Mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses, particularly drug crimes, have been a leading factor in the nation's skyrocketing prison populations over the past several decades. Given the high annual costs of incarcerating non-violent offenders, momentum has been building at the federal level to reform these sentencing rules, and it's possible one of the several reform bills currently before Congress could pass in coming years.
If it does, it would so with broad public support. A Pew Poll in February, for example, reported that 63 percent of people say that states moving away from the idea of mandatory prison sentences for non-violent offenses is a good thing. By comparison, just 32 percent thought it was a bad thing. Back in 2001, the public was basically split on the matter, with 47 percent opposing mandatory sentences and 45 percent supporting.
Other, more recent polls show even more support. The Reason-Rupe survey, partly sponsored by the libertarian magazine Reason, found this week that 77 percent of Americans favor eliminating mandatory minimum prisons sentences for non-violent offenders.
Seventy seven percent of Americans say they favor eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentences for non-violent offenders, according to the latest Reason-Rupe survey. This is up six percentage points from when they asked the same question last year. It should be noted, however, that the question was worded in a way such that it may lead more people to favor eliminating minimum sentences.
Support for ending mandatory minimums is widespread among people of difference races, genders, income levels, ages. Democrats (81 percent) are slightly more likely to favor ending mandatory minimums than Republicans (73 percent).
Polling analyst Scott Clement contributed to this post.