New Poll Shows Widespread and Bipartisan Support for Youth Justice Reforms in Virginia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 10, 2015
CONTACT: Alec Saslow, absaslow@gmail.com, 720-319-4948

New Poll Shows Widespread and Bipartisan Support for Youth Justice Reforms in Virginia

Push for Rehabilitation, Not Incarceration, as Lawmakers Debate Budget

RICHMOND – A new poll released today surveying the attitudes of Virginia residents towards the youth justice system shows that Virginians overwhelmingly support reforms that would shift the focus from incarceration to accountability, prevention, and rehabilitation.  Reforms to the system are popular across party lines – with a majority of Virginia Democrats, Republicans, and Independents favoring changes that increase community-based alternatives to youth incarceration.

The poll comes as Virginia’s General Assembly is considering changes to the system as part of negotiations over the state budget.  The current budget proposal from Gov. McAuliffe would boost investment in community-based alternatives to incarceration and also create two new juvenile correctional centers with total bed capacity for more than 150 youth.

Among the key finds of the new poll are:
78 percent of Virginians support requiring youth to be placed in facilities with no more than 30 other youth;
85 percent of Virginians support requiring incarcerated youth to be placed in facilities within 60 miles of their families;
87 percent of Virginians support providing financial incentives 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; and
87 percent of Virginians support requiring facilities that incarcerate youth to let youth see their families at least once a week.

View additional findings from the poll here: Poll Results on Youth Justice Reform in Virginia

More than 70 percent of Virginians also support designing treatment plans that include a youth’s family in the planning and services, increasing funding to provide increased access to public defenders, and requiring states to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the youth justice system.

“Virginians clearly agree that our youth justice system is in need of an overhaul that results in more focus on rehabilitation than incarceration,” said Kate Duvall, Attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center and RISE for Youth Coalition partner. “The current proposal for reforms as part of the budget process include some important strides in the right direction, and these poll results show Virginians support even more sweeping changes to the system than those proposed. Large majorities of Virginians agree that any youth who are incarcerated should be held in small, regional facilities where their families can visit.”

Virginia tops all states in the nation in referring students from school to law enforcement, and additional research has shown that youth prisons contribute to high rates of reoffending, wasteful taxpayer spending, and disproportionate impacts on youth of color. Last year, a broad statewide coalition launched a new campaign called RISE for Youth to focus on reforms to increase community investment in youth rather than primarily rely on incarceration in large prisons.

The poll, commissioned by the national advocacy group the Youth First Initiative, was conducted last month and consisted of a survey of 500 adults in Virginia.

RISE for Youth is a nonpartisan campaign in support of community alternatives to youth incarceration.  For more information, visit www.riseforyouth.org.

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