Would Hard Sessions Line on Teen Crime Flout Public Views?

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Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised to forge an era of hardline “law and order” around the U.S. even as Americans across party lines support very different, less punitive approaches to questions of justice and young people, reports The Guardian. A poll, published by Youth First, a campaign working for juvenile justice reform, found that 78 percent of Americans support shifting the youth justice system from a focus on incarceration and punishment to prevention and rehabilitation. “The polling underscores the breadth and depth of support for efforts to decarcerate in the juvenile justice system,” said Liz Ryan of Youth First. “There is broad bipartisan support among voters and it shows that no matter where you live in the country and no matter what your relationship to the justice system, there’s support.”

Sessions has billed himself throughout his career as a traditional “tough on crime” prosecutor and legislator. Last year, in opposition to a bipartisan bill that would have decreased mandatory minimum sentencing, including for non-violent drug crimes, Session said: “The wise approach is to slow down and evaluate the trends before accelerating prison population decline.” On juvenile justice, Sessions has been a fierce advocate of prison-oriented strategies. In 1994, as Alabama’s attorney general Sessions championed tough penalties “that emphasize discipline and responsibility to deter non-violent first-time offenders from further crimes. In 1999, he said, “I really am not opposed to prevention programs, but I believe many of these programs that work through the juvenile court system are indeed the best prevention programs that you can have.” The study by Youth First found strong and growing public support for very different approaches. Only 22 percent of respondents said the youth justice system should “focus on punishing youth who have committed delinquent acts.”

 

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