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Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice (2001)

Chapter: Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice

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Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
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2

Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice

Since the late 1980s, there has been growing concern about crimes committed by young people. News accounts of serious crimes committed by children and adolescents and criminologists' warnings of a coming tide of vicious juveniles—sometimes referred to as superpredators (see, e.g., Bennett et al., 1996)—have encouraged a general belief that young people are increasingly violent and uncontrollable and that the response of the juvenile justice system has been inadequate. Reacting to evidence of increases in juvenile violence, state and federal legislators have proposed, and most states have passed, laws that make the juvenile system more punitive and that allow younger children and adolescents to be transferred to the adult system for a greater variety of offenses and in a greater variety of ways (discussed in Chapter 5). Data about juvenile crime, in particular violent crime, and statistics about the size and characteristics of the juvenile population have played an important part in the policy debates (Zimring, 1998).

Are young people today actually committing more crimes than they did two decades ago? Are those crimes more violent? Are the trends the same or different for various offenses? Do those trends differ from trends in adult crime rates? How much of juvenile crime is concentrated in the nation's inner cities and among disadvantaged minorities? Because this type of information influences attitudes and government policy, it is important to have accurate answers to these questions. This chapter discusses the sources of data available for studying delinquency as well as the weaknesses of those data sources, summarizes what is known about

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

the trends in delinquency over the past several decades, and considers what forecasts can be made about juvenile crime.

SOURCES OF DATA

Three ways in which crime is often measured are arrest statistics, victim reports of crimes, and self-reports of offenses. These sources may yield different crime rates and trends. Each source has advantages and drawbacks, and each alone gives an incomplete picture of crime. In this section, we discuss these sources of data and their strengths and weaknesses.

Arrest Data

A common way of measuring crime is to use the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), which are compiled from data on crimes known to the police and on arrests that are reported annually to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by police agencies around the country. Data have been collected by the FBI since 1930, allowing the study of crime and arrest trends over time. The UCR provide crime counts for the United States as a whole, as well as for regions, states, counties, cities, and towns. In addition, the UCR provide data on, among other things, crimes known to the police, crimes cleared by arrest, and characteristics of persons arrested. However, UCR reporting is voluntary, and the total number of reporting police agencies varies from year to year. The accuracy and completeness of the data are affected by the voluntary nature of UCR reporting (Maltz, 1999). In some years, data from one or more entire states have been unavailable. For example, from 1988 to 1991, no usable data were obtained from either Florida or Kentucky (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1998). Coverage within states also varies from year to year. The FBI imputes information when none has been reported. Because many of the tables in the published UCR, including the breakdown by age, are based on whichever agencies report in a given year and not on a nationally representative sample, caution must be used in making generalizations to all young people in the United States based on UCR data. This is particularly true with regard to analyses regarding race, because the racial makeup of the areas covered by reporting agencies may not reflect the racial makeup of the country.

Data in the UCR are reported by offense for 28 different offenses (for definitions of offenses used in the UCR, see Appendix A). The most information is reported on what are termed index (or part I) crimes— eight crimes that make up the crime index, which is used “to gauge fluctuations in the overall volume and rate of crime reported to law enforce

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

ment” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1998:5). The crime index includes the violent offenses of murder and nonnegligent homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and the property offenses of burglary, larceny theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.

There are drawbacks to using arrest data as a measure of crime. Arrest statistics do not reflect the number of different people arrested each year, because an unknown number of people may be arrested more than once in a year. For some crimes, no arrests are made. For others, there may be multiple arrests. Furthermore, not everyone who is arrested has committed the crime for which he or she was arrested. Arrests also depend on a number of factors other than overall crime levels, including policies of particular police agencies, the cooperation of victims, the skill of the perpetrator, and the age, sex, race, and social class of the suspect (Cook and Laub, 1998; McCord, 1997c).

Nor should arrest statistics be confused with the number of crimes committed, because in some cases, the arrest of one person may account for a series of crimes, and in others several people may be arrested for one crime. This is particularly true for young people, who are more likely than adults to commit crimes in a group (McCord, 1990; Reiss, 1986; Reiss and Farrington, 1991; Zimring, 1981). Snyder (1998) contends that this tendency to offend in groups makes arrest statistics an inappropriate measure of the relative proportion of crime attributed to young people. Checking on Snyder's position, McCord and Conway (2000) analyzed a random sample of juvenile offenders in Philadelphia. They found that the number of crimes accounted for by juveniles would be reduced by approximately 40 percent with an adjustment for co-offending. Rather, arrest statistics measure the flow of young people into the juvenile justice system or the criminal justice system. For this reason, the number of crimes known to police is often a preferred measure of crime (Cook and Laub, 1998). The UCR provide information on all crimes known to reporting police agencies, whether or not an arrest has been made. There is no information on age of the perpetrator, however, in the data on crimes known to police; thus even if they are a more accurate crime measure, the number of crimes known to police cannot be used to analyze juvenile crime.

