Rehabilitation Versus Incarceration of Juvenile Offenders: Public Preferences in Four Models for Change States

It is generally accepted that intense public concern about the threat of youth crime has driven this trend, and that the public supports this legislative inclination toward increased punitiveness. But it is not clear whether this view of the public’s attitude about the appropriate response to juvenile crime is accurate. On the one hand, various opinion surveys have found public support generally for getting tougher on juvenile crime and punishing youths as harshly as their adult counterparts. At the same time, however, scrutiny of the sources of information about public opinion reveals that the view that the public supports adult punishment of juveniles is based largely on either responses to highly publicized crimes such as school shootings or on mass opinion polls that typically ask a few simplistic questions. It is quite plausible that assessments of public sentiment about juvenile crime, and the appropriate response to it, vary greatly as a function of when and how public opinion is gauged. In our own work, we have found that very slight variations in the wording of survey questions generate vastly different pictures of public attitudes about juvenile justice policy.