More than nine out of 10 Kansas registered voters supports changes to the criminal justice system in Kansas, and more than two-thirds of voters believe the number of prisoners in Kansas needs to be reduced, according to the results of a poll commissioned for the ACLU of Kansas and Kansas Appleseed. Click here to view the poll results.

While most Kansans feel safe in their own neighborhoods, four out of five Kansans say the criminal justice system in Kansas is facing challenges that need to be addressed. More than a third of voters say the system needs a significant revamping due to problems and challenges. Voters are skeptical of claims that criminal justice reform would undermine public safety in Kansas.

The Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hayes State University conducted the poll last month of both landline and mobile phone users. The poll surveyed 415 registered voters and has a margin of error of 4.8 percent. The poll’s racial, gender, ethnic and political makeup is representative of Kansas.

The ACLU of Kansas and Kansas Appleseed hope the findings spur legislative reform. Widespread public approval exists for the specific policy proposals made by Kansans for Smart Justice, a statewide coalition advocating for criminal justice reform. The support crosses political, partisan and ideological lines. Specific reforms like making certain drug offenses misdemeanors rather than felonies, greater use of diversion, and civil asset forfeiture reform receive a wide swath of support regardless of gender, age, education, party affiliation, or ideological orientation.

Ninety-three percent of Kansans believe changes are needed to the criminal justice system. Of that, 50 percent say it is very important that changes be made. Eighty percent said they strongly support smart justice policies with another 16 percent expressing some support.

When asked an open-ended question about why it is important to reduce the number of prisoners, 43 percent said people are housed in prisons that don’t belong there. A third of voters believe the costs are too high. More than a fifth of voters believe sentences are too long and harsh. Three out of five Kansans say reducing the prison population would free up taxpayer money for other purposes.

Three out of four Kansans say defelonizing certain non-violent drug convictions would save tax dollars that could be used for other purposes, including community safety programs. Eighty percent believe the state is wasting money by imprisoning people on simple, non-violent drug possession convictions. There is significant support for providing community-based treatment programs for drug addicts who haven’t committed violent crimes.

The Kansas Legislature has begun making criminal justice reforms, but failed to enact many significant changes including overhauling the civil asset forfeiture law. A recent state audit raised significant questions about the current system. The poll found that more than 80 percent of Kansans support requiring law enforcement officials to get a conviction before they can seize someone’s property.

The ACLU of Kansas was pleased to see such widespread and strong public support for criminal justice reform.

“At a time when many issues divide Kansas voters, criminal justice reform is one that unites them,” said Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas. “People are in agreement that Kansas must enact significant and dramatic smart justice measures. It is up to lawmakers to come together and act. This is why we are pleased to be hosting along with a diverse coalition of civil rights, community improvement, social service and faith-based organizations a series of candidate forums on smart justice. These forums will give voters an opportunity to hear directly from candidates on these important issues, and to have vital information when casting their ballots on Nov. 8.”

The series of five forums will ask candidates for the Kansas Legislature to explain their thoughts on the challenges facing the criminal justice system and determine their support for reform measures, such as banning the box. Well-respected journalists and community leaders will moderate the forums, which begin this Thursday in Lenexa and conclude Oct. 13 in Wichita.

For more information about the policy proposals that earned widespread public support and the upcoming candidate forums, visit www.smartjusticekansas.orgThe poll results can be found here.

PDF icon Smart Justice Poll Results.pdf