People generally support mandatory minimum sentences, but there are doubts about their effectiveness.
Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced an overhaul of how the federal government approaches the prosecution of certain crimes. Currently, people who are convicted of dealing even small amounts of illegal drugs can face lengthy prison sentences. Under new rules, however, the government will ignore the quantity of drugs involved in order to limit prison sentences for small time dealers, if they have no links to gangs or violence. A number of states have already begun to cut prison sentences for drug offenses and a bipartisan bill has been proposed in the Senate.
The latest YouGov research shows that even though politicians are moving to limit sentences the public still supports mandatory minimums for certain crimes, though not necessarily for drug offenses. 56% of Americans think that certain crimes should carry mandatory minimums, while 23% think that judges should always have discretion about how to sentence convicted criminals.
Despite the significant support for mandatory minimum sentences, some of those who support the sentences do not think that they help stop crime. 39% of Americans think that they help stop prevent crime, while 40% think that they do not. There is an interesting, though not dramatic, split along partisan lines. Democrats (31%) are less likely than Republicans (53%) to say that mandatory minimums help prevent crime. Independents are marginally more likely to say that mandatory minimums are ineffective rather than effective, with 44% saying they do not prevent crime and 38% saying that they do.
Full results can be found here.