Juvenile Justice

Statistics

Despite a wave of violent episodes involving juveniles in schools throughout the United States, the juvenile arrest rate has been steadily decreasing in recent years. In 2001, there were an estimated 2.3 million arrests for persons under the age of 18. Compared to 1993, the murder and manslaughter arrest rate for juveniles fell 40%. Juvenile arrests for violent crimes in 2001 were the lowest since 1988. Another significant decrease in juvenile arrests was for property crimes. This type of crime reached an all time low in 2001.

Among both juveniles and adults, serious crimes reported to police declined for the seventh straight year in 1998, as the FBI reported both the murder and robbery rates reached lows not seen in three decades. As for juveniles, arrests for serious and violent crimes fell nearly 11% from 1997 to 1998 – doubling the 5.4% decline for adults. (Snyder, 2003) Juvenile arrests for robberies plummeted nearly 17%, while drug violations, weapons charges and other offenses saw substantial reductions as well. Although juvenile crime has been dropping steadily since about 1993, federal officials said this was the most significant decrease in recent years – and the widest gap between arrests of youths and adults. The decline is even more impressive given that the juvenile population – classified by the FBI report as those under 18 – continues to grow; now numbering about 70 million. (Ortiz, 2005)

Female Juveniles and crimes

On the other hand, between 1991 and 2001, the number of female juvenile arrests increased more (or decreased less) than male arrests in most offense categories. There has been a 28% increase in female juvenile arrests. Accordingly, “there has been growing concern that while most juvenile arrests have been decreasing, the number of female juvenile arrests in some offense categories (such as drug and alcohol violations) continues to rise.” (Zahn, 2004). The implication of these statistics is that more preventative and outreach programs are needed to address female delinquency, since the current programs-which are apparently assisting male juveniles-are not working in the same numbers for the girls. While girls and boys may share some of the same risk factors for committing crimes, certain factors are specific to girls; indeed, “[o]ne of the most significant risk factors is prior victimization” (Zahn, 2004). Other factors include “substance abuse, mental illness, and spousal abuse.” (Zahn, 2004)

Minorities and Juvenile Crime

According to the FBI’s arrest statistics, minority youths are being arrested for criminal behavior disproportionately to their white counterparts. For example, according to the Violent Crime Index arrest rate in 2001, black juveniles accounted for three times more arrests than white and Indian juveniles, and close to seven times more arrests than Asian juveniles. For this reason, “[t]here is growing concern about the disproportionate number of minority youths in the juvenile justice system. Many studies show that the probability of minorities entering the system for the same offense is significantly higher for youths of color than for their white counterparts.” (Disproportionate Minority Contact, 2004). Some of the implications of these statistics include the need to examine the contributing factors for minority arrests and develop better, or new, intervention strategies.

Recommendations for the future

Since juvenile crime has been steadily decreasing over the past few years, it would appear that many of the programs currently being offered in an effort to curb juvenile crime are actually working. Thus, one recommendation is to continue offering the preventative programs to youths, but to ensure equal access and proportional participation of all at risk juveniles.
The increase in female juvenile arrests, coupled with the disproportionate minority juvenile arrests, however, clearly calls for some reforms and modifications of programs. Therefore, another recommendation is to develop new prevention programs which better target minorities and girls.

In addition, since arrests for assaults amongst juveniles is still on the increase, it would behoove schools and community based organizations to implement peer mediation. This would be an effective way to teach the skills necessary to verbalize a problem and brainstorm a solution. In the same vein, the concept of mentoring has always been successful with juveniles. Perhaps more minority and female mentors can be recruited to participate in such programs.

Along with programs addressed to juveniles, parents and legal guardians should also have access to social programs which would reinforce effective communication between parent and child, and would also offer strategies for behavioral management. Finally, additional sensitivity training for law enforcement personnel may prove helpful in combating juvenile crime, as it may provide additional insight into police encounters with juveniles.

Conclusion

A combination of factors likely explains the overall reduction in juvenile arrests, such as a solid economy and job market for youths, tougher gun-control laws, and an increase in community and faith involvement. Similarly, a combination of factors likely explains the increase in female arrests and the disproportionate number of minority arrests. Those would include an increase in parental abuse, neglect, and exploitation of children, juvenile gang involvement, underage drinking, undue exposure to violence, and drug abuse. Accordingly, social programs designed to reduce these ills should be implemented.

References

, . (). Women offenders: programming needs and promising approaches. National Institute of Justice,,.

Disproportionate minority contact. (2004). Retrieved Dec. 18, 2005, from Juvenile Justice Evaluation Center Web site: http://www.jrsa.org/jjec/programs/dmc/.

Ortiz, V. (1999). As crime falls, youth arrests drop sharply. Retrieved Dec. 16, 2005, from Los Angeles Times Web site: http://www.jsonline.com/news/nat/oct99/crime-times101799.asp?format=print.

Snyder, H. (2003, Dec 03). Juvenile arrests 2001. Office of Justice Programs, Retrieved Dec 18, 2005, from .

Zahn, M. (2004). Girls study group. Retrieved Dec. 17, 2005, from http://girlsstudygroup.rti.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=dsp_girls.

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