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Optimism Pessimism and Jail House Redemption Overincarceration Survey 2001

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BELDEN RUSSONELLO & STEWART
RESEARCH AND COMMUNICATIONS

Optimism, Pessimism, and Jailhouse Redemption:
American Attitudes on Crime,
Punishment, and Over-incarceration

Findings from a National Survey
Conducted for the ACLU
by
Belden Russonello & Stewart

1320 19TH STREET, N.W. w SUITE 700 w WASHINGTON, D.C. 20036
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BELDEN RUSSONELLO & STEWART
RESEARCH AND COMMUNICATIONS

ACLU National Survey on Crime
Questionnaire and Topline Results
Interviewing conducted January 5, 2001 through January 22, 2001
N = 2,000 adults 18 and older in the United States
Data have been weighted by race.
Percents may add to 99% or 101% due to rounding
* indicates less than 1% , -- indicates zero
Margin of sampling error is ±2.2 percentage points for the national sample.
Margin of error is larger for smaller sub groups.

1. In the last year, do you think violent
crime in the country has increased,
decreased, or stayed about the same?

INCREASED ................................... 43%
DECREASED .................................. 15
STAYED THE SAME ..................... 38
DON’T KNOW ................................. 3
REFUSE ..............................................*

2. What type of crime or crimes do you
most associate with non-violent crime?
PROBE: Could you give me some
examples? (OPEN END) (MULTIPLE
CODES, RESPONSES MAY ADD TO
MORE THAN 100%)

WHITE COLLAR CRIME .............. 17%
POSSESSING/USING DRUGS ....... 9
SELLING DRUGS............................. 1
OTHER VICE CRIMES .................... 1
PROPERTY CRIMES...................... 47
TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS .................. 5
VIOLENT CRIMES........................... 3
ALL CRIME IS VIOLENT................ 2
MISCELLANEOUS .......................... 6
DON’T KNOW ............................... 18

Now I would like to ask you some questions about non-violent crimes. For this survey,
we will consider non-violent crime, crimes other than murder, rape, assault, or robbery.
3. In the last year, do you think nonviolent crime, that is crime other than
murder, rape, assault, or robbery, in the
country has increased, decreased, or
stayed about the same?

INCREASED ................................... 41%
DECREASED .................................... 9
STAYED THE SAME...................... 44
DON’T KNOW ................................. 5
REFUSED ...........................................*

1320 19TH STREET, N.W. w SUITE 700 w WASHINGTON, D.C. 20036
T: 202-822-6090 w F: 202-822-6094 w E-MAIL: BRS@BRSPOLL.COM

Questionnaire with topline results
January 2001

Page 2

4. In general, would you say criminals
who commit non-violent crimes in the US
are not punished enough, are
adequately punished, or are punished
too harshly?

NOT PUNISHED ENOUGH ......... 52%
ADEQUATELY PUNISHED.......... 28
PUNISHED TOO HARSHLY ........ 12
DON’T KNOW ................................. 7
REFUSE ..............................................*

Now, I would like to ask you some questions about prisons.
TOO HARSH .................................. 10%
NOT HARSH ENOUGH ............... 42
ABOUT RIGHT .............................. 35
DON’T KNOW ............................... 13
REFUSE ............................................. 1

5. From what you know, do you think
life in prison is too harsh, not harsh
enough, or about right?

In your opinion, should a person who commits the following crime go to prison always,
most of the time, just some of the time, or never?
Always Most of Some of Never
DK/
the time the time
Ref
6. Buying illegal drugs for personal
use

27%

14

40

16

2

7. Using illegal drugs

25%

14

43

15

2

8. Possessing small amounts of illegal
drugs for personal use

19%

12

42

25

2

9. Selling illegal drugs

63%

18

16

2

1

10. Shoplifting

18%

14

53

13

3

11. Stealing a car

48%

22

27

2

1

12. Stealing something from a house
when no one is at home

49%

21

26

3

1

13. Selling phony life insurance
policies

59%

17

19

3

2

BELDEN RUSSONELLO & STEWART

Questionnaire with topline results
January 2001

Page 3

14. In your opinion, what should be the
MAIN purpose of sending a person to
prison: to punish the individual, to
rehabilitate the individual so he might
become a productive citizen, to keep
him locked up in order to protect society
from future crimes he might commit, or
to deter others who might commit
crimes?

TO PUNISH .................................... 21%
TO REHABILITATE ...................... 40
TO PROTECT SOCIETY ............... 21
TO DETER OTHERS ..................... 12
DK/REFUSE ..................................... 5

15. From what you know, do prisons do
an excellent, good, fair, poor, or very
poor job of rehabilitating prisoners?

EXCELLENT......................................*
GOOD ............................................... 7
FAIR ................................................ 25
POOR .............................................. 40
VERY POOR ................................... 18
DK/REFUSE ..................................... 9

16. Would you favor or oppose
replacing prison sentences with
mandatory drug treatment and
probation for people convicted of nonviolent illegal drug use? [Is that strongly
favor/oppose or somewhat
favor/oppose?]

