Most California voters are willing to take more drastic steps than Gov. Jerry Brown favors to reduce prison crowding, including the early release of nonviolent offenders, but they don’t want to sacrifice public safety to reduce the inmate population, says a new survey by the Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California Dornsife College of Letters. Support for softened penalties comes as Brown is fighting an order from federal judges to continue shrinking the number of inmates in state prisons. He says California has done enough and any more changes could increase crime.
Sixty-three percent of voters favored freeng low-level, nonviolent offenders from prison early. Brown has opposed such releases to comply with the court’s order to remove 9,500 inmates by the end of the year. Thirty-one percent were opposed. An even higher share of voters, 72 percent, were comfortable with cutting sentences for minor crimes, another possible outcome of the court order. The poll results underscore a shift away from the tough-on-crime measures like California’s “three strikes” law two decades ago. Last year, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to loosen the law so that many nonviolent crimes don’t trigger the harshest prison sentences.