Analysis

Poll Shows Support for Central Piece of New Juvenile Justice Bill

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced, on Dec. 11, 2014, a funding reauthorization bill for key juvenile justice programs that includes provisions to limit incarceration for “status offenses”—violations such as skipping school or running away from home that are not considered crimes for adults. These efforts are in line with what voters say they expect from the juvenile justice system, according to a national poll released by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

In the poll, conducted by the Mellman Group and Public Opinion Strategies, 85 percent of voters agreed that status offenders should not go to correctional facilities. In addition, 87 percent stated that schools, families, and social service agencies should deal with these kinds of offenses, not the justice system. The poll showed strong agreement on these points across party affiliations.

"Research shows that for many lower-level juvenile offenders, correctional facilities fail to produce better outcomes and cost more than alternative sanctions and can actually increase reoffending," said Jake Horowitz, state policy director for Pew's public safety performance project.

More than 8 in 10 voters polled said that what really matters isn’t whether youth offenders are sent to correctional facilities or are supervised in the community, but rather that the juvenile justice system does a better job of changing their behavior to ensure that they do not commit future crimes.

States including Georgia, Hawaii, and Kentucky have recently passed comprehensive legislation that reflects this growing public support for juvenile justice reform. The Georgia and Hawaii laws restrict incarceration of status offenders, and Kentucky created an enhanced pre-court process to divert status offenders from the juvenile system. These bills are expected to save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars while protecting public safety, holding juvenile offenders accountable, and improving outcomes for youth and their families.