STRONGLY FAVOR ...................... 42%
SOMEWHAT FAVOR.................... 32
SOMEWHAT OPPOSE .................. 10
STRONGLY OPPOSE..................... 12
DK/REFUSE ..................................... 4

17. Do you think there are more people
in prison in the US for committing
violent crimes, or more in prison for
committing non-violent crimes?
[VOLUNTEER: ABOUT THE SAME]

MORE VIOLENT............................ 32%
MORE NON-VIOLENT ................. 53
ABOUT THE SAME (VOL) ............. 3
DON’T KNOW/REF...................... 13

BELDEN RUSSONELLO & STEWART

Questionnaire with topline results
January 2001

Page 4

Please tell me if you agree or disagree with the following statements. (Is that strongly
agree/disagree or somewhat agree/disagree?) [ROTATE Q18-Q20 THEN ROTATE Q21Q24]
Agree

Disagree

Agree

Disagree

Strng

Smwt

Smwt

Strng

DK/
Ref

18. [SPLIT SAMPLE A] In most cases of
adult, non-violent prisoners, efforts to
rehabilitate are a waste of time and
money.

36%

60

16%

20

31

29

4

18. [SPLIT SAMPLE B] In most cases of
adult, violent prisoners, efforts to
rehabilitate are a waste of time and
money.

47%

49

24%

23

30

19

4

19. Prisons are too comfortable and
criminals don’t mind being sent to
prison.

59%

35

38%

21

17

18

6

20. People who are out of prison, on
parole and who fail a drug test, should
be sent back to prison.

65%

31

43%

22

19

12

3

21. African Americans are treated
unfairly by the criminal justice system.

55%

35

27%

28

16

19

*

22. Large numbers of people in prison
do not deserve to be there because
their crimes did not cause physical
injury or harm to another person.

44%

51

18%

26

24

27

5

23. Prisons should be required to teach
inmates skills so they are less likely to
commit crimes once they are released.

88%

11

69%

19

5

6

1

24. We need to change the laws so that
fewer non-violent crimes are
punishable by prison terms.

62%

33

30%

32

16

17

5

BELDEN RUSSONELLO & STEWART

Questionnaire with topline results
January 2001

Page 5

25. With whom do you agree with
more: those who say we should allow
parole for people who commit nonviolent crimes and spend more tax
dollars on training and education
programs to help them become
productive citizens, or those who say
that we should do away with parole for
people who commit non-violent crimes
and spend more tax dollars to keep
them in prison for longer?

ALLOW PAROLE .......................... 87%
DO AWAY WITH PAROLE ............ 9
DON’T KNOW/REF........................ 4

26. In recent years, some states have
required that certain crimes, including
non-violent crimes, carry a mandatory
or automatic prison sentence, regardless
of the circumstances of the crime. Do
you support or oppose the idea of
mandatory prison sentences for certain
types of non-violent crimes? (Is that
strongly support/oppose or somewhat
support/oppose?)

STRONGLY SUPPORT .................. 16%
SOMEWHAT SUPPORT................ 19
SOMEWHAT OPPOSE .................. 26
STRONGLY OPPOSE..................... 35
DON’T KNOW/REF........................ 5

27. Some people argue that mandatory
sentencing makes the justice system
FAIR because the same punishment is
always given for the same crime. Other
people argue that mandatory sentencing
is NOT FAIR because the circumstances
of each crime are different and we need
to take into account these circumstances
in order for the punishment to be fair
and appropriate. With whom do you
agree with more?

MANDATORY MINIMUMS
ARE NOT FAIR .............................. 61%
MANDATORY MINIMUMS
ARE FAIR........................................ 36
DON’T KNOW/REF........................ 3

BELDEN RUSSONELLO & STEWART

Questionnaire with topline results
January 2001

Page 6

28. Let me give you an example of how
mandatory sentencing laws can work.
Under the law, a 25-year-old woman
who has never been in trouble before, is
caught transporting cocaine for her
boyfriend. She tells the court she is
ashamed of what she did and wants
nothing to do with drugs in the future.
Under mandatory minimum laws, she
must be sentenced to ten years in state
prison – that is the same prison sentence
that is given to experienced drug dealers
who are caught transporting cocaine.
The law says everyone must be treated
the same. After hearing how mandatory
sentencing works, do you support or
oppose mandatory sentencing laws? (Is
that strongly or somewhat support/
oppose?)

STRONGLY SUPPORT .................. 15%
SOMEWHAT SUPPORT................ 11
SOMEWHAT OPPOSE .................. 21
STRONGLY OPPOSE..................... 51
DON’T KNOW/REF........................ 2

Here are some statements about punishing people who commit non-violent crimes.
(ROTATE SERIES 29-38 AND 39-45)
First, some statements that people have made to change the law so that FEWER nonviolent crimes are punishable by prison terms. For each statement, please tell me if you
think it is a very convincing reason, somewhat convincing, not very convincing, or not at
all convincing reason to change the law so that FEWER non-violent crimes are
punishable by prison terms.
(ROTATE 29-38)
Conv.

Not
conv.

Very
conv.

Smwt
conv.

Not very
conv.

Not at
all conv.

DK/
Ref

29. Prison teaches inmates to
become criminals, so a system
that locks up non-violent
offenders will only lead to more
crime, not less.

62%

36

30%

32

19

17

3

30. More than half of all prison
inmates in the US are serving
time for non-violent crimes.

67%

36

28%

39

16

10

7

31. We should not waste valuable
prison resources on non-violent
offenders while we need prisons
to house violent criminals.

70%

28

35%

35

17

11

2

BELDEN RUSSONELLO & STEWART

Questionnaire with topline results
January 2001

Page 7

Conv.

Not
conv.

Very
conv.

Smwt
conv.

Not very
conv.

Not at all
conv.

DK/
Ref

32. In many states, more money
is spent on prison construction
and housing non-violent
offenders than on higher
education.

73%

22

45%

28

13

9

4

33. Government studies have
found that African Americans do
NOT use illegal drugs more than
whites but African Americans are
put in prison at a greater rate for
drug possession.

62%

31

33%

29

18

13

7

34. Currently, there are 1.9
million men, women, and youth
behind bars. That is double the
number of people in prison in
1986.

68%

24

35%

33

14

10

7

35. Generations of AfricanAmerican youth will grow up
with their fathers in prison unless
we act.

63%

32

33%

30

18

14

4

36. Thousands of children are
living in foster care and
orphanages because their
mothers have been sent to prison
for non-violent illegal drug
possession.

68%

28

34%

34

17

11

4

37. A large segment of the prison
population is people convicted of
non-violent illegal drug
possession only.

72%

31

24%

38

20

11

6

38. Many people in prison today
are non-violent drug addicts who
need drug treatment not a prison
sentence.

77%

20

42%

35

11

9

2

BELDEN RUSSONELLO & STEWART

Questionnaire with topline results
January 2001

Page 8

Now here are some statements that people have made about the need to change the laws
so that MORE non-violent crimes are punishable by a prison sentence. For each
statement, please tell me if you think it is a very convincing reason, somewhat
convincing, not very convincing, or not at all convincing reason to change the laws so
that MORE non-violent crimes are punishable by a prison sentence.
(ROTATE 39-45)
Conv.

Not
conv.

Very
conv.

Smwt
conv.

Not very
conv.

Not at
all conv.

DK/
Ref

39. If we imprison people who
commit non-violent crimes, they
will be less likely to break the
law in the future.

52%

46

18%

34

27

19

2

40. The victims of a crime have
a right to see that the offender is
punished.

82%

16

48%

34

10

6

2

41. Locking up people who
commit crimes is the first step to
rehabilitation because it teaches
offenders that there are
consequences for their crimes.

71%

28

33%

38

17

11

1

42. It’s important for society to
have rules and order, and for
people to know if they commit a
crime, they will do some time in
prison.

81%

17

46%

35

12

5

1

43. Locking up people who
commit non-violent crimes is
needed to keep society safe.

49%

47

17%

32

29

18

3

44. (SPLIT SAMPLE A) We need
a zero-tolerance drug policy that
puts anyone using or possessing
illegal drugs in prison.

46%

51

22%

24

24

27

3

44. (SPLIT SAMPLE B) Illegal
drug use is tearing apart our
communities. We need to lock
up drug users to stop the spread
of drugs and crime.

59%

40

30%

29

22

18

2

45. Because we have put more
people in prison in the last
decade, crime rates have
dropped by a third.

50%

44

17%

33

25

19

5

BELDEN RUSSONELLO & STEWART

Questionnaire with topline results
January 2001

Page 9

Here are some alternative punishments to putting people who commit non-violent crimes
in prison. Please tell me if you think each of the following is a good idea or bad idea to…
(Is that a very good/bad idea or a somewhat good/bad idea?): (ROTATE 46-51)
Good

Bad

Very
good

Smwt
good

Smwt
bad

Very
bad

DK/
Ref

46. Require community service,
instead of going to prison

80%

17

43%

37

10

7

2

47. Require offenders to compensate
their victims for their loss, instead of
going to prison

76%

21

49%

27

12

9

2

48. Require offenders to check in
with a probation officer, instead of
going to prison

74%

24

39%

35

14

10

2

49. Require mandatory education
and job training, instead of going to
prison.

81%

18

49%

32

10

8

2

50. Require non-violent offenders to
meet with their victims to
understand the impact of their
crimes, instead of going to prison.

60%

37

33%

27

19

18

3

51. Do you agree or disagree that we
need to change the laws so that fewer
non-violent crimes are punishable by
prison terms? (Is that strongly
agree/disagree or somewhat
agree/disagree?)

STRONGLY AGREE ...................... 37%
SOMEWHAT AGREE .................... 33
SOMEWHAT DISAGREE.............. 14
STRONGLY DISAGREE ................ 12
DON’T KNOW/REF........................ 3

BELDEN RUSSONELLO & STEWART

 

 

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