found 70 percent of likely voters wanted the Senate to pass the FIRST STEP Act.

"We're looking at what this group and what they're putting out and just shaking our heads," says Mark Holden, the chairman of Freedom Partners and general counsel of Koch Industries. "We're not sure how they're coming up with their numbers. The home confinement stuff they're polling on, our polling shows a completely different outcome. There's immense support for all the provisions in the bill, and anyone who says otherwise is obviously motivated by an agenda."

The NAAUSA has consistently opposed efforts to reduce federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws, expand judges' discretion, or in any way reduce the leverage federal prosecutors enjoy over defendants—a result of which is that 97 percent of federal prosecutions end in plea deals.

Of course, the language of the surveys might be the culprit here. The same respondent might, on different days and with no internal contradiction, say when asked that fentanyl dealers deserve harsher sentences and that nonviolent offenders should have better preparation and more opportunities to reintegrate back into society.

Other supporters of the FIRST STEP Act also say they've seen consistent public support for the measures in the bill.

"Virtually every poll we've seen shows support for prison reform and sentencing reform," says Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs at FreedomWorks, a grassroots conservative advocacy group. "After all, people are seeing the successes of state level efforts."

As an example, Pye cites Georgia, where Republican Gov. Nathan Deal began a series of criminal justice reforms in 2012.

"Today, the rates of violent crime and property crime are lower than before Deal began this effort," Pye continues. "In fact, Georgia's violent crime rate is lower than it has been since 1971."

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  1. Anyone watch the last NOVA? “The most expensive government housing in America are ERs and prisons.”

    Americans have to stop being judgmental assholes who prefer blaming people for their medical problems rather than doing anything about it. It would solve so much. All the judgmental assholes are already on drugs anyway.

    1. Don’t you have some Jews to hate?

      1. You can just say leftist.

        1. No, actually, you did that.

          1. Globalist works too. Or Soros. It’s not that you’re all antisemites, it’s just that you’re idiots.

            1. And you hate jews. I’d still rather be me.

            2. Tony when your beloved democrats are regulating the poor out of their homes I noticed your silent. Partisan shills like you are ruining the nation Tony. And FYI it was your girlfriend Hillary and friends who helped push mandatory minimums in the first place not random internet commenters.

    2. ER stays and medical care in general is overpriced because of the third party payer system. Can you think of anything else people buy where they don’t know the price before getting the service, and don’t care because someone else is paying for it?

      1. Business lunches?

        1. Yeah. Because everyone has a corporate credit card. Great comparison.

          1. That was funny, you dick.

        2. Lol.

          I used to love going to lunch or dinner with a vendor. Not only did I get a free $100 dinner, but I’d have my entire per diem available for the hotel bar.

          1. My colleagues and I get taken out occasionally by a vendor desperate to escape her usual Applebees lunches, so we let her treat us to the best restaurants in town. Never say being bribed with food and booze isn’t part of the market mechanism.

    3. You’ll get hate, but this is pretty correct.

  2. “ban the shackling of incarcerated women in federal prisons”

    How would this be constitutional under modern views of “equal protection”?

    Anyway, couldn’t a male prisoner simply identify as female to get the benefit of this provision?

    “Law enforcement organizations have soundly rejected these proposals”

    How cute, but they’re law *enforcement* organizations, not law *writing* organizations. As they themselves won’t hesitate to remind you when they enforce unpopular laws.

    1. I believe it was supposed to say ban the shackling of women while they give birth in prison

      1. Oh, I see. That makes more sense. But it should apply to transmen as well as women. /sarc

  3. We might get a chance at reform but we will only get one chance and we have to do it right. If reform means ending absurdly long sentences for non violent offenders, it will be a success. If we allow Progs to co-opt reform to mean a free get out of jail card for anyone in the name of ending racial disparity and sticking it to the man, it will result in the crime rate exploding and everything that is accomplished will erased by the resulting backlash and there probably won’t be another chance at reform in our lifetimes.

    1. Yeah, this thing tends to go on a pendulum.

      Reason would be an ideal forum to highlight the difference between violent recidivists and other prisoners.

      1. What about nonviolent recidivists? Nonviolent offenders, particularly those who commit property crimes, have higher recidivism rates than violent offenders. We should give some consideration to how to reduce recidivism rates rather than simply letting people out earlier, lest we succeed only in increasing the rate at which chronic offenders commit new offenses.

        1. What about them? Let them out, reform the prison system, and deal with them if they reoffend. If the property crimes are non-violent, we shouldn’t be limiting their ability to provide restitution while ALSO paying for their care, that’s just silly.

        2. I agree. WE have to give people a better chance to live a decent life and to avoid criminality. Some nonviolent offenders are more serious than violent one. If I am out stealing people’s identity and ruining their credit as I steal thousands of dollars, I am more of a threat to society than some guy who beats up someone in a bar fight even though he is a “violent offender” and I am not.

          Ultimately, repeat offenders shouldn’t be cut much slack violent or non violent. Second chances are necessary for justice. But third and fourth chances are contrary to justice.

    2. Oh be honest John, the thought of people getting out of prison and voting for Democrats makes you wish we could lock up even more.

      1. As long as you’re honest and admit you only care about them for their votes ans once you have power you’ll go back to ignoring them.

