Even in deep red Texas, the overwhelming majority of individuals on both the left and the right oppose sending nonviolent drug offenders to prison, according to a new poll by two conservative policy groups. Some 79 percent support sending drug offenders “who are not traffickers” to probation rather than prison. Broken down by party affiliation, even greater percentages — 81 percent for Republicans and 89 percent for Democrats — supported this reform.
Participants in a survey by Right on Crime and the Texas Public Policy Foundation were asked several questions about their support for giving nonviolent or low-level offenders the opportunity to rehabilitate before sending them to prison. Seventy-seven percent agreed that all non-violent offenders “should have the opportunity to rehabilitate before facing prison time,” and that rehabilitation is a better option for low-level or first-time offenders if it would produce better results than prison. And 82 percent believe non-violent offenders should have the opportunity to repay the victims of their crimes before being sent to prison. Survey participants also overwhelmingly supported spending more money on education and rehabilitation programs than on prison.
Texans are not alone. A similar poll conducted in Florida two years ago in partnership with Right on Crime found that 73 percent believe fewer people convicted of nonviolent crime should be sent to prison, and 80 percent support more work-release and other rehabilitative programs for low-level offenders. And among those now vehemently supporting mandatory minimum reform to reduce drug offenders’ prison terms are the American Legislative Exchange Council and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
On prison reform, Texas is one of many states that has gotten ahead of the feds (though far from ahead of the problem). In 2007, it instituted a package of reforms that moved some low-level criminals out of prisons and into probation programs — resulting in the closure of several prisons as the crime rate dropped. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder cited these reforms in Texas and other states when he acknowledged that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.”