Los Angeles Voters Support Releasing People as Jail Population Rises Amid COVID Surge

Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza & Sean McElwee

COVID-19 infections and deaths in Los Angeles have reached crisis levels, straining local resources—including the environment. Throughout the pandemic, jails and prisons have served as vectors for disease, endangering not only those locked inside but also staff and surrounding communities. That’s why preventing the further spread of COVID-19 inside carceral facilities is essential. Last year, Los Angeles made significant headway, proving it’s possible to tackle the problem at the root: overcrowding. Back in April, the county shrank its incarcerated population by nearly 30 percent, from 17,000 to 12,000. But since then the trend has reversed, and now the county jail population is back above 15,000.

A new poll from The Lab, a policy vertical of The Appeal, and Data for Progress shows substantial support among Los Angeles County voters for a number of measures to reduce the jail population.

A strong majority (59 percent) of respondents in Los Angeles County—including 65 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independent voters—favor releasing people charged with low-level offenses, such as crimes that do not involve physical injuries to another person. Just a third of voters (33 percent) oppose such a measure. 

Sixty-two percent of people favor releasing incarcerated people with less than 6 months left in their sentence. An even stronger majority (65 percent) of voters support releasing elderly incarcerated people and 55 percent favor releasing those who are more vulnerable to the virus as a result of co-morbidities like heart and lung disease so long as they do not pose a serious risk to public safety. 

Nor do voters want to see additional people detained before trial unless strictly necessary: 6 in 10 Angelenos support the use of tickets and citations as alternatives to jail to ensure court appearances with only a quarter (27 percent) in opposition.

Full Poll Results

Polling Methodology

From January 29 to February 1, 2021, Data for Progress conducted a survey of 514 likely voters in Los Angeles County, California, using web panel respondents. The sample was weighted to be representative of likely voters by age, gender, education, race, and voting history. The survey was conducted in English. The margin of error is ±4.3 percentage points.

Los Angeles Voters Support Releasing People as Jail Population Rises Amid COVID Surge