Berryessa, C.M. (2021). Public support for using “second chance” mechanisms to reconsider long-term prison sentences for drug crimes. Federal Sentencing Reporter 34(1): 71-79.
Using a national sample of U.S. adults (N = 371), this study experimentally examines (1) public support for the use of strategies that provide early release (i.e., “second chance” mechanisms) to individuals serving long-term prison sentences for drug crimes; and (2) how levels of support, and reasons for support, may vary depending on the type of drug-related offense. Results show moderate levels of support for using second chance mechanisms, both generally and in relation to specific strategies commonly available across jurisdictions, for a range of drug offenders. Yet participants showed significantly more support for using presumptive parole, elimination of parole revocations for technical violations, second-look sentencing, and compassionate release in the cases of those incarcerated long term for serious trafficking of marijuana, as compared to serious trafficking of serious drugs. Data also suggest that the public finds a range of factors—including the original sentence being extreme by international standards, extreme due to racially biased practices, out of step with current sentencing values/practices, too costly, and continuing to incarcerate someone unlikely to be a public safety threat—as at least moderately important to their support for the use of second chance mechanisms across drug crimes, and the importance of these factors to that support does not appear to differ significantly based on the type of drug offense. The importance of these results for policy making and utilization are discussed, as well as implications for reducing our historical reliance on drug-related incarceration.