National Poll Shows Americans Want Less Lock Up for Youth

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By The Youth First Initiative

Earlier this year, the Youth First Initiative released a new national public opinion poll ( showing that overall Americans want less lock up for youth, overwhelmingly favoring prevention and rehabilitation of youth instead.

Conducted by GBA Strategies, the key polling results showed that overall Americans favor prevention and rehabilitation over punishment and incarceration for youth.  Essentially, Americans want less lock up for youth as 73% agreed that youth can be taught to take responsibility for their actions without resorting to incarceration. The poll showed that what is most important to the vast majority of Americans (92%) is that the juvenile justice system does a better job of making sure youth get back on track so that they are less likely to commit another offense.

According to the poll, Americans favor a number of youth justice reforms, such as:

  • Americans want to provide financial incentives (83%) 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.
  • A majority of Americans believe that youth prisons should be closed, and that the savings should be redirected to community based programs, including intensive ones for youth who pose a serious threat to public safety, and that number climbs to 67% with Americans age 18-29.
  • Americans want states to reduce racial & ethnic disparities in youth justice. According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Justice, African-American youth are 5 times, Native American youth are 3 times, and Latino youth are 2 times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth. 
  • 89% of Americans prefer including a youth’s family in the design of rehabilitation services. 


Support for these youth justice reforms enjoyed broad support across age, gender, race and ethnicity, geography, and experience with the justice system.  The poll showed strong support for youth rehabilitation over incarceration in all regions of the country.  It also showed support among people who have been or have a family member or friend who has been incarcerated, a victim of a violent crime or in law enforcement.

The poll underscored the underlying core values that Americans believe when it comes to youth in conflict with the law.  Americans believe youth in conflict with the law have the power to change for the better and that they are capable of positive growth. Fundamentally, what Americans want is opportunity, not punishment for youth.