Arrest clearance statistics, which measure the proportion of reported crime cleared by arrest (or other exceptional means, such as death of the offender), may more accurately portray the proportion of crime committed by young people, according to Snyder (1998). But even clearance statistics may overestimate juvenile crime. For example, if young people are more easily apprehended than adults, the proportion of their crimes cleared by arrest would be higher than the proportion of all crimes for which they were responsible (Snyder, 1998). The proportion of young

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

people arrested consistently exceeds the proportion of crimes cleared by the arrest of young people for all crimes and across time, indicating that the use of arrest statistics may make it appear that juveniles account for more crime than they actually do. Likewise, Reiss and Farrington (1991) showed that offending appears less common in the teenage years if the rate is based on the number of offenses (which takes into account co-offending) committed by juveniles rather than on the number of juvenile offenders.

Another problem with the UCR as a measure of crime is that, regardless of the number of offenses that occur in an incident leading to arrest, only one offense—the most serious—is counted (for a detailed discussion of gaps in the UCR see Maltz, 1999). This procedure results in less serious crimes being undercounted by arrest statistics and a lack of information on the circumstances surrounding the crime. For example, if a homicide occurs during a robbery, only the homicide is counted. As Maltz (1999) points out, this masks the nature of the circumstances surrounding the homicide.

The UCR statistical system is summary-based. That is, each reporting agency reports totals of crimes known to police, of arrests, and of other information. Although summary-based statistics are important, there is a lot of information they cannot provide. For example, it is impossible to determine from such data the number of crimes committed by multiple rather than single offenders or the relationship of the victim to the offender from such data (Maxfield, 1999).

In the mid-1980s, in order to overcome some of these deficiencies in the UCR, the FBI began to implement a new reporting system, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). This system reports information by incident instead of by totals for an agency. NIBRS includes up to 10 different offense types per incident and provides details about all of the offenders and victims, as well as the situational context of the incident. Although NIBRS may have many advantages for researchers and federal agencies, its adoption by states and law enforcement agencies has been slow. Roberts (1997) reported that cost of implementing the new system was the most common concern cited as an obstacle to the adoption of NIBRS. Other obstacles noted by Roberts include uncertain benefits of NIBRS to the reporting agencies; concern that NIBRS reporting would be too time-consuming for officers; and concern that reporting all offenses in an incident may give the appearance of an increase in crime. Whatever the reason, only 18 states were NIBRS-certified by the end of 1999 (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1999), and fewer than that have fully implemented NIBRS reporting. As Maxfield (1999) noted, it took over 30 years to develop the UCR program, and it may take decades to complete the implementation of NIBRS.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

NIBRS may one day provide much useful information about juvenile crime that is currently not available from the UCR, but it is not problem free. NIBRS continues to rely on police to make decisions about how to classify offenses and what information to report. “ Criminologists have long been cautious about accepting police reports as valid and reliable measures of even crimes known to the police. All police reports represent interpretations of events that are usually not witnessed by officials. Because of this, police records are best viewed as social constructions based on reports by witnesses and victims, together with physical evidence” (Maxfield, 1999:142).

Experience with UCR Supplemental Homicide Reports may provide some hints about the types of errors and omissions that may arise with NIBRS data. In addition to reporting totals of homicides, reporting agencies currently must fill out incident-based Supplemental Homicide Reports (SHR) detailing information about each homicide. Researchers have found inconsistencies between SHR data and police agency records (Loftin, 1986) and inappropriate classifications of murders as motivated by robbery (Cook, 1987). Supplemental Homicide Reports may be completed and archived before all the evidence has been gathered, calling into question their validity (National Research Council, 1993b). There is also variation among agencies and over time in how homicide circumstances are recorded (Maxfield, 1989). These types of problems may be even greater in NIBRS, which requires detailed information on crimes for which fewer police resources are dedicated than for homicides. Nevertheless, NIBRS promises to provide much information that cannot be obtained from the UCR.

Victim Reports

Information about crimes committed is also available from surveys of crime victims. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), begun in 1973, collects data annually on crime victimization from a nationally representative sample of approximately 43,000 households. Persons over the age of 12 in these households are asked about their experience with crime. The NCVS includes crimes whether or not they were reported to the police. Detailed information is collected on the frequency and nature of the crimes of rape, sexual assault, personal robbery, aggravated and simple assault, household burglary, theft, and motor vehicle theft (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000). Victims ' perception of the age of the offender for violent crimes is included in the data collected. Because offenders' age may be difficult for a victim to estimate accurately, caution must be exercised in using NCVS to estimate juvenile crime. The NCVS does not ask

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

about offenders in property crimes because victims of property offenses generally have no contact with the offenders.

The NCVS underestimates crimes because it omits crimes to businesses (e.g., shoplifting, employee theft). It also omits crimes against victims under the age of 12. Nor is information about homicides gathered in the NCVS. Because the sampling unit is a household, transient and homeless people—populations at substantially great risk of victimization —are not represented (National Research Council, 1993b).

Other aspects of the NCVS methods may inflate crime rates. Households are in the sample for three years and are interviewed every six months. Studies that rely on victim reports show that people tend to recall events of the distant past as though they happened more recently. Without a “bounding interview,” respondents report more crime than has actually occurred within the period of time to which it is attributed. When households first enter the NCVS, a bounding interview is therefore conducted. Information gathered at this interview is not used except as a corrective for the subsequent interviews. However, households are kept in the survey even if