Drafts and revisions of a comprehensive prison and sentencing reform measure have been circulating the halls of the state capitol for weeks, but the basic concept behind the overhaul may have solidified in voters’ minds already.
A new Talk Business-Hendrix College Poll of 659 state voters conducted on Monday night, February 28 shows that by a two-to-one margin Arkansans support altering penalties for drug offenders versus building more prisons. For a little discussed issue thus far, there were surprisingly few respondents with an undecided opinion.
The poll asked:
Q: Due to prison population problems, Arkansas is considering changing its drug laws to place heavier penalties on those involved with the drug trade, lesser penalties on those who only use or possess drugs, and provide treatment to low-level drug offenders. An alternative is to build more prisons. What do you think lawmakers should do?
56% Alter penalties to free up prison space
26% Build more prisons
18% Don’t Know
Roby Brock, editor of Talk Business, said, "We constructed this question without full knowledge of what the final legislation presented will look like. But these are the parameters that supporters of the bill suggest it will do. If they follow through on their intent, it appears likely that Arkansans will support the changes."
Dr. Jay Barth, with the Hendrix College Department of Politics and International Relations, helped craft and analyze the poll. He offered the following observations:
Support for the efforts to overhaul the corrections system in the state, especially related to drug offenses, is broad and deep. Majorities of Arkansans favor efforts to move away from incarceration toward treatment across most groups of voters. There is little variance across age groups or gender, with healthy majorities of all groups favoring the proposals emanating out of the task force’s work. Among partisan groups, strong majorities of Democrats (56%) and Independents (60%) favor the proposal. But, the proposal has support even among Republican voters, with just at 50% favoring the initiative. Support is also strong across racial/ethnic groups. While other groups all show majority support, African-Americans surveyed were interestingly most tepid towards the proposal with 48% of that group voicing support.
This poll question is one of several legislature-related topics Talk Business and Hendrix College will be revealing over the course of the next week. Other topics include highways, tax cuts, and political job approval ratings.
This poll was conducted by Talk Business Research and Hendrix College. The poll, which has a margin of error of +/- 3.8%, was completed using IVR survey technology on Monday, February 28, 2011 among 659 registered Arkansas voters statewide.
All media outlets are welcome to reprint, reproduce, or rebroadcast information from this poll with proper attribution to Talk Business and Hendrix College.