A national poll commissioned by the Youth First Initiative and conducted by GBA Strategies in 2017 shows that a majority of Americans, especially young people, believe that youth prisons should be closed and replaced with rehabilitation and prevention programs.
Here are the polling results:
To: Interested Parties
From: GBA Strategies
Date: February 6, 2017
Poll Results on Youth Justice Reform
At a time when partisan polarization dominates the political landscape, a new poll shows Americans of all political stripes support shifting the youth justice system from a focus on incarceration and punishment to prevention and rehabilitation. A strong 78% majority favors this shift, with broad support across partisan affiliations in the country (81% of Democrats, 83% of Independents, and 68% of Republicans).
The following are key findings from the survey of 1,000 adults in the U.S. age 18+:
Increase in Support for Proposals to Reform Youth Justice System in the U.S.
Over the last year, Americans have increased their already high support for a number of specific policy proposals aimed at addressing problems with the youth justice system, including the misguided focus on incarceration, racial and ethnic disparities in the system and the shortage of public defenders. Support grew the most for increasing funding for public defenders and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the youth criminal justice system.
|2016 Total Favor (%)||2017 Total Favor (%)|
|Design treatment and rehabilitation plans that include a youth’s family in planning and services||89||90|
|Provide financial incentives for states and municipalities to invest in alternatives to youth incarceration, such as intensive rehabilitation, education, job training, community services, and programs that provide youth the opportunity to repair harm to victims and communities||83||87|
|Increase funding to provide more public defenders who represent children in court||69||76|
|Require states to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the youth justice system||70||75|
All four of these proposals garner strong majority support across partisan lines, with a majority of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans supporting the initiatives. Support is very similar and strong for people who say they or their immediate families have been victims of crime as for those who haven’t been crime victims.
Support is particularly high among demographic groups most likely to have interaction with the youth justice system – African Americans, Latinos, and younger Americans. At the same time, support is above 7-in-10 for each of these proposals among white Americans without a college degree support, the demographic that most heavily supported Donald Trump for President.
Strong Belief in Rehabilitation and Counseling for Youth
Americans’ support for youth criminal justice reform is based on the beliefs that rehabilitation works and saves taxpayer dollars, and also youth that have committed delinquent acts are capable of positive change. These sentiments are shared broadly across racial lines with at least 7 in 10 whites, African Americans, and Latinos expressing support for each of these statements.
|Which statement comes closer to your view?|
|When it comes to youth who have committed delinquent acts, the best thing for society is to rehabilitate them so they can become productive members of society.||When it comes to youth who commit delinquent acts, the best thing for society is to incarcerate them so that our streets are safer.|
|The youth justice system should provide youth with more opportunity to better themselves.||The youth justice system should focus on punishing youth who have committed delinquent acts.|
|Most youth who commit delinquent acts are capable of positive growth, and they have the potential to change for the better.||Most youth who commit delinquent acts are unlikely to change for the better, and they will likely continue a life of illegal behavior.|
|Rehabilitation programs like counseling and education for youth who have committed delinquent acts will SAVE tax dollars in the long run.||Rehabilitation programs like counseling and education for youth who have committed delinquent acts will COST tax dollars in the long run.|
|Rehabilitation programs like counseling and education for youth who have committed delinquent acts helps prevent future delinquent acts.||Rehabilitation programs like counseling and education do little to prevent youth who have committed delinquent acts from committing future delinquent acts.|
Americans believe that the youth justice system should provide youth with more opportunity to better themselves. Americans also express concern that we spend too much taxpayer money building prisons for youth.
|Total Agree (%)|
|When it comes to youth offenders, what is most important is that the system does a better job of making sure that he or she gets back on track and is less likely to commit another offense||94|
|Teaching youth who commit an offense to take responsibility for his or her actions does not require incarceration||69|
|We spend too much taxpayer money on prisons for youth in the justice system||65|
Strong Support for Rehabilitation and Opportunity And Improving Facilities for Youth
Support for a range of policies aimed at reforming the institutions that house youth who pose a risk to society is also very strong and stable or increased from a year ago. These include proposals to increase family contact and protect youth offenders.
|2016 Total Favor (%)||2017 Total Favor (%)|
|Create an independent commission of community leaders tasked with ensuring that youth are protected from abuse while in state or local custody||87||90|
|Require facilities that incarcerate youth to let youth see their families at least once a week||86||88|
|Require that incarcerated youth are placed in facilities within 60 miles of their families||80||82|
|Require that youth are placed in facilities with no more than 30 other youth||72||80|
In sum, this poll shows that public support is strong and growing for an initiative to reform the youth justice system in the U.S., placing a greater focus on rehabilitation than incarceration and addressing fundamental problems created by the current system. This is a broad sentiment shared by Americans across racial and partisan lines.
The survey of 1,000 adults age 18+ in the U.S. was conducted January 9-18, 2017 on behalf of Youth First Initiative. The sample is subject to a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The survey was conducted online using a web-based panel. Care was taken to ensure that the sample is representative of the U.S. adult population. The previous survey was conducted January 19-24, 2016 among 1,000 adults age 18+.