        1. If there’s anything I’m radical on it’s criminal justice reform. For moral reasons. I don’t know who you are but I am more libertarian on this issue than libertarians.

          1. So you decided to not be honest instead.

  4. Would any of this happened without Colin Kaepernck’s “disrespect?” Looks like a large majority want reform but, on the other hand, oppose the posturing associated with kneeling for the national anthem. Can’t libertarians come up with some gimmicky protest that galvanizes the nation into cutting back spending or getting out of the M.E.?

    1. Would any of this happened without Colin Kaepernck’s “disrespect?”

      It did. The reform movement started before any of that happened, and was actually stunted, not enhanced, by his public display of shame over getting benched.

      1. Some blame for a lack of progress rests with those who don’t play the game smartly.

        But most of the blame should go to those who actively support the status quo.

  5. The home confinement stuff they’re polling on, our polling shows a completely different outcome.

    Get the pollsters who did the last presidential election to do the tie breaker. Then we’ll know which way the people swing on this.

    1. Nate Silver on 4 … *swears* he has it right this time

      1. The polls were perfectly fine for 2016. People’s understanding of the concept of odds was what was off.

        1. And by “people” you mean the pollsters themselves.

          1. People flapping their pieholes about the polls and saying things like an 80% chance of winning is the same as a sure thing.

            1. So the pollsters themselves like I said.

              1. “Hillary Clinton has ‘more than 99% chance’ of winning election over Donald Trump
                The Princeton Election Consortium found Ms Clinton has a projected 312 electoral votes across the country and only 270 are needed to win”

                1. “The HuffPost presidential forecast model gives Democrat Hillary Clinton a 98.2 percent chance of winning the presidency.”

                  1. Daily Kos Elections sets it at 95 percent; HuffPost “at 93 percent; The Upshot at 91 percent; and FiveThirtyEight at 88 percent “

                    1. “Nate Silver: Forecasts Showing Clinton With 99% Chance of Winning “Don’t Pass …
                      RealClearPolitics ‘ video ‘ 2016/11/06”

                    2. And one of my favorites just to shut you the fuck up

                      “David Plouffe: Hillary Clinton Still Has 100% Chance Of A Win”

                    3. Plouffe isn’t even a polster, he’s Dem mobster! Your guy!

                    4. So either there was something terribly wrong with the polls, and if there’s evidence for that feel free to link me, or the Russians really did steal it for Trump.

                    5. There was something terribly wrong with the polls.
                      They were too Trump focused.
                      When a respondent said they didn’t like Trump, the assumption was that they would vote for HiLIARy.
                      Instead, enough of them voted “third party” or stayed home, to give Trump the victory, because they hated HiLIARy a little more than they hated Trump.
                      That election was truly a race to the bottom.
                      Highest percentage of votes for other than R,D, or I in history.
                      The Russians? had nothing to do with it.

  6. why do non-violent criminals need bars in their face?

    1. If someone breaks into your home and steals all your stuff, but you weren’t there, that’s called non-violent.
      Never mind what might have happened if you were home.
      Most people don’t want someone, caught doing that, to walk away, without being punished, and most of the thieves won’t/can’t give you back your shit, or pay you for what they stole.
      So, the graybar hotel is all we have.

  7. While this isn’t as bad as usual, it still has Reason’s tendency to muddle the actual issues when talking about prisons. I’m presuming “non-violent offenders” means “people charged with drug-related offenses” since that accounts for close to half the inmates, last I checked.

    1. Are you charged with something that didn’t violate anyone’s rights, such as selling drugs? It isn’t a real crime and you shouldn’t be in jail in the first place.

    2. Are you innocent? You shouldn’t be in jail, and the incentives and procedures should be such to minimize the chance of you being there.

    3. Did you actually violate someone’s rights? You should be in jail, and I don’t have much sympathy for you. And this includes prosecutors, police, etc. that break the rules set up under item #2.

    1. This seems to me to be getting into the debate between the ideal world and the real world.

      I agree with all three of your designations. But they’re decidedly ideal.

      This is an attempt to make change in the real world so it more closely resembles the ideal world. It isn’t perfect, but it’s something. And it’s something that should be a net good.

      Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  8. Even hardened criminals just want security and the respect of their community. If they have no positive path to advance on, of course they’re going to turn to prison gangs to meet those basic needs. The system can’t even protect them from getting murdered.

    They need a way to improve their life with both short and long-term rewards. Give them a training program to complete with some benefits they don’t have to wait 8 years for, and separate the well-behaved from the savage. It’s practically impossible to rehabilitate when you have no means of improving your life, and it’s suicidal to be the apple-polisher in a group of violent thugs.

    Prison is in some ways the perfect opportunity to switch from a short-term life strategy to a more mature long-term framework. They’ve got years to kill, and yet are forced to spend them fighting daily to stay safe, and to somehow scrounge from their barren environment the daily dopamine hits that everyone needs to be fulfilled. You don’t learn how to be a person by being treated like an animal.

  9. Non-violent offenders should not be locked up for decades at a time.
    Violent offenders should be locked up for decades at a time.
    Why is this so hard to understand?

    1. Someone who actually violated someone’s rights should be locked up, for decades at a time if the violation was bad enough. If some guy defrauds people of a sufficiently-large sum of money, for example, that guy should be doing a long sentence, albeit under less-harsh security since he’s presumably less likely to try to overpower the guards or something like that.

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