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ACLU Poll Shows Public Attitudes Changing On Incarceration

A poll by the ACLU shows most California voters support investing in more alternatives to incarceration.

The poll results come one year after the beginning of realignment, the shift of thousands of nonviolent offenders from state to county jurisdiction. The policy stems from a federal court order to reduce the number of prisoners in California's overcrowded prisons.

Margaret Dooley Sammuli of the American Civil Liberties Union said 70 percent of those polled said they support policies such as supervising offenders in the community, rather than spending money to build more county jails.

"It’s clear to us from this polling that California voters want smart, effective policies,” Dooley Sammuli said. “They believe we can have public safety and reduce the number of people behind bars. Maybe it’s going to take a little while for legislators in Sacramento to catch on.”

Dooley Sammuli said in 2012, California state legislators failed to pass even modest sentencing reform laws that have proven successful in other states like Michigan, South Carolina and Virginia.

She said some counties, like San Mateo, are investing realignment money from the state to expand their jails. Others, like San Diego, are focusing more on new approaches like split sentencing, where low-level offenders serve part of their sentence under community supervision.

According to the poll, 75 percent of Los Angeles and San Francisco residents were in favor of diverting funds to community solutions. Sixty-three percent of San Diegans support that approach over expanding jails.

Among Democrats, almost 80 percent favor changing policies, and even among Republicans - historically more tough on crime – 55 percent supported more community-based solutions.

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