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Poll: Young Americans have "little confidence" in justice system

This article originally appeared in The Crime Report, and is published in a cooperative venture with Crimesider.

Nearly half of American young adults lack confidence in the nation's justice system or don't trust their local police to do the right thing, though that perception is deeply divided by race, according to a national poll of 18- to 29-year-olds released by Harvard's Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

African-American youth had the deepest distrust of the nation's criminal justice institutions, with 79 percent of those polled expressing little to no trust in their local police department to do the "right" thing.

Hispanic youth weren't far behind, with 62 percent of those polled expressing little or no trust in their local police force. In stark contrast, just 31 percent of the white youth polled expressed little or no trust.

More than 3,000 people were polled by the Harvard Institute of Politics between March 18-April 1, on questions of criminal justice and other issues, including politics, climate change and terrorism.

Over all, there was an even split on the U.S. judicial system's ability to "fairly judge people without bias for race and ethnicity." About 49 percent of those polled said they have little to no confidence that the justice system can operate without bias.

Two-thirds of young blacks lack confidence in the ability of the judicial system to judge fairly; 43 percent of white young adults polled agreed with the statement that the judicial system did not fairly judge people.

Almost two-third of young people who identified themselves as Republicans said they were confident about the judicial system's fairness, while youth self-identifying as Democrats were split, with a little over half believing the system was fair.

"This is a more cynical generation when it comes to institutions," said John Dell Volpe, the director of polling, in a press conference call releasing the results.

At a time when police shootings of unarmed black men across the country have dominated the news cycle and spawned a national movement #blacklivesmatter, young people remain skeptical of seeing real change in the criminal justice system.

While there was an even split in support for public protests against police shootings, 59 percent doubt that #blacklivesmatter will lead to effective policies to change the system.

What most youth did agree on was that police should wear body cameras; 80 percent thought this would be an effective way to reduce racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.

Sexual assault was also front and center among youth concerns, with one-third of the young women polled saying they were sexually assaulted or know someone who was sexually assaulted.

The Harvard poll also underlined research showing that sexual assault continues to be widely under-reported to the authorities: some 40 percent of the women polled said they did not report an attack. By far, Hispanic women were least likely to report an attack to the police.