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December 6, 2021

Noting differing perceptions of whether prison time is too long or too short or just right in the US

FT_21.11.17_TimeInPrison_1Over at the Pew Research Center, John Gramlich has this interesting new piece under the headline "U.S. public divided over whether people convicted of crimes spend too much or too little time in prison."  The graphic reprinted here captures the heart of the story, and here is some of the text (with links from the original):

Americans are closely divided over whether people convicted of crimes spend too much, too little or about the right amount of time in prison, with especially notable differences in views by party affiliation, ideology, race and ethnicity.

Overall, 28% of U.S. adults say people convicted of crimes spend too much time in prison, while 32% say they spend too little time and 37% say they spend about the right amount of time, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 10,221 adults conducted in July 2021.  The question was asked as part of a broader survey examining differences in Americans’ political attitudes and values across a range of topics.  The survey asked about prison time in a general way and did not address penalties for specific crime types.

Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are much more likely to say people convicted of crimes spend too much time in prison than to say they spend too little time behind bars (41% vs. 21%).  The reverse is true among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents: 44% of Republicans say people convicted of crimes spend too little time in prison, while 14% say they spend too much time behind bars.  Around a third of Democrats and Democratic leaners (35%) and a slightly higher share of Republicans and GOP leaners (39%) say people convicted of crimes spend about the right amount of time in prison.

Views differ by ideology within each partisan group.  Liberal Democrats are more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats (54% vs. 30%) to say convicted people spend too much time in prison.  Conservative Republicans are more likely than moderate and liberal Republicans (49% vs. 35%) to say people convicted of crimes spend too little time in prison.

Democrats who describe their political views as very liberal and Republicans who describe their views as very conservative stand out even more.  Very liberal Democrats are much more likely than Democrats who describe their views as simply liberal (70% vs. 47%) to say convicted people spend too much time in prison.  And very conservative Republicans are more likely than Republicans who describe their views as simply conservative (56% vs. 47%) to say people convicted of crimes spend too little time in prison.

Attitudes about many aspects of the U.S. criminal justice system differ by race and ethnicity, as previous Pew Research Center surveys have shown, and a similar pattern appears in views of time spent in prison.  Black adults (40%) are more likely than White (26%), Asian (26%) and Hispanic adults (25%) to say people convicted of crimes spend too much time in prison.  Conversely, White adults (36%) are more likely than Hispanic (28%) and Black adults (17%) to believe that convicted people spend too little time behind bars.  Around a third of Asian adults (34%) also say convicted people do not spend enough time in prison, but their views are not statistically different from those of White and Hispanic adults.

Among Democrats, similar shares of Black and White adults say prisoners spend too much time behind bars, even as Black and White Democrats express different views on some other survey questions related to criminal justice.  Black Democrats, for example, are modestly more likely than White Democrats to favor increased funding for police in their area, according to a September Pew Research Center survey.

December 6, 2021 at 11:43 PM | Permalink

Comments

Is there evidence on the question of to what degree the recent surge in homicides is connected to the COVID-19 prison releases?

Or to the election of Soros-funded prosecutors?

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Dec 7, 2021 7:42:55 AM

The problem is that many are punished too harshly—e.g. 41 months for the guy with buffalo horns and not enough for violent people like the Waukesha BLM supporter.

Posted by: Federalist | Dec 7, 2021 8:06:00 AM

While Federalists examples are wrong, the point he makes is ultimately partially right.

While few people know the actual data and thus tend to focus on the outliers that get media attention, my experience when I was involved in a redraft of my state's criminal code was that there was broad consensus among both prosecutors and defense attorney that our criminal code had too high a range of punishment on nonviolent offenses like theft and drugs and too low a range of punishment on violent offenses like mid-level assaults and homicides. So if, instead of asking a general question about all crimes, you asked questions about specific categories of crime, you would probably get a different result as far as people's thought about whether punishments are too high or too low. There would still probably be a partisan gap, but the gap would be within a broad consensus. In other words, 60% of Republicans might say drug penalties are too high and 90% of Democrats might say drug penalties are too high and 90% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats might say that the penalties for violent crimes are too low.

Posted by: tmm | Dec 7, 2021 11:04:25 AM

tmm,

I suspect all those questions would really get you is the degree of ignorance of the electorate. I could certainly not answer questions about the actual sentences those offenders get on average with any degree of certainty about being correct.

Although even there, I would answer "most spend too little time in prison, but only because I believe they should be executed instead" but surveys have zero ability to capture that nuance.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Dec 7, 2021 11:35:33 AM

How, pray tell are my examples wrong? Code Pink people interrupt actual proceedings and get nothing. Compare and contrast the J6 sentencing. There were violent offenses committed during the Trump inauguration—many charges dropped and many more given very light sentences.

As for the Waukesha killer, he should have been locked up. John Chisholm, there is blood on your hands.

Posted by: Federalist | Dec 7, 2021 1:16:08 PM

It would be interesting to know how much variation there is between states for comparable crimes. The survey data suggests that red states should have considerably longer sentences than blue states for comparable crimes, but the BLS survey that Pew links to only has aggregated national averages.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Dec 7, 2021 9:27:34 PM

Federalist, let’s get down to brass tacks. What sentence do you think would be just for Code Pink protestors who interrupt committee hearings and what sentence do you think would be just for Mr. Chansley (the man with the buffalo horns) for disrupting the counting of electoral votes? Does the significance of the proceeding disrupted play a part in your reasoning? Why or why not?

Posted by: Curious | Dec 8, 2021 6:28:42 PM

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