Voters Want Prison-Reduction Reforms

prison overcrowdingCalifornia Voters Overwhelmingly Support Policy Changes that Reduce the Prison Population and Prison Spending

Findings Offer Alternatives as Legislature Explores Options to Address Prison Crowding 

August 28, 2013 — As the State Legislature begins to deliberate on options to immediately reduce prison crowding in California’s state prisons, Californians for Safety and Justice ( released findings from a survey of 1,600 California voters showing widespread support for various criminal justice reforms.

Yesterday, under pressure from the federal courts to reduce prison overcrowding by the end of the year, Governor Brown proposed transferring nearly 10,000 state prisoners to private and out-of-state prisons, a move that will cost as much as $315 million in 2013 (and more in the coming year).

Today, California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg offered an alternative proposal that would ask the courts to delay its deadline for prison reductions if the state provides financial incentives to counties that implement evidenced-based programs that reduce prison commitments; forms an expert commission to revamp state sentencing laws; and increases support for mental health treatment.

The survey, conducted by David Binder Research from July 11 to 20, demonstrates significant voter support for elements of Steinberg’s plan (see table below). And when respondents were asked what problems within our criminal justice system were most important to address, the top two answers were “there is too much money spent on prisons” and “incarceration is used for too many non-serious, nonviolent offenders.”

“Adding more prison beds is one very expensive band-aid for a problem calling for a much more comprehensive solution,” said Lenore Anderson, Executive Director of Californians for Safety and Justice.  “Spending hundreds of millions more taxpayer dollars on prison expansion also runs counter to public opinion. In survey after survey, California voters have voiced frustration with our ineffective, costly prison system – and a clear desire for state leaders to pursue common sense changes that increase public safety and reduce costs. Voters want to replace waste with smart justice.”

Survey Findings




Expand effective treatment programs for mentally ill people instead of putting these people in prison.



Allow judges to consider, with victim input, releasing elderly and frail inmates that are no longer a threat to public safety, and who have less than life without parole sentences.



Establish a Public Safety Commission, made up of criminal justice experts, to streamline California’s criminal statutes with the goal of safely reducing prison costs and maximizing public safety.



Financially reward counties that reduce the number of people sent to state prison and county jail through evidence-based community programs proven to reduce repeat offending and help former offenders become productive Californians.



Allow inmates who were not sentenced to life without parole or death to earn early release from prison by completing rehabilitation programs, paying victim restitution, and completing job training and educational programs.




To learn more about the survey and findings, email

About the survey methodology

David Binder Research conducted a statewide survey July 11-20, 2013, with a representative sample of 1,600 registered California voters. The margin of error is 2.5-2.8%. The survey was conducted online and screened by voter registration and voter likelihood. The sample represents the broadest representation of the full diversity of Californians of all ages, ethnicities, geographies, and other demographic groups.

About Californians for Safety and Justice

Californians for Safety and Justice, a project of the Tides Center, is a nonprofit bringing together crime victims, business and community leaders, policymakers, law enforcement, health professionals, educators and crime-prevention experts to replace prison and justice system waste with common sense solutions that create safe neighborhoods and save public dollars. Through collaborations, policy research and analysis, toolkits and trainings, and community engagement, we are working to build a justice system that improves public safety and health without draining resources from our schools, hospitals and other community needs.

For the full researcher memo on this survey, click here.