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USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Press Release

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Poll: CA Voters Favor Early Release of Low-Level, Non-Violent Inmates


PRESS CALL: THURSDAY, JULY 21, 11 AM PST

Media Contact: Suzanne Wu at (213) 740-0252 or suzanne.wu@usc.edu

A phone conference discussing the following results of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll of California politics is THURSDAY, July 21 at 11 a.m. PST. Domestic call-in number: (800) 288-8967; International: +01 (612) 332-0345. To reserve a line, contact Suzanne Wu at suzanne.wu@usc.edu

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 /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, /poll

MAJORITY OF VOTERS SUPPORT PART-TIME LEGISLATURE

California is one of the few states in which the state legislature meets year-round. A significant majority of California voters support moving to a part-time legislature — and reducing state legislators’ pay.

More than 65 percent of California voters support having a part-time legislature in which lawmakers often have another career at the same time, including 43 percent who support this measure “strongly.”

"Every once in awhile, voter frustration toward the political system tends to erupt at the ballot box. Proposition 13 in the 1970s, term limits in the '90s, redistricting reform and the top two primary in recent years," said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "It wouldn't be surprising at all if an initiative for a part-time legislature is what's coming next."

Twenty-seven percent of California voters oppose moving to a part-time legislature.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted July 6-17, 2011, and surveyed 1,507 registered voters in California. The poll includes a significant oversample of Latino voters, interviewed in both Spanish and English. The margin of error for the overall sample is +/- 2.52 percentage points.

More results from the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll will be made available and published in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, July 22; Sunday, July 24; and Monday, July 25, including findings from the latest poll about:

  • What do Californians think about a new state law requiring online retailers to collect taxes on online purchases?
  • Are Californians satisfied with the recently passed state budget? Do voters approve of the job being done by state legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown?
  • How have the recession and housing meltdown affected voters in the biggest state economy? What percent of Californians have cut back on non-luxury expenses?
  • Should local governments be given more taxing power?


FOR MEDIA: A press call to discuss findings about prison overcrowding is TOMORROW, July 21 at 11 a.m. PST. To reserve a spot for the phone conference, RSVP to Suzanne Wu at suzanne.wu@usc.edu. Call-in numbers:

United States: (800) 288-8967
International: +01 (612) 332-0345

WEBSITE: /poll
TWITTER: @usclatpoll

About the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll: The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is a series of statewide public opinion polls in California, designed to survey voter attitudes on a wide range of political, policy, social and cultural issues.

Conducted at regular intervals throughout the year, the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is one of the largest polls of registered voters in the state and has been widely cited, helping to inform the public and to encourage discourse on key political and policy issues.

About USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences: USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences is the heart of the university. The largest, oldest and most diverse of USC's 19 schools, USC Dornsife is composed of more than 30 academic departments and dozens of research centers and institutes. USC Dornsife is home to approximately 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students and more than 750 faculty members with expertise across the humanities, social sciences and sciences.

About the Los Angeles Times: The Los Angeles Times is the largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the country, with a daily readership of 2 million and 3 million on Sunday, and a combined print and interactive local weekly audience of 4.5 million. The fast-growing latimes.com draws over 10 million unique visitors monthly.