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April 2, 2012

New poll from Pew Center suggests significant public concerns with prison populations and costs

Pspp1Via this website entry (which I discovered thanks to the The Crime Report), I see that the folks at The Pew Center on the States "collaborated with two of the nation's leading polling firms, The Mellman Group and Public Opinion Strategies, to explore public opinion on sentencing and corrections issues across the country." Here is more from the web description of the poll and its findings:  

The firms conducted a national survey of 1,200 likely voters to measure underlying attitudes and support for specific policy changes. Download the summary of findings. (Adobe PDF)

Key Takeaways

• American voters believe too many people are in prison and the nation spends too much on imprisonment.

• Voters overwhelmingly support a variety of policy changes that shift non-violent offenders from prison to more effective, less expensive alternatives.

• Support for sentencing and corrections reforms (including reduced prison terms) is strong across political parties, regions, age, gender, and racial/ethnic groups.

A quick review of the full the summary of findings document suggests that there is a lot more to glean from this poll than just what Pew lists above as "Key Takeaways."  In addition, it does not seem as though the poll asked any specific questions about marijuana law and punishment, which seems like a real missed opportunity give the detail in which this poll went into on other issues.  Still, as Pew suggests, this survey can and should provide even more momentum to on-going efforts in various jurisdictions to reduce prison populations and associated costs.

April 2, 2012 at 12:57 PM | Permalink


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I'll bet the house that the findings would be very different -- indeed, reversed -- had the poll started out with this single true statement: "Bearing in mind the fact that the rate of serious crime has been cut in half over the last 20 years, as imprisonment has significantly increased, what is your reaction to the following questions?"

It's easy as pie to get poll respondents to say whatever you want about X if you mention only the benefits of X without mentioning its costs. Is anyone surprised by this?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 2, 2012 3:09:54 PM

Bill is right. And the same phenomenon is often at play in polls showing that a majority favors capital punishment: i.e., when people are asked whether they favor capital punishment without being advised of its costs.

Posted by: lawyer | Apr 2, 2012 5:52:14 PM

lawyer --

Are you suggesting that a majority would disfavor capital punishment if the costs were known (assuming they're not known now)? Where's the evidence for that?

P.S. I agree, however, that we should lower the costs of the DP, principally by restricting the absurdly huge number of opportunities killers are given to litigate to kingdom come about issues having zip to do with guilt or innocence.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 2, 2012 6:57:04 PM

Bill --

Yes, I am suggesting that.

And I have exactly as much evidence for my "bet" (that the majority would disfavor capital punishment if they knew the costs) as you do for your "bet" (that the majority would disfavor less imprisonment if they knew the costs).

Posted by: lawyer | Apr 2, 2012 7:16:46 PM

lawyer --

Do you get up in court and "suggest" propositions for which you have no evidence? I didn't and don't, a fact you can check out if you care to by reading the cases in which I represented the United States.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 2, 2012 8:39:27 PM

Bill --

No, of course not. But on blogs like this one, I do suggest propositions for which I have no evidence. I think that is the very purpose of such forums. You of course do the same, and rightly so. Indeed, you did it in your very first comment on this thread.

Posted by: lawyer | Apr 2, 2012 9:22:30 PM

The Pew Organization is a Communist front organization. That is why all foundations should be dissolved after the death of the original Board appointed by the estate. The Pews would be turning over in their graves if they knew the Commie traitor organization their funding is maintaining. Nothing these Commies generate has the slightest credibility. It is all false Commie garbage. I know some of their officers, their being neighbors. Commies. With no exception.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 3, 2012 1:21:27 AM

Maybe people are tried of building new prisons to deal with overcrowding only to discover they have a larger overcrowded prison that costs more to operate.

Posted by: John Neff | Apr 3, 2012 12:33:24 PM

There are lots of "single true facts" one could preface the poll with:

"Bearing in mind the fact that the drop in the crime rate over the past 30 years is mostly attributable to factors other than incarceration..."

"Bearing in mind the fact that incarceration and crime rates do not have a linear relationship..."

"Bearing in mind the fact that other nations have enjoyed a drop in crime rate comparable to that in the United States while enjoying a far lower rate of incarceration..."

"Bearing in mind the fact that the current incarceration rate is roughly five times what it was in 1970, whereas the current crime rate is roughly the same..."

And so forth.

If what you want is an unbiased poll result, then, you'll probably want to avoid using cherry-picked facts to prime participants. Then again, not everyone wants the same things in life.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Apr 9, 2012 9:53:51 AM

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