Should juveniles be locked up following their convictions on criminal charges?

It depends on the charge, say voters asked by a bipartisan team comprised of two national polling firms engaged in opinion research.

Although that response likely doesn’t sound too surprising to many of our readers in Arkansas and elsewhere, what does emerge as centrally revealing in a nationwide poll of voters is the degree to which they emphasize alternatives to jail and prison for juvenile offenders in almost all cases.

That predilection is noted a recent media probe into the American public’s attitude regarding juveniles and incarceration. In looking at the subject, the independent and nonprofit public policy research group Pew Charitable Trusts points to the above-mentioned polling results, which reportedly show a strong desire for material reforms in the juvenile justice system across a wide swath of voting groups.

As reported by Pew, here is the bottom line espoused by many voters: Justice authorities should have the ready ability to lock up young offenders, but only when they have been convicted of truly serious offenses. Incarcerating juveniles for lesser crimes — arguably, minor drug transactions, offenses not featuring violence or weapons, curfew violations, positive drug tests and crimes generally viewed as being low-level offenses — is often just a waste of money and an outcome that undermines rather than promotes rehabilitation.

What emerges notably from the polling results is the broad-based support for alternatives to incarceration in most cases, such as outreach help from schools and social service groups, probation and myriad other services that seek to foster behavioral change and social inclusion.

What Pew cites as a key finding from the polling is that voters “believe that juveniles are fundamentally different from adults” and more readily susceptible of rehabilitation. Owing to that, locking them up in correctional facilities is more often a mistake than it is a meaningful solution to crime.