Poll: Treatment Favored Over Adult Prison for Juveniles

Posted February 7, 2007 12:43 p.m. EST

— A new poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly support treating troubled teens with services instead of locking them up in adult prisons.

North Carolina is one of only three states that prosecutes juveniles as young as 16 in adult court -- Connecticut and New York are the others -- and area youth advocates said the poll results show state laws need to be adjusted.

The poll was conducted by Zogby International and commissioned by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), the oldest criminal justice research organization in the U.S.

Results show the public is concerned about youth crime but strongly favors rehabilitation and treatment instead of prosecution in adult court and incarceration in adult prisons. Major findings from the survey of likely voters included:

  • 90 percent believe rehabilitation and treatment for incarcerated youth can help prevent future crime
  • Four in five think spending money on rehabilitative services and treatment for youth will save money in the long run
  • 70 percent feel that putting youths under age 18 in an adult correctional facility will make them more likely to commit future crime
  • Two-thirds found it unacceptable that a minor crime should negatively impact future opportunities for education and employment

The survey findings on public views are consistent with research commissioned by the U.S. Justice Department that showed that sending young people to prison actually increases crime and recidivism.

“We need laws that make sense and that protect the public,” North Carolina Rep. Alice Bordsen, D-Alamance. “These polling results suggest that North Carolina’s law has not kept up with the standards of the time. "

Bordsen said she plans to introduce a bill in the current legislative session calling for a system to treat 16- and 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system to be phased in.

"We are not succeeding in using public dollars to make the public safer," she said.

Young people tried and sentenced in the adult court have an adult criminal record and can lose access to student financial aid and their right to vote. Two-thirds of those polled said it was “unacceptable” that a criminal conviction should negatively affect the teens' future opportunities for jobs and education.

“Teens are developmentally immature,” said District Judge Fred Morrison, a member of the state Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission and chairman of the Youth Study Subcommittee. “This immaturity can play out in tangible ways with youthful offenders by impairing their perception of risk, skewing their time perspective, increasing susceptibility to peer pressure and reducing behavioral control. All of this can have a direct bearing on the criminal culpability of youth.”

The Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission in December recommended treating 16- and 17-year-olds through the juvenile justice system instead of automatically referring them to the adult system. North Carolina laws on this issue have remained unchanged since 1919.