Such issues as cash bail, medical marijuana and possession show Kansans agree on reforms

Micah Kubic

From cash bail, to eliminating juvenile fines and fees to legalized medical marijuana, Kansans want change in our criminal justice system.

We remain overdue for a meaningful response to this call for change by Kansas legislators, who have yet to address the need for a major overhaul of our antiquated criminal legal system. New polling research indicates a real shift in the attitudes toward a range of these policies in Kansas, with voters eagerly embracing real reform.

We recently had a poll of 700 Kansas voters completed. Four in five Kansans surveyed support allowing medical marijuana prescriptions, and 71% support removing criminal penalties for possession of marijuana. Kansas voters are increasingly uninspired by legislators’ unwillingness to answer the call for better policy, year after year.

By now, Kansans have come around to the idea that decades-old “tough on crime” policies did little more than expand our jail and prison systems, drained our budgets and ultimately left us less safe — while destroying the lives of so many Kansas families.

Our cash bail system, for example, creates a two-tier system of justice between the rich and the poor — those who can buy their freedom get to go home while awaiting trial. On any given day in our state, cash bail leaves as many as 6,000 people sitting in jail cells for no other reason than they didn’t have enough money for bail.

Your wealth shouldn’t determine your freedom — and nearly seven in 10 Kansans surveyed agreed.

Sixty-nine percent said they supported reforms in cash bail to allow people to go home on the same day they are arrested if they don’t pose a flight risk and aren’t a threat to anyone else. More than a third said they “strongly support” this proposal.

Interestingly, this support for bail reform cut across major demographic groupings: about 88% of Democrats, 76% of Independents, and 54% of Republicans supported reforms.

Roughly 88% of African-Americans, 80% of Latino and 69% of white voters also supported reforms.

Also, 70% of women and 67% of men supported reforms as did 73% of voters under 50, 56% of voters aged 50 to 64, and 73% of voters 65 and older.

This bipartisan support for reform among Kansas voters extended beyond cash bail.

Four of five respondents supported replacing juvenile fines with other accountability measures. 89% of Democrats, 89% of Independents and 70% of Republicans supported this reform. This also cut across demographic lines: about 87% of Latino voters, 83% of Black voters and 81% of white voters supported reform, as did 85% of women and 74% of men.

And finally, across different age group, large majorities of voter under 50 as well as those over 65 also supported these reforms to our predatory juvenile fines system. That support remained consistent even after negative messaging.

A large majority — 70% — of Kansans also support restoring driver’s licenses to drivers if the crime was unrelated to driving.

Clearly, Kansans believe your wealth shouldn’t determine how you’re treated if you’ve been charged with a crime or in any other interaction with the legal system.

In an increasingly difficult environment to find common political ground, these findings nonetheless show that in the upcoming legislative session and beyond, Kansas lawmakers have numerous opportunities to close the gap that remains between the legal system we have now and one that truly meets the values of their constituents.

Micah Kubic is the executive director of ACLU of Kansas.

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