About half of Connecticut residents believe that instead of building more prisons or sending inmates out of state, legislators should relax mandatory minimum sentences and invest more in alternative-to-incarceration programs, reports the Hartford Courant. A new University of Connecticut survey found that 51 percent oppose spending more to send inmates out of state and 53 percent oppose building more prisons. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Nearly 90 percent of respondents backed sending nonviolent mentally ill offenders to mental health facilities and 84 percent favored sentencing nonviolent substance abusers to treatment or probation instead of prison. Sixty-one percent supported relaxing mandatory minimum sentences for first-time offenders to reduce prison crowding. Providing more services for parolees was supported by 76 percent.
The poll shows a shift in the public’s attitude toward the treatment of drug abusers and the mentally ill compared to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when people were much tougher on crime, said Christopher Barnes of the UConn Center for Survey Research and Analysis. “Back then the public’s sentiment was to get everybody who did anything in jail, leave them there and we don’t want to know about it,” he said.
“I’m not surprised,” said state Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, one of the leaders of a prison reform package under consideration by the legislature. He said the survey shows that people are beginning to understand that state prisons are not filled with rapists, drug kingpins, and murderers. As of January, the state’s inmate population was 18,523, including 554 inmates being held for the federal authorities. About 30 percent of the prison population have been charged with violent crimes.