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Polling on Public Attitudes About the Treatment of Young Offenders

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2010
7 pages
This paper presents an overview of recent findings of various polls that have solicited public attitudes and perspectives on juvenile sentencing and correctional philosophy.
Recent polls indicate that public opinion consistently supports rehabilitation for youth regardless of public perceptions of the rate or severity of juvenile crime. The public believes that rehabilitation and treatment can reduce juvenile crime and is willing to pay additional taxes to provide such services. This support for rehabilitation extends even to youth who commit violent crimes. In addition, the public favors processing youth in adult courts only after a thorough evaluation of the youth regarding his/her threat to public safety. Further, the public generally believes that non-White youth are more likely than White youth to be prosecuted as adults. The public's reluctance to process youth in adult courts is coupled with a strong belief that youth should be processed in a juvenile justice system separate from the adult system, so that the distinctive needs of young offenders can be addressed. The recent polls cited were conducted by the Center for Children's Law and Policy, 2007; the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice, 2005 and 2007; the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 2007; and Florida State University's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 2006. A poll cited for 1995 was conducted by the Virginia Commission on Youth. The paper concludes with suggestions for how to use this polling data in challenging the claims of politicians and policymakers that the public wants a primarily punitive approach for juvenile offenders. This includes advice on how to develop effective messages that will be understood by the general public and motivate them to contact their legislators to make their views known. 12 notes