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What Florida Conservatives Think about Criminal Justice

| March 23, 2011

Right On Crime is launching in Florida this week.  In conjunction with the launch, the campaign conducted a poll in Florida to investigate current attitudes towards criminal justice policy in the Sunshine State.  Over 80% of the poll respondents identified as either conservative or moderate.

Because the respondents leaned conservative/centrist, several of the answers were quite interesting.  Consider the following: “Do you agree or disagree that individuals who are ‘Tough on Crime’ can also support innovative cost-effective sanctions for nonviolent offenders — such as community supervision, mandatory drug testing and treatment programs — which will reduce the likelihood that an offender will commit a new crime as well as amount to significant savings for Florida taxpayers.”  Nearly 85% of poll respondents agreed with that statement; nearly 50% indicated that they “strongly agreed.”

This question yielded similarly interesting results: “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘It does not matter whether a nonviolent offender is in prison for 21 or 24 or 27 months.  What really matters is that the system does a better job of making sure that when an offender does get out, he is less likely to commit another crime.”  Nearly 90% of respondents agreed with this statement; 64% indicated that they “strongly agreed.”

The polling results suggest that some caricatures of conservative views on criminal justice are deeply flawed.  Conservatives do not think that sentencing offenders to prison time is the only way to be “tough on crime.”  Nor do they believe that incrementally increasing prison sentences year after year is preferable to a policy that might do more to reduce recidivism.  Conservatives, according to the poll, favor the reasonable use of prison space — generally for violent offenders — but they are also open to alternative sanctions for non-violent offenders if those alternatives are effective.  Now all they need is elected officials who will be responsive to their concerns.


VIBRANT P. REDDY is Senior Fellow for criminal justice issues at the Charles Koch Institute. Previously, Reddy was the Senior Policy Analyst for both Right on Crime and the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice. He has authored several reports on criminal justice policy and is a frequent speaker and media commentator on the topic. Reddy has worked as a research assistant at The Cato Institute, as a law clerk to the Honorable Gina M. Benavides of the Thirteenth Court of Appeals of Texas, and as an attorney in private practice, focusing on trial and appellate litigation. Reddy graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in Plan II Honors, Economics, and History, and he earned his law degree at the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas and of the State Bar’s Appellate Section and Criminal Justice Section.