New Poll Finds Strong Majority of CA Voters Believe Too Many People Imprisoned, Favor Reducing Drug Possession Penalty from a Felony to a Misdemeanor

Press Release April 10, 2011
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Abel Haptegeorgis at 510.428.3939</p>

A new statewide poll released today finds that nearly three-quarters (72%) of California voters support reducing the penalty for possession of a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use from a felony to a misdemeanor, including a solid majority who support this reform strongly. The March 21-24 survey of 800 California general election voters was conducted by Lake Research Partners. Poll results and analysis are available online.

This poll offers important proof that most Californians do not approve of lengthy prison sentences for drug possession for personal use. At a time when California is slashing funding for education and health care while billions of dollars in incarceration costs remain untouched, this poll finds that Californians believe that too many people are incarcerated for too long.

Key poll findings include:

"We found a widely, and intensely, held belief among voters that California imprisons too many people and can no longer afford to spend billions on prisons amid massive cuts to education and social services," said Daniel Gotoff of Lake Research Partners, which designed and administered the survey. "This is a voting issue now. Politicians stand in the way of this popular reform at their own risk."

"Support for reducing drug possession penalties crosses all the partisan, regional, and demographic lines that normally divide California voters," said Allen Hopper, police practices director with the ACLU of Northern California. "Solid majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents from every corner of the state overwhelmingly agree that it’s time for a new approach. We need to stop wasting precious tax dollars on unnecessary, expensive jail and prison sentences."

"Sacramento’s plan to keep people convicted of personal drug possession at the county level doesn’t address the belief of a majority of Californians that drug possession shouldn’t be a felony and that people shouldn’t be locked up for longer than three months for this offense," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director in Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance.

The current penalty in California for possession of heroin or cocaine is 16 months to 3 years in prison. Last week Governor Brown signed AB 109, which keeps drug possession for personal use a felony and retains the long sentences, but provides that lock-up would happen in county facilities. That law’s future is uncertain, however, as it only goes into effect if voters approve the governor’s plan to extend a series of taxes otherwise set to expire this year.

"Californians aren’t just interested in saving money. They’re also interested in seeing people contribute to their families and communities," said Kris Lev-Twombly, director of programs at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. "California voters want to see that people are not burdened with a life-long felony record for drug possession that makes it tough to find a job or support a family. Current penalties work against individual, family and community wellbeing and public safety."

"Californians clearly and strongly reject the state’s misplaced priorities that have pushed funding toward jails and prisons and away from schools," said Alice Huffman, president of the California State Conference of the NAACP. "The California NAACP urges the State Legislature and the Governor to listen to voters and reduce the penalty for drug possession for personal use from a felony to a misdemeanor."

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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