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Outtakes from the Marquette Law Poll, July 23, 2013 Edition
And why criminal justice is the thorniest political issue except for a few select others, including abortion.
The "bonus" questions tacked onto the Marquette Law Poll released today are enough to make policymakers with a mind to criminal justice delirious with conflicting information.

First, let's start with a quick profile of the respondents, 713 Wisconsinites who answered their phones and submitted to a barrage of questions. (All numbers are percentages.)

Party affiliation
Republican 24.4
Independent 39.4
Democrat 30.5
Other responses 5.8

Political views
Conservative/Very conservative 38.0
Moderate 32.9
Liberal/Very liberal 24.6
Other responses 4.4

After testing approval for Gov. Scott Walker (48-46) and President Barack Obama (47-47), the poll asks if these fine citizens of Wisconsin "feel safe walking alone at night" in their neighborhood, and most agree. A solid majority also agrees that "the people in my community really care about their neighbors." So the whole public safety thing seems to be going pretty well.

But look out, here comes government.

You really can't trust the government to do the right thing
Agree 62.5
Disagree 34.1

And not only might government not do the right thing, it might do the wrong thing. In fact, that's the norm.

The government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves
Agree 78.9
Disagree 19.1

I see. And that's not all.

People in the government waste a lot of money we pay in taxes
Agree 87.4
Disagree 11.1



Now, let's zero in on public safety. The court system is part of the government, you know. So how good of a job is it doing?

The courts are too lenient with criminals
Agree 62.0
Disagree 34.2


We need tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders
Agree 60.1
Disagree 14.3

Hmm, could be better, you say. Well, what about the DEATH PENALTY? How's that for getting tough on crime?

A person convicted of murder should receive the death penalty
Agree 46.6
Disagree 50.5

OK. Maybe execution is a step too far. Back to taxes. Incarcerating convicts for decades or life costs a lot of money. We could be spending that money on something else. Maybe you could be spending that money on something else, such as a boat, or food.

If a prisoner serves half of his term, he should be released and given a less costly form of punishment
Agree 54.5
Disagree 41.4

Aha! So you want tougher sentences, but you're not 100% willing to pay for them?

To sum up, we should be looking at prisons with a mind to cost effectiveness, right? After all, government is prone to misspending our tax dollars. Let's keep that in mind.

Prisons should be put to the cost-benefit test 55.3
People who commit crimes belong behind bars, end of story 39.6
Don't know 4.7



Great. Nobody's going to argue with spending tax dollars responsibly. But isn't public safety like our #1 priority? What about Wisconsin's "truth in sentencing" law (1998), which set new guidelines for minimum sentences. (Use the handy Truth in Sentencing Calculator on this page!) That seems like it would "make Wisconsin safer."

Do you agree?

Yes 57.4
No 34.4
Don't know 7.5

Well, huh. So you support maintaining truth-in-sentencing in Wisconsin?

Agree 66.0
Disagree 26.5
Don't know 6.7

But how should the decisions themselves be made, deciding who gets released once all requirements have been met?

Judge 31.3
Commission of experts 52.0
Equally good 13.4

Careful, using a "commission of experts" might bring a bunch of social science people into the room, and they might bring up the whole "cost-benefit" thing again.

What's that you say? Each case should be considered on an individual basis? So you'd want to limit release to "prisoners who are elderly, terminally ill or severely physically disabled," right?

Agree 42.5
Disagree 51.9
Don't know 5.1

Hmm. So what's the deal? Release some prisoners, release everybody, release a few? Let a commission of experts decide, with veto power given to a panel of retired judges? No, no, don't tell me. I've got to go lie down.

(photo via Shutterstock)




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