This country is shifting away from a steadfast focus on mandatory sentences for drug-related crimes. And the American public largely agrees that this is a good thing, with the numbers suggesting that public opinion is going to keep moving in this direction in the future.
Here’s a new chart from the Pew Research Center illustrating just how much has changed since the beginning of the new millennium:
This chart comes from a Pew report released Wednesday that found that two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) think drug policy should focus on treatment rather than prosecuting drug users (with just 26 percent picking this option).
Overall, more people now believe that a move away from mandatory drug sentences is a good thing, with 63 people feeling that way in 2014 (versus 46 percent in 2001). But the most interesting thing in that chart is just how clear the split is between different age groups, with a particularly pronounced divide happening for people age 65 and older.
This oldest age group is the only one surveyed that didn’t have a majority of respondents say they thought the move was good (just 49 percent felt this way). And this age group also showed the smallest shift since 2001, compared with a big leap forward for the three younger groups (who reported between 63 and 66 percent support for the move away from mandatory sentences).
There are similar divides between the age groups when it comes to other drug-related issues. For example, most people (76 percent) say that possessing small amounts of marijuana shouldn’t earn jail time. People age 65 and older are more likely than the other age groups to disagree with this (63 percent of people in this age group think it shouldn’t earn jail time, compared with 81 percent for ages 18 to 29, 75 percent for ages 30 to 49 and 81 percent for ages 50 to 64).
As Jerry Markon reported over the weekend, there’s movement happening in this country in how governments are dealing with drug-related crimes:
States are driving the trend. At least 30 have modified drug crime penalties since 2009, often repealing or reducing tough mandatory minimum sentences for lower-level offenses, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, which works with states and tracks the legislation….
Change is also afoot at the federal level, where FBI data show drug arrests are down 18 percent since 2006, and the Obama administration tries to avoid the phrase “war on drugs.” The Justice Department is strongly supporting changes being considered by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that would reduce sentences for most drug offenders, and the Senate Judiciary Committee recently passed a bipartisan bill that would cut them in half for some drug crimes.