Never too late: Public optimism about juvenile rehabilitation

Alex R. Piquero, Francis T. Cullen, James D. Unnever, Nicole L. Piquero, Jill A. Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


Policy decisions with respect to juvenile offenders oscillate between rehabilitation and punishment, and the effectiveness of these two approaches, including which one for which type of offender, has yet to be realized. Less studied is the extent to which the public favors one approach or the other generally, and whether the public believes that there is an age at which it may be too late to help a juvenile offender turn away from a life of crime. In this study, we explore whether optimism about juvenile rehabilitation is a near universal, shared belief, or whether there exist important variations across socio-demographic groups about whether juveniles can be rehabilitated (and if so at what age). Studying this issue is important because public attitudes have the potential to shape policy. In the domain of juvenile justice, the challenge is whether public opinion will breed unfettered punitiveness or, as we anticipate, will serve as an impetus for a richer and more progressive response to juvenile offenders. Using data from a random sample of Pennsylvania residents, our results point not toward a division over the beliefs about 'saving children,' but instead demonstrate a consensus - that optimism about juvenile rehabilitation is not something citizens argue over. Implications for public policies regarding juvenile offenders are addressed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-207
Number of pages21
JournalPunishment & Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Juveniles
  • Public attitudes
  • Punishment
  • Rehabilitation

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