The nation's prison wardens say there are too many minor drug offenders behind bars, crowding out violent criminals who should be there, according to a survey released this week by Sen. Paul Simon.

A survey by Simon of 157 prison wardens across the country found that two-thirds said prison space could be better used by imposing shorter sentences on non-violent offenders to make space for longer sentences for violent criminals.In addition, 85 percent said "no" to the question "Do you think most elected officials are offering effective solutions to crime?" while only 10 percent said "yes."

The Illinois Democrat said at a news conference that he was releasing the survey of wardens because it was time for a "reality check" now that it appears the new Republican Congress will be gearing up for another crime bill.

Simon conceded the new Repubican majority will be a tough sell for his views, because Republicans say more money should be used for prisons and less for prevention.

But he said the tripling of the prison population to 1 million since 1980 has done nothing for the peace of mind of most Americans.

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"Violent criminals are not being incarcerated as long as they should be because low-level drug offenders are occupying so much prison space," said Patrick Murphy, former police commissioner of New York, Detroit, Syracuse and Washington and once the chief of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration.

Murphy called it futile to put more low-level people in prison for drugs.

"We've lost that war," he said, adding that for every low-level drug operative arrested, "10 more are waiting in line for the job - there's an infinite supply of people willing to engage in that, knowing the risk."

He said such low-level drug operatives were mostly poor people caught between high-level drug operatives who are rarely arrested and suburban recreational drug users, who rarely become addicted.

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