Sentencing: Poll Finds Public Open to Probation, Diversion Instead of Hard Time for Drug Possession, Other Nonviolent Offenses

According to a newly released poll, more than one-quarter of the population believes that incarceration is never necessary for nonviolent drug possession offenders. The poll does not ask whether drug possessors should be left alone, placed on probation, or forced into treatment, but the response suggests that a significant proportion of the public is ready for the effective decriminalization, or at least depenalization, of drug possession -- and not just for marijuana.

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The poll was commissioned by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and conducted in April by Zogby International. It examined public attitudes toward incarceration for nonviolent, non-serious offenders, which it defined as "those convicted of nonviolent, nonsexual crimes in which the value of lost property did not exceed $400."

Overall, the poll found that a majority of American adults believe some crimes for which offenders are currently incarcerated do not demand jail time, with 77% agreeing that the most appropriate sentence for such offenders is probation, restitution, community service and/or rehabilitative services. The same percentage believes that such alternatives to incarceration to do not decrease public safety, while more than half (55%) believe that alternatives to incarceration would save money for state and local governments.

Regarding drug possession, the poll asked: "Please tell me if you think it is always, usually, sometimes, rarely, or never necessary to incarcerate a person in prison or jail who has been convicted of possession or use of illegal drugs, with no intention to sell and not while driving."

More than two-thirds (68%) responded it was either only sometimes (41%) or never (27%) necessary to jail drug users. Only 15% thought jail was usually necessary, while another 15% thought it was always necessary. Broken down by political affiliation, independents (52%) were more likely than either Republicans (39%) or Democrats (35%) to feel that jail is only sometimes necessary in such cases.

Drug users came out ahead of petty property criminals, with 60% saying the latter offenders should never or only sometimes be jailed, as well as people who solicit prostitutes (48%) and probation or parole violators (40%). On the other hand, 86% thought it was never or only sometimes necessary to jail people convicted of loitering or disturbing the peace and 79% thought that about public drunks. (One has to wonder about the 5% who thought it was always necessary to jail loiterers or peace disturbers.)

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45% of people believe

that incarceration saves more money than not incarcerating people. Damn, how stupid can you get? Hmm, do they believe that if not incarcerated these people will just go crazy and cause $45,000 a year in damage? (Or whatever it is to house a person at a state-run house for those that refuse to accept state indoctrination.)

77% agree that a sentence of probation, restitution, community service and/or rehab (in other words, everything but jail that they can give you for 'offending' people for using your drug of choice) is better than incarceration. Well, I guess. That just sounds like an excuse for more drug courts though.

The drug war isn't about stopping drugs anymore. Ask yourself, do you think the DEA would be happy if all drugs vanished overnight? Hell no, they'd be out of jobs. The drug war is about sustaining a large government enterprise of law enforcement, legal and prison guard jobs. No other logical reason why so many people are against changing, and even debating, what a rational drug policy would be.

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