Sept. 24, 2008, 11:00 AM
Contact: Monica Pratt Raffanel, (678) 261-8118 or (202) 822-6700
Press teleconference today! Wednesday, September 24 at 11 a.m. ET
Dial In Number: (800) 593-9034
Passcode: FAMM (3266)
NEW POLL: Americans Oppose Mandatory Minimums,
Will Vote for Candidates Who Feel the Same
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new poll released today by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) shows widespread support for ending mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses and that Americans will vote for candidates who feel the same way.
· Fully 78 percent of Americans (nearly eight in 10) agree that courts – not Congress – should determine an individual’s prison sentence.
· Six in 10 (59 percent) oppose mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders.
· A majority of Americans (57 percent) polled said they would likely vote for a candidate for Congress who would eliminate all mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes.
“Politicians have voted for mandatory minimum sentences so they could appear ‘tough on crime’ to their constituents. They insist that their voters support these laws, but it’s just not true,” says Julie Stewart, president and founder of FAMM. “Republicans and Democrats support change and that should encourage members of Congress to reach across the aisle next year and work together to reform mandatory minimums. Mandatory sentencing reform is not a partisan issue, but an issue about fairness and justice that transcends party lines.”
During a time of financial crisis and uncertainty in the United States, reviewing current criminal justice policies and reforming mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders is an option that Democratic and Republican lawmakers are considering. Although neither is endorsing FAMM’s poll or report, Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) are both concerned about America’s prison and sentencing system.
“America is locking up people at astonishing rates. In the name of ‘getting tough on crime,’ there are now 2.2 million Americans in federal, state, and local prisons and jails and over 7 million under some form of correction supervision, including probation and parole. We have the largest prison population in the world,” says Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.), who is chairing a symposium on criminal justice and prison issues in October. “This growth is not a response to increasing crime rates, but a reliance on prisons and long mandatory sentences as the common response to crime. It is time for America’s leadership to realize what the public understands – our approach is costly, unfair and impractical.”
“Mandatory minimums wreak havoc on a logical system of sentencing guidelines,” says Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.). “Mandatory minimums turn today’s hot political rhetoric into the nightmares of many tomorrows for judges and families.”
"This poll suggests that a majority of Americans are open to re-examining this issue and moving to a court-driven sentencing model,” said Sparky Zivin, Research Director at StrategyOne.
The poll bolsters the findings of FAMM’s comprehensive new report, Correcting Course: Lessons from the 1970 Repeal of Mandatory Minimums, which describes how Congress repealed mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses in 1970 – and had no trouble getting reelected.
“Our report and poll show that lawmakers can vote to reform mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses and live to tell the story. Republicans and Democrats alike don’t want these laws. They don’t work, they cost taxpayers a fortune, and people believe Courts can sentence better than Congress can. Another repeal of mandatory drug sentences isn’t just doable, it’s doable right now,” says Molly Gill, author of Correcting Course.
The report details how Congress created mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug offenders in 1951 and repealed them in 1970 because the laws failed to stop drug abuse, addiction and trafficking. It also finds that after 20 years of experience, current mandatory minimums have failed as badly as those enacted in the 1950s. Correcting Course concludes that mandatory minimum sentences:
• Have not discouraged drug use in the United States.
• Have not reduced drug trafficking.
• Have created soaring state and federal corrections costs.
• Impose substantial indirect costs on families by imprisoning spouses, parents, and breadwinners for lengthy periods.
• Are not applied evenly, disproportionately impacting minorities and resulting in vastly different sentences for equally blameworthy offenders.
• Undermine federalism by turning state-level offenses into federal crimes.
• Undermine separation of powers by usurping judicial discretion.
Eric Sterling, counsel to the House Judiciary Committee when mandatory sentences were enacted, says, “In 1986, we got stuck with some of the most punitive, least effective criminal sentencing laws ever created. Mandatory minimums haven’t stopped the drug trade. They haven’t locked up the big dealers and importers. They’re applied to small fries, not kingpins. It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to lock up a street-level dealer for 10 years when that money could be spent on treatment, drug courts, or going after the people bringing in boatloads of drugs every year. Getting rid of mandatory minimums is about getting our priorities straight.”
Correcting Course includes comprehensive strategies for how Congress can repeal these ineffective laws today and better reflect the popular attitude among Americans, as brought out in the findings of the poll.
“Mandatory minimums are among the worst criminal justice policies ever adopted in this country. They treat all offenders the same, when the most sacred principle of American sentencing law is that punishment should fit the individual and the crime. Repealing these laws isn’t impossible – it’s been done before. The next Congress should do it again,” says FAMM founder and president Julie Stewart.
FAMM’s poll was conducted by the independent public opinion research firm StrategyOne. The survey was conducted by telephone between July 31 and August 3, 2008 with 1,000 adults randomly selected across the United States. The margin of sampling error for the poll is plus or minus 3.1 percent for 95 out of 100 cases.
Families Against Mandatory Minimums is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that supports fair and proportionate sentencing laws that allow judicial discretion while maintaining public safety. For more information on FAMM, visit www.famm.org or call Monica Pratt Raffanel at 678-261-8118.