A new poll released today shows a strong majority of Virginians – from a wide range of backgrounds and all political stripes – favor keeping young people out of harmful, ineffective prisons like the notorious Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center, instead preferring alternatives to incarceration that are proven to lead to better outcomes.
The poll was released by RISE for Youth, a coalition of community organizations, youth advocates and family members of youth involved in the juvenile justice system that is working to change the ineffective, unfair, and unethical treatment of our most vulnerable young people.
The data shows that 78 percent of Virginians support shifting the focus of the youth justice system from incarceration to prevention and rehabilitation. Reflecting this preference, the General Assembly has recognized the importance of reinvesting funds from the closure of facilities like Beaumont and Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center toward a range of services that will better support Virginia’s youth and families while keeping communities safe.
“Virginians understand that simply locking up our youth is the wrong approach,” said RISE for Youth’s Valerie Slater. “Thankfully, both the Governor and General Assembly have shown leadership by agreeing to close the worst youth prison in the state. It’s just as critical to ensure our communities have the resources to deliver the range of services that will give our youth the best chance of success.”
The survey of over 500 adults found that:
· 91 percent support treatment and rehabilitation plans that include a youth’s family in planning and services.
· 89 percent support providing 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.
· 78 percent support requiring states to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the youth justice system.
· 77 percent support increasing funding to provide more public defenders to represent children in court.
Respondents cut across partisan affiliations, with 83% of Democrats, 80% of Independents, and 77% of Republicans supporting reform efforts. Replacing large, outdated prisons with small (25 beds or fewer), home-like, therapeutic settings that hold youth accountable while allowing them to mature in socially appropriate ways has been proven to reduce recidivism and be a more cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars. However, the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice’s Juvenile Correctional Center Task Force endorsed the construction of a new $40 million juvenile prison in Chesapeake, and planning is moving forward on a second juvenile prison in Central Virginia – essentially cementing in place a failed facility-based model in the Commonwealth for decades to come. RISE for Youth opposes this plan.
Support for policies aimed at reforming the youth justice system has held strong or increased from a year ago, indicating a national trend in favor of reform. Nationally, a strong majority of 78% support shifting the youth justice system from a focus on incarceration to rehabilitation. To view the full poll results, click here.
RISE for Youth is a statewide, nonpartisan campaign coalition whose central goal is to develop a continuum of community-based alternatives to incarceration that will keep juvenile justice system involved youth closer to their homes and support networks while making our communities safer. For more information on RISE for Youth, visit: www.riseforyouth.org and follow @RISEforYouth.