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Public Opinion on Youth, Crime and Race: A Guide for Advocates

NCJ Number
Mark Soler
Date Published
October 2001
46 pages
This advocacy guide summarizes the public opinion research on youth and juvenile justice issues from the "Building Blocks" focus groups and national poll as well as other polls; recommendations pertain to how advocates can frame the issues in their organizing and advocacy efforts.
The findings from public opinion research address the public's views of youth and juvenile crime, youth and the justice system, race and fairness, and messages and messengers. Generally, findings show that the public is ready to support an agenda for juvenile justice reform, but the agenda must be tied to the public's concerns about accountability and fairness. The public believes that the juvenile justice system should impose consequences on youth who break the law as a way of teaching them responsibility. Imposing accountability and consequences, however, does not necessarily require incarceration; the public shows little support for simply locking up youth, but neither does the public support the "youth excuse." Instead, the public supports rehabilitation and treatment programs, because they recognize that youth have the potential for change and over the long term will make communities safer. The public also cares about fairness. In the "Building Blocks" poll in early 1999, the public, particularly whites, reported little awareness of racial unfairness; nevertheless, if told of unfairness, all segments of the public considered it a matter of serious concern. Among the recommendations for key advocacy messages based on public opinion findings are to acknowledge accountability; emphasize that accountability does not necessarily mean incarceration; frame prevention and rehabilitation as practical responses to concerns about youth crime; and promote rehabilitation that includes restitution, mentoring, and counseling. Information should also be provided on racial unfairness in the administration of justice for youth. Recommendations are also offered regarding who should deliver the messages and how they should be delivered. Appended press releases and 16 references