LOS ANGELES — July 20, 2011 — Faced with a court mandate to reduce overcrowding in California prisons, a majority of the state’s voters favor shorter sentences for some offenders rather than raising taxes or cutting services such as education or health care to pay for new prison construction or prisoner relocation, according to a new USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll. In May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California must release more than 33,000 inmates to ease prison overcrowding. By a 50-point margin, California voters oppose increasing taxes to pay for new prison construction or to send inmates to other states. About 73 percent of voters oppose increasing taxes to build new prisons or relocate prisoners — including a majority of self-identified Democratic, Independent and Republican voters — compared to 23 percent of voters in favor. “In these tough economic times, voters expect their politicians to make spending priorities just like their families do, and right now, spending more money on prisons is not a high priority for Californians.
When it comes to prisons, voters are looking for solutions that don’t raise taxes or take money from other priorities like education,” said Linda DiVall, president of American Viewpoint, a Republican polling firm that conducted the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll with Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner
Prisons: Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, and Evan Halper, Sacramento Bureau Chief from the Los Angeles Times, discuss how the public feels about what to do about the current prison system. For more video analysis from USC and the Los Angeles Times, visit the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll Web site http://dornsife.usc.edu/poll
When presented with a series of measures to ease overcrowding in California prisons, a majority of the state’s voters said they favor reducing life sentences for third-strike offenders convicted of property crimes, such as burglary, auto theft or shoplifting. Sixty-two percent favor reducing life sentences for property crime offenders convicted under California’s “three strikes” law, and 31 percent favor it “strongly.” Overall, 34 percent of voters opposed reducing life sentences for third-strike offenders. “Californians prefer reducing sentences for certain non-violent offenders as the best alternative to spending cuts and tax increases,” said Stan Greenberg, CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.
“That a smaller percentage ‘strongly’ favor early release suggests these are tough choices made in the context of the state economy and the court mandate to reduce California prison populations within the next two years.” By a double-digit margin, White voters were more likely than Latino voters to support reducing life sentences for property crime offenders. Sixty-four percent of White voters support reducing sentences for property crime offenders convicted under the “three-strikes” law, and 33 percent opposed. Latino voters were more evenly split: 50 percent supported reducing life sentences and 45 percent opposed.
Latino voters were also less likely than White voters to support releasing low-level nonviolent offenders from prison early, though a majority of both groups and voters overall said they were in favor of the measure to help reduce the prison population. Overall, 69 percent of California voters support early release of non-violent offenders, with 33 percent favoring it “strongly.” This includes 71 percent of White voters, 78 percent of Black voters, 69 percent of Asian American voters, and 59 percent of Latino voters. Twenty-eight percent of voters oppose early release of low-level non-violent offenders.
Californians across party lines oppose cutting government services to help pay for measures that would ease prison overcrowding. Overall, 84 percent of voters oppose cutting government services to pay for prisons, including 87 percent of self-identified Democrats, 82 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Independent voters. A video of poll experts discussing these results is available on the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll Web site, http://dornsife.usc.edu/poll