Steve Koczela offers testimony to Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary

On the results of polls and focus groups conducted by MPG

My name is Steve Koczela, and I am the president of The MassINC Polling Group. I am here today to testify on the results of polls and focus groups we have conducted on criminal justice reform, spanning 2014 to April and May of this year. The polls and focus groups were sponsored by our parent think tank, MassINC and The Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

We will submit the full report on this poll, and the topline results and crosstabs are posted on our website. Because you have the details, and in the interest of time, I would like to share some overarching observations.

First, many of the specific opinion dynamics I will share are related to the majority view that the current criminal justice system is counterproductive. By a 2-to-1 margin, voters think former inmates are more likely to reoffend because they have been hardened by their prison experience than they are to have been rehabilitated. This is the opposite of the priorities voters say they want from the system—a focus on prevention and rehabilitation.

On the front end of the system, just 8 percent say they prefer mandatory minimums instead of either sentencing guidelines or complete judicial discretion. Though the numbers vary slightly, this lopsided preference for discretion is consistent across all demographics in the survey.  On another issue affecting the front end of the system, voters support raising the state’s threshold amount for felony larceny to $1,500.

With regard to those who are sent to prison, majorities think programs like education, job training, and connecting with community groups would be very effective at reducing future crime. And on the back end, voters support reducing the time after which inmates can have their records sealed from potential employers.

Since our 2014 poll, the opioid crisis has taken hold in the Commonwealth. Despite that, preferences for the system’s approach to drug crime remained stable. By a margin of 66 percent to 24 percent, voters think drug addiction should be treated as a health issue, rather than a crime. By a similar margin, they favor investing more in drug treatment as a response to the opioid crisis, over locking up more drug dealers.

Voters do think drug addicts who commit serious crimes should be sent to prison. But they envision a very different criminal justice system: one that prioritizes prevention and rehabilitation, that lets judges take circumstances into consideration when sentencing, that invests in rehabilitation in prison to reduce recidivism, and that makes it easier for inmates to reenter society.

These opinions are broadly consistent with national polling as well as polling in both red and blue states. In an era where almost every issue is politically polarized, we found bipartisan support for most of the reforms tested in this poll. We also broke down the results into groups ranging from the most liberal and most conservative legislative districts, and found the same dynamic. A broad range of reforms have bipartisan support, no matter how you slice the data.

Finally, we looked at opinion among people who said they or a member of their immediate family had been victims of crime, and people living in communities with disproportionate numbers of former inmate releases, to see if proximity to crime lessens support for reform. In both groups, there was little or no difference in support for reform.

With that, I’m happy to take questions now, or to schedule time later with member of the committee who want to look at the poll findings in more detail. Thank you.

Meet The Author

Steve Koczela

President, The MassINC Polling Group

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