Poll Results on Youth Justice Reform in Milwaukee County

At a time when partisan polarization dominates the political landscape, a new poll shows Milwaukee County residents of all political stripes support shifting the youth justice system from a focus on incarceration and punishment to prevention and rehabilitation. A strong 65% majority favors this shift, with broad support across partisan affiliations in the state (65% of Democrats, 71% of Independents, and 57% of Republicans).

The following are key findings from the survey of 400 adults in Milwaukee County in the state of Wisconsin age 18+:

Strong Support for Proposals to Reform Youth Justice System in Milwaukee County

The broad support for this shift to reform by Milwaukee County residents is reinforced by support for a number of specific policy proposals aimed at addressing problems with the youth justice system, including the misguided focus on incarceration, racial and ethnic disparities in the system and the shortage of public defenders.

  • Total Favor (%)

Option 1: Design treatment and rehabilitation plans that include a youth’s family in planning and services.

Option 2: Provide 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.

Option 3: Require states to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the youth justice system.

Option 4: Increase funding to provide more public defenders who represent children in court.

All four of these proposals garner strong majority support across partisan lines, with a majority of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans supporting the initiatives. Support is very similar and strong for both people who say that they or their immediate families have been victims of crime as for those who haven’t been crime victims. These proposals also enjoy a broad range of support across the County with at least 5-in-10 adults inside of the city of Milwaukee and outside of the city backing these proposals.

Support is similar across racial lines with at least 7-in-10 African Americans and whites in Milwaukee County, supporting each of the above proposals.

Strong Belief in Rehabilitation and Counseling for Youth

Milwaukee County residents support for youth criminal justice reform is based on the beliefs that rehabilitation works and saves taxpayer dollars, and that youth who have committed delinquent acts are capable of positive change. These sentiments are shared broadly across partisan lines with at least 6-in-10 Democrats, Independents, and Republicans expressing support for each of these statements.

Question: Which statement comes closer to your view?

  • When it comes to youth who have committed delinquent acts, the best thing for society is to rehabilitate them so they can become productive members of society.
  • When it comes to youth who commit delinquent acts, the best thing for society is to incarcerate them so that our streets are safer.
  • Most youth who commit delinquent acts are capable of positive growth, and they have the potential to change for the better.
  • Most youth who commit delinquent acts are unlikely to change for the better, and they will likely continue a life of illegal behavior.
  • The youth justice system should provide youth with more opportunity to better themselves.
  • The youth justice system should focus on punishing youth who have committed delinquent acts.
  • Rehabilitation programs like counseling and education for youth who have committed delinquent acts will SAVE tax dollars in the long run.
  • Rehabilitation programs like counseling and education for youth who have committed delinquent acts will COST tax dollars in the long run.
  • Rehabilitation programs like counseling and education for youth who have committed delinquent acts helps prevent future delinquent acts.
  • Rehabilitation programs like counseling and education do little to prevent youth who have committed delinquent acts from committing future delinquent acts.

Milwaukee County residents believe that the youth justice system should provide youth with more opportunities to better themselves. Milwaukee County residents also express concern that we spend too much taxpayer money building prisons for youth.

  • Total Favor (%)

Option 1: When it comes to youth in the justice system, what is most important is that the system does a better job of making sure that he or she gets back on track and is less likely to commit another offense.

Option 2: We spend too much taxpayer money on prisons for youth in the justice system.

Option 3: Teaching youth who commit an offense to take responsibility for his or her actions does not require incarceration.

Strong Support for Rehabilitation, Opportunity and Improving Facilities for Youth

Support for a range of policies aimed at reforming the institutions that are responsible for youth who pose a risk to society is also very strong. They include proposals to increase family contact and protect youth in the justice system.

  • Total Favor (%)

Option 1: Create an independent commission of community leaders tasked with ensuring that youth are protected from abuse while in state or local custody.

Option 2: Require facilities that incarcerate youth to let youth see their families at least once a week.

Option 3: Require that incarcerated youth are placed in facilities within 60 miles of their families.

Option 4: Require that youth are placed in facilities with no more than 30 other youth.

In sum, this poll shows that public support is strong and growing for initiatives to reform the youth justice system in Milwaukee County, placing a greater focus on rehabilitation than incarceration and addressing fundamental problems created by the current system. This is a broad sentiment shared by Milwaukee County residents across partisan and racial lines.

Methodology

The survey of 400 adults age 18+ in Milwaukee County in the state of Wisconsin was conducted January 9-20, 2017 on behalf of Youth First Initiative. The sample is subject to a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The survey was conducted online using a web-based panel. Care was taken to ensure that the sample is representative of the 18+ adult population in Milwaukee County in the state of Wisconsin.