The dramatic rise in juvenile violence, particularly homicides, which began in the mid- to late 1980s and peaked in the early 1990s, generated considerable fear and concern among the public and led to policy changes by federal, state, and local governments. For example, in response to the rise in juvenile violence and predictions of an upcoming wave of increasingly violent youth, most states stiffened their laws relating to juvenile justice, including measures that allow, or in many cases mandate, youngsters to be transferred to the adult system at younger ages and for a greater variety of offenses.
A large body of research, developed over the past two decades, has begun to identify factors that may increase the risk of juvenile crime. The research has also led to the design and evaluation of programs to prevent it. These developments led the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program of the U.S. Department of Education, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation to sponsor a National Research Council panel to examine what is known about juvenile crime and its prevention, treatment, and control.
CHARGE TO THE PANEL
The Panel on Juvenile Crime: Prevention, Treatment, and Control was asked to identify and analyze the full range of research studies and
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.
JUVENILE CRIME TRENDS
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.
Blacks are disproportionately represented among juveniles arrested for crimes committed in the United States. Moreover, while not the major focus of this report's discussion of race and crime, bias in the wider society, which distributes opportunities and resources to youth as they grow up, contributes to the risks of minority youth involvement in the juvenile justice system.
Forecasts of juvenile crime based on the spike in homicide rates have proven to be misleading and inaccurate and highlight the caution with which predictions of future juvenile crime trends must be made.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF DELINQUENCY
Although a large proportion of adolescents gets arrested and an even larger proportion commits illegal acts, only a small proportion commits serious crimes. Furthermore, most of those who engage in illegal behavior as adolescents do not become adult criminals.
Risk factors for delinquency can be identified when studying individuals, social environments, and communities. Although more should be learned about interactions among risk factors, recent research has contributed to understanding who is at risk and why. The panel noted that predictions are no more accurate in identifying who will become a criminal than medical predictions are for identifying who will have a heart attack or develop lung cancer. In both domains, however, knowledge about risk factors can enhance preventive actions.
Early developmental factors have been shown to be related to adolescent delinquent behavior. Recent research suggests that prenatal and perinatal disadvantages (such as exposure to drugs, low birthweight, and trauma) become risks for delinquency. New studies suggest that poor language development and lack of empathy may be consequences of parental neglect. Deficiencies in language put a child at risk for school difficulties and delinquency. Children who do not learn to inhibit normal early physically aggressive behavior by about 3 years of age or who are highly physically aggressive are at high risk of becoming involved in juvenile crime, as are children with conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder. The risk for later juvenile crime may be exacerbated by abusive parenting, poor parenting practices, or disorganized family and neighborhood environments.
Although single-parent families have been widely held responsible for juvenile crime, a considerable amount of evidence indicates that if the remaining parent provides consistent and strong guidance, children in single-parent families are no more likely to commit criminal acts than are children in two-parent families. Studies continue to show that how parents treat their children has an important impact on whether or not their
children become criminal delinquents. Parental conflict and harsh, erratic discipline have been shown to contribute to juvenile crime. Abused children are also at high risk of becoming involved in crime. Households that provide safety, emotional warmth, and guidance foster the development of noncriminal young people even in neighborhoods at high risk for crime. During early adolescence, peers begin to take on increasing importance. Those who associate with delinquent companions are likely to increase their misbehavior when spending time with those companions.
Contrary to their intentions, schools appear to foster problems among misbehaving children and adolescents through such common practices as tracking, grade retention, suspension, and expulsion. The panel took special note of apparent racial and ethnic biases in the administration of these practices.
Where families live affects the opportunities and resources available to them. Children who grow up in neighborhoods with high joblessness, poverty, and crime may see criminal behavior as an acceptable alternative when other opportunities are lacking. The negative impact of poor parenting is also stronger in disrupted neighborhoods (see Chapter 3).
RESPONSES TO JUVENILE CRIME
During the past decade, juvenile crime legislation and policy have become more punitive and have blurred the lines between juvenile and adult justice systems. Movement in this direction is continuing, despite indications from research on recidivism and deterrence that it may be counterproductive to treat juveniles as if they were adults. More and more juveniles are being detained and incarcerated, even though there is evidence that most juveniles can be treated equally or more effectively in the community than in secure confinement, without jeopardizing community safety.
Responding to juvenile crime requires the establishment of programs to prevent its development as well as programs to deal with young people who have committed criminal acts. These programs may be found in a variety of institutional settings, including schools, community-based organizations, religious organizations, mental health settings, and the formal juvenile justice and adult criminal justice systems.
Our review of attempts at prevention has turned up very few programs that have credible evaluations. The most effective crime prevention programs, the panel concludes, address a range of difficulties. Approaches that appear successful in reducing delinquency, based on well-designed
evaluations, include multiple components for parents, youngsters, and the environment (school or community) and target multiple behaviors. These types of programs appear to be more beneficial than narrowly focused programs. Several widely used and well-evaluated intervention strategies have been found to increase delinquency (see Chapters 4 and 5). Many such programs rest on drawing young misbehaving adolescents together, a practice that seems to reinforce their antisocial behaviors.
The Juvenile Justice System
A juvenile justice system separate from the adult justice system was established in the United States about 100 years ago with the goal of diverting youthful offenders from the destructive punishments of criminal courts and encouraging rehabilitation based on the individual juvenile's needs. In practice, there was always a tension between social welfare and social control—that is, focusing on the best interests of the individual child versus focusing on punishment, incapacitation, and protecting society from certain offenses. This tension has shifted over time and has varied significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and it remains today.
It is important to remember that the United States has at least 51 different juvenile justice systems, not one. Given the local nature of juvenile justice in the United States, there has never been a single dominant vision of how to deal with delinquent children in law or in practice. The trend during the past decade, however, has been toward stiffening the laws dealing with juveniles. Every state made changes in its laws and policies governing juvenile justice during the 1990s. These changes include easier waivers to adult court, excluding certain offenses from juvenile court jurisdiction, blended juvenile and adult sentences, increased authority for prosecutors to decide to file cases in adult court, and more frequent custodial placement of adjudicated delinquents. The great majority of recent changes in juvenile justice law and practice have not been evaluated. Research to date shows that juveniles placed in secure detention or incarceration suffer a wide range of negative effects and those transferred to adult court may be more likely to reoffend than those who remain under juvenile court jurisdiction (see Chapter 5).
Increasing numbers of young people are placed in secure detention, which disrupts young people's lives and has negative effects on behavior and future developmental trajectories. Incarcerated juveniles have higher rates of physical injury and mental health problems, and they have poorer educational outcomes, than do their counterparts who are treated in the community. Incarceration also causes severe and long-term problems with future employment, leaving ex-offenders with few economic alternatives to crime. Recent research also demonstrates that many serious as well as
nonserious offenders can be treated in the community without endangering public safety.
Information about the number of juveniles in custody—in detention centers, jails, juvenile correctional facilities, or adult correctional facilities—is very poor. Data on the conditions under which juveniles are incarcerated and the types of services available to them are minimal. From the few available data, it appears that the rate of juveniles placed in custodial institutions has increased substantially in the past two decades, leading to widespread overcrowding in detention and other correctional facilities.
RACIAL DISPARITY IN THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM
The proportion of black juveniles under the supervision of the juvenile or adult criminal justice systems is more than double their proportion in the general population, and these discrepancies exist at most points in justice system processing. The existence of disproportionate racial representation in the juvenile justice system raises questions about fundamental fairness and equality of treatment of these youth by the police, courts, and other personnel connected with the juvenile justice system. Furthermore, what happens to youth in their dealings (or lack of dealings) with the juvenile justice system may have substantial consequences for subsequent development and prospects for the future.
Studies of self-reported offending find that black juveniles report more delinquent behavior than whites, but the difference is not nearly as large as the difference in arrest rates. The question remains of why black juveniles should be more likely to engage in criminal behavior than whites. Such overrepresentation may be at least partially explained by considering how exposure to risk factors affects the probability of engaging in criminal behavior. More minority children, and black children in particular, are subject to risk factors associated with crime, such as living in communities characterized by concentrated poverty and social disorganization.
Differences in behavior cannot explain all the disproportionate representation of blacks in the juvenile justice system. Some research has documented apparent bias at various points, such as likelihood of arrest, pretrial detention, or formal processing. Disproportionate involvement of some minorities in the juvenile and adult justice system cannot be explained without considering the larger society as well as differential behavior and biases in the justice system.
Being placed in secure detention disrupts a young person's life and increases the juvenile's likelihood of receiving formal processing and punitive sanctions. Correctional facilities have become increasingly crowded, impairing their ability to provide adequate services to their heterogeneous populations. Overcrowded conditions also increase the risk of injury to both staff and juveniles. Research on alternatives to secure detention and confinement have found them to pose no greater risks to the public than secure detention or confinement. In addition, alternatives to detention or confinement tend to be less costly.
Recommendation: The federal government should assist the states through federal funding and incentives to reduce the use of secure detention and secure confinement by developing community-based alternatives. The effectiveness of such programs, both for the protection of the community and the benefit of the youth in their charge, should be monitored.
Public policy on juvenile crime, particularly the trend toward more punitive sanctions, appears to have been influenced in part by predictions of future crime rates—predictions that have proven notoriously inaccurate. Although short-term forecasts are necessary for allocating resources at the local, state, and federal levels, the committee finds long-term forecasts of behavior, such as the prediction of a future violent crime wave involving superpredators, to be fraught with uncertainty.
Recommendation: Because of the inaccuracies inherent in long-range predictions of behavior, public policy should not be based on the assumption that any specific forecast will be true. The periods over which crime forecasts are made should be as short as possible and the forecasts should be reviewed frequently. (For specific suggestions for improving forecasts, see Chapter 2 and Appendix B.)
Research has shown that treating most juvenile offenders within the community does not compromise public safety and may even improve it through reduced recidivism. Considering the negative effects of detention and incarceration, community-based treatment should be expanded. Evaluation components should be built into program delivery with the goal of improving services, expanding the use of programs that work, and ending support for programs that are shown to be ineffective. Replication studies of programs that have been found successful, such as treatment foster care or multisystemic therapy, is particularly important to advancing knowledge about what works and for whom.
Recommendation: Federal and state funding should be provided to replicate successful research-based, community-based treatment programs for all types of offenders with continuing evaluations to ensure their safety and efficacy under the specific circumstances of their application.
Overrepresentation of blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians in the juvenile justice system requires immediate attention. The existence of disproportional racial representation in the juvenile justice system raises concerns about differential exposure to risks and the fairness and equal treatment of youth by the police, courts, and other players in the juvenile justice system. Given the importance of the problem of race, crime, and juvenile justice in the United States, the scant research attention that has been paid to understanding the factors contributing to racial disparities in the juvenile justice system is shocking.
Recommendation: The panel recommends that a comprehensive, systematic, and long-term agenda for acquiring empirical knowledge to understand and meaningfully reduce problems of unwarranted racial disparity in the juvenile justice system is a critical priority and that new funding should be set aside for this effort.
Prevention and Treatment
Although evaluation research has resulted in some information about what types of programs may be effective in preventing delinquency, much remains to be known. At what age is it best to intervene? Is there an ideal length of program delivery? Are some programs more effective for certain types of children or families or at certain ages? Which programs are counterproductive? Some relatively well-evaluated programs, such as D.A.R.E. and shock incarceration programs, have been shown to have little impact on the targeted behavior and even to have counterproductive impacts among some populations. Until aspects of programs are systematically varied and well evaluated, these questions will remain.
Recommendation: All publicly supported intervention programs should be evaluated for both safety and efficacy using scientifically credible methods for doing so. Adequate funding for such evaluations should be included in the public support of intervention programs. Funding for programs whose effectiveness is shown to be limited should be discontinued.
Delinquency is associated with poor school performance, truancy, and leaving school at a young age. Some pedagogical practices may
exacerbate these problems. The available research on grade retention and tracking and the disciplinary practices of suspension and expulsion reveal that such policies have more negative than positive effects. For students already experiencing academic difficulty, tracking and grade retention have been found to further impair their academic performance. Furthermore, tracking does not appear to improve the academic performance of students in high tracks compared with similar students in schools that do not use tracking. Suspension and expulsion deny education in the name of discipline, yet these practices have not been shown to be effective in reducing school misbehavior. Little is known about the effects of these policies on other students in the school. Given the fact that the policies have been found to interfere with attachment to school and to disproportionately affect minorities, they may impede the opportunity to learn, unintentionally reinforce negative stereotypes, and contribute to long-term harm with regard to future educational achievement and involvement in crime.
Recommendation: Federal programs should be developed to promote alternatives to grade retention and tracking in schools.
Placing one or two antisocial juveniles in a group of primarily prosocial young people can decrease their antisocial behavior and increase their prosocial behavior without negatively influencing the prosocial youngsters. Some well-designed evaluations of treatments for at-risk juveniles found, however, that placing such youngsters together in groups, even under careful adult supervision, had the undesired outcome of increasing their antisocial behavior.
Recommendation: Federal and state funds should be used to develop treatments for misbehaving youngsters that do not group aggressive or antisocial youth together.
Prenatal exposure to alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and nicotine is associated with hyperactivity, attention deficit, and impulsiveness, which are risk factors for later antisocial behavior and delinquency. Biological harms suffered during the prenatal period may have some devastating effects on development. Consequently, preventive efforts during the prenatal period, such as preventing fetal exposure to alcohol and drugs, may have great benefits. Reducing alcohol and drug abuse among expectant parents may also improve their ability to parent, thus reducing family-related risk factors for delinquency.
Recommendation: Federal, state, and local governments should act to provide treatment for drug abuse (including alcohol and tobacco use) among pregnant women, particularly adolescents.
Research and Data Needs
Data to track or monitor crime committed by juveniles are inadequate. The data from the Uniform Crime Reports do not lend themselves to analyses of specific crimes in relation to the ages of juveniles who are arrested. We therefore do not know, for example, whether changes in policies on violent crimes or on drugs and guns have led to changes in the age of juveniles being arrested. Because of the known high level of co-offending among juveniles, neither arrests nor self-reporting of offenses can currently be used to measure the impact of policies on social order.
Recommendation: Incentives should be established to encourage all police agencies to report data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In addition, a monitoring system should be established to oversee the accuracy and completeness of the information received by the FBI for the Uniform Crime Reports and the National Incident Based Reporting System.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention sponsors a biennial Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement that provides only minimal information. This instrument identifies juveniles in custody on the specific date of the survey and therefore oversamples juveniles in long-term confinement. Furthermore, neither this instrument nor the newly designed Juvenile Residential Facility Census (begun in October 2000), yields information about children or youth housed in jails, adult institutions, or mental hospital facilities. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is planning a Survey of Youth in Residential Placement that will help to inform the public about conditions of confinement. It should be a matter of public accountability for all facilities that hold juveniles in secure confinement to report regularly on the conditions under which those juveniles are kept and the types of services provided.
Recommendation: The Congress should provide adequate funds to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Bureau of Justice Statistics in order to ensure proper data collection about conditions of confinement as well as new funds to develop national data collection systems to measure the number and characteristics of children and adolescents outside juvenile jurisdictions, those transferred to criminal court, and those held in adult prisons or jails.
Research has shown that the greater the number of risk factors present, the higher the likelihood of delinquency. It is not clear, however, whether certain risk factors or combinations of risk factors are more important than others in the development of delinquency. Furthermore,
the timing, severity, and duration of risk factors, in interaction with the age, sex, and the environment in which the individual lives, undoubtedly affect the behavioral outcomes. A better understanding of how risk factors interact is important for the development of prevention efforts, especially efforts in communities in which risk factors are concentrated.
Recommendation: Research on risk factors for delinquency should focus on the effects of interactions among various risk factors. In particular, research on the effects of differences in neighborhoods and their interactions with individual and family conditions should be expanded. (For details of needed research areas, see Chapter 3.)
Research on delinquency has traditionally focused on boys. Although boys are more likely to be arrested than girls, the rate of increase in arrest and incarceration has been much larger in recent years for girls than boys, and the seriousness of the crimes committed by girls has increased.
Recommendation: The Department of Justice should develop and fund a systematic research program on female juvenile offending. (For details of needed research areas, see Chapter 3.)
Despite the large amount of descriptive literature about the juvenile justice system, little research has identified how different laws regarding juvenile crime or different practices in confinement affect those in the juvenile justice system. For example, do behavioral modification programs used in secure facilities have an influence on behavior of juveniles after release? Are there long-term effects of isolation used as punishment for disobedient juveniles in confinement? Are there special benefits for particular educational programs carried out in juvenile institutions? Evaluation studies of a variety of policies and practices should be undertaken. Emphasis should be placed on measuring psychological, educational, and physical effects on the juveniles, as well as measures of recidivism.
Recommendation: The federal government should assist the states in evaluating the effects of correctional policies and practices, such as the use of behavior modification programs, physical restraints, and isolation on incarcerated juveniles, as well as determining the effectiveness of educational and psychological programming in correctional facilities.
The panel also recommends a number of other areas in which funding of research is needed, including:
Improving the quality of existing information on juvenile crime and developing alternative sources of information (see Chapter 2);
Reviewing the effects of school policies and practices, such as grade
retention, tracking, suspension, and expulsion on delinquency, educational attainment, and school atmosphere and environment (see Chapter 3);
Using prospective longitudinal studies to increase understanding of the role of factors in prenatal, perinatal, and early infant development on mechanisms that increase the likelihood of healthy development, as well as the development of antisocial behavior (see Chapter 3);
Studying long-term outcomes of well-designed interventions that have shown short-term promise for reducing delinquency (see Chapter 4);
Evaluating the adequacy of standards for juvenile detention and correctional facilities (see Chapter 5); and
Developing a research agenda on juvenile justice system practices and their effects, including the extent, systemic effects, costs, and cost-effectiveness of the various possible dispositions of juvenile cases, and the long-term effects of transferring juveniles to adult court and incarcerating them in adult facilities (see Chapter 5).