Reducing Excessive Prison Terms

The Justice Collaborative Institute & Fair and Just Prosecution & Data for Progress

Executive summary

The U.S. is a world-leader in incarceration, and the unprecedented number of people serving decades-long and life sentences is a major reason for America’s outlier status. In recent years, despite an emerging bipartisan consensus around the need for criminal justice reform, there has been insufficient action to address people serving lengthy sentences who no longer pose a serious risk to public safety. To gauge popular support for policies that provide opportunities for people serving long prison terms to seek release and return to their communities, we conducted a national survey of American voters.

The survey results found strong support for both of these reforms:

  • Overall, 69% of voters support “second look” legislation that allows for “the re-examination of old sentences to provide a second chance for people who have been in prison for more than ten years and who can be safely returned to the community.”
  • Support for these reforms is bipartisan and cuts across geography and ideology. Support among “very conservative” voters for second-look legislation is 63% while support among “very liberal” voters is 82%. These numbers track support along party lines, with 81% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans supporting.
  • Similarly, two-thirds (67%) of voters support “elected prosecutors reexamining past sentences to provide a second chance to people who have been in prison for ten years or longer and who can be safely returned to the community.”
  • Strong support for prosecutors’ sentence review also cut across political lines with 69%  of  “very conservative” and 73% of “very liberal” voters supporting, respectively.
Reducing Excessive Prison Terms