New Poll Shows Most Kansans Support Reducing Drug Sentences | KCUR

New Poll Shows Most Kansans Support Reducing Drug Sentences

Sep 27, 2016

A large majority of Kansans support reducing drug possession penalties to reduce the state's prison population.
Credit Wikipedia

A huge majority of Kansans say they would support reducing non-violent drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor as a way to reduce the prison population in the state.

The poll from the ACLU of Kansas shows that 86 percent of those polled either strongly support or somewhat support what the organization calls the "defelonization of certain nonviolent drug convictions."

“Mostly because they thought there are many people in prison today for a substance abuse problem or a mental health condition that all of us would be better served if they were getting treatment and services outside of prison,” says ACLU Kansas Executive Director Micha Kubic.

Only 10 percent either strongly opposed or somewhat opposed the idea. The poll did not ask about decriminalizing marijuana or whether it should be available for medical use. 

While 69 percent of those polled said it's very important or somewhat important to reduce the number of inmates in Kansas prisons, about half (48 percent) suggest there's no urgency in addressing the problem. Forty-eight percent say overall the system has "a few problems" that need addressing "eventually".

The poll also suggests there is widespread support for criminal justice reform in the state. Almost 42 percent polled identified as conservative and almost 40 percent as Republican.

“This is not a controversial proposition," Kubic says. "That these sorts of common sense reforms that will make a big impact on the prison population while also making out communities safer and stronger, these are policy proposals that most Kansans agree on.”

Not everyone does.

"I'd stop short of reducing nonviolent possession of all controlled substances to a misdemeanor," says state Rep. John Rubin, a Republican from Shawnee who is retiring from the Legislature.

Rubin led the charge to reduce the penalties for marijuana possession in the last session and says he would support easing penalties even more for such a crime. By including nonviolent possession for all drugs, he says, you bring in a whole other set problems. Possessing some drugs, like meth, can lead "to violent possession."

But Rubin says the prison population in Kansas must be reduced. Right now it's at about 101 percent of capacity and Rubin, as well as many other conservatives, have little appetite for building more prisons.

The ACLU poll seems to support that position. When asked what Kansas should do to address overcapacity, 59 percent recommended reducing the population while 41 percent backed building more prisons.

The poll was done by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University. It surveyed 415 registered voters and has a margin of error of 4.8 percent.

While law and order has become an issue in the presidential campaign, it seems to have little traction in Kansas. The state Republican Party platform only says this about crime: "We support the work of law enforcement across the state to create safe neighborhoods, to protect us from sex offenders, and to provide freedom from abuse. The judicial system must impose swift and fair punishment for all crimes, violent and non-violent."

Sam Zeff is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend and covers education for KCUR. Follow Sam on Twitter @SamZeff.