datasets that bear on the nature of juvenile crime, highlighting key issues and data sources that can provide evidence of prevalence and seriousness; race, gender, and class bias in the juvenile justice system; and impacts of deterrence, punishment, and prevention strategies. The panel was further asked to analyze the factors that contribute to delinquent behavior, including a review of the knowledge on child and adolescent development and its implications for prevention and control; to assess the current practices of the juvenile justice system, including the implementation of constitutional safeguards; to examine adjudication, detention, and waiver practices; to explore the role of community and institutional settings; to assess the quality of data sources on the clients of both public and private juvenile justice facilities; and to assess the impact of the deinstitutionalization mandates of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 on delinquency and community safety.
Based on public concern and legislative actions about juvenile violence, one would think that it was continually increasing. Juvenile violent crime rates, however, have been declining for at least the past 5 years. The panel conducted a review of data on juvenile crime rates, including arrests, victim reports of crime, and self-reports by juveniles. Although there are many weaknesses in each of these data sources, the panel drew a number of conclusions about juvenile crime trends.
Most juveniles break laws, such as shoplifting or minor vandalism, but only a small proportion commits serious crimes. In 1998, only 4 percent of juvenile arrests were for the violent crimes of homicide, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault and less than one-tenth of one percent of juvenile arrests were for homicide.
There was, however, a surge in serious juvenile crime rates beginning in the late 1980s through the early 1990s. The juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes began decreasing in 1994 almost as rapidly as it had increased and, by 1999, was back to the rate of the late 1980s.
The cause of the sudden rise and fall in juvenile violent crime rates in the United States, which also occurred among youth and adults in other countries, remains uncertain, although a number of theories have been put forth. Most if not all of the increase in U.S. youth homicides from 1987 to 1993 involved homicides committed with guns. Some of the rise in arrest rates for other violent crimes seem to have been a result of changes in police policies regarding whether to consider specific types of assault as aggravated assaults rather than simple assaults and an increased willingness to arrest for assault.