1. By a margin of 78 – 15 percent, the public overwhelming wants the focus of the juvenile justice system to be on prevention and rehabilitation, rather than incarceration and punishment. Americans believe that prevention and rehabilitation will prevent youth recidivism, and that young people who have committed crimes are able to change and the system should give them the opportunity to do so.
2. A majority of U.S. adults (56 percent) think that youth facilities are more appropriate to hold juveniles convicted of crimes than adult prisons (favored by only 12 percent). A similar majority also think that incarcerating young people in adult prisons will hurt their chances for rehabilitation, and ultimately make it more likely that they commit future crimes.
3. People overwhelmingly trust judges (81 percent), not prosecutors (12 percent), to determine if and when a juvenile should be tried as an adult. This is not the reality in many states, where prosecutors are given wide discretion—in opposition to public opinion.
4. Nearly two-thirds of the public favors setting a minimum age at which a young person can be prosecuted in adult court. And rather than automatically trying young people in adult courts for certain crimes, an overwhelming majority of Americans favor judges taking a case-by-case approach.
5. Americans strongly support a multitude of reforms to the juvenile justice system. These include removing young people from adult jails and prisons, ensuring youth remain connected with their families, having independent oversight to ensure youth are protected from abuse while in custody, increasing funds to provide more public defenders to represent youth in court, and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.
Furthermore, unlike most of the polarizing debates taking place in the political arena, Americans are in broad agreement on youth justice issues. Liberals, moderates, and conservatives alike agree that we should change focus to make the system work better for youth as well as society.