Half of Americans in a new HuffPost/YouGov poll oppose mandatory minimum sentences, the tough sentencing laws that have come under fire again recently for imposing long sentences on low-level criminals and contributing to overcrowding in prisons.
According to the new poll, only 32 percent of Americans think that the government should require certain minimum sentences for anyone convicted of a given crime, while 50 percent said that judges should have more leeway in determining sentences.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would alter its policies to avoid charging low-level offenders with crimes that require mandatory minimums, while the U.S. Sentencing Commission encouraged Congress to reduce mandatory minimum requirements.
In the new poll, around half of respondents across party lines favored giving judges greater leeway to determine sentences, while fewer said that the government should require minimum sentences.
The poll also found that 38 percent of Americans think the sentences usually given for drug crimes such as possession or sale of illegal drugs are too harsh -- slightly less than the combined 43 percent who said that sentences for those crimes were too lenient (23 percent) or about right (20 percent).
By contrast, only 11 percent said that the prison sentences typically given for non-violent property crimes like burglary or theft are too harsh, and only 1 percent said that typical sentences for violent crimes like robbery and rape are too harsh.
On drug crimes, 43 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of independents, but only 24 percent of Republicans, said that current sentences are too harsh.
The 38 percent of respondents to the new poll who said that typical drug sentences are too harsh is an increase over a 2006 National Center for State Courts survey (accessed using the Roper Center's iPoll database) that found that only 23 percent of Americans said sentences for drug crimes were too harsh at that time.
The new poll is only the latest to find support is weakening for the nation's drug laws. Recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, and a January HuffPost/YouGov poll suggested that more than half of Americans think the war on drugs has not been worth the cost.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Aug. 13-14 among 1,000 adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.
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