RICHMOND, Va. — Most Virginians support reinstating parole, treating juvenile offenders differently from adult criminals, and stopping people convicted of domestic violence from buying guns, according to the 2016 Commonwealth Poll.
The L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, in conjunction with the office of the Virginia secretary of public safety and homeland security, released the survey findings Thursday.
Virginia banned parole in 1995. Last year, Gov. Terry McAuliffe established a commission to study possible improvements in the criminal justice system. In December, the panel suggested such initiatives as expanding mental health services, but it stopped short of recommending that parole be reinstated.
The statewide Commonwealth Poll found strong support across political parties and racial groups for reinstating parole. The idea had the support of:
- 76 percent of all Virginians
- 86 percent of Democrats
- 68 percent of Republicans
- 88 percent of black respondents
- 77 percent of white respondents
The survey also indicated strong support for changes in the juvenile justice system.
“We were very excited to find that over 80 percent favored or supported strongly the idea of reducing the use of large adult-sized facilities to house juvenile offenders and instead were very supportive of smaller community-based therapeutic centers,” said Robyn McDougle, faculty director of VCU’s Office of Public Policy Outreach.
According to the poll, 75 percent of Virginians agreed that youth convicted as adults should be eligible for parole. Support for this concept also cut across party lines. It was backed by:
- 88 percent of Democrats
- 75 percent of Republicans
- 78 percent of independents
Responses varied slightly among regions of the state. For example, 85 percent of respondents in Northern Virginia support parole for youth convicted as adults; in Western Virginia, the figure was 75 percent.
The poll also asked respondents whether people convicted of domestic violence or individuals with restraining orders against them should be allowed to purchase a gun. Most respondents – 64 percent – said no.
“Preventing gun violence is a priority for our governor. VCU’s poll shows that people across the commonwealth agree with the governor,” said Tonya Chapman, deputy secretary of public safety and homeland security.
“There have been several pieces of legislation introduced in an attempt to prevent an individual from possessing a weapon if there is an outstanding protective order or if an individual has been convicted of domestic violence.”
According to the survey, 74 percent of women support such a policy, compared with 55 percent of men.
The poll involved interviewing 930 adults across Virginia by landline and cellular phones. The survey has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.
By Brian Williams/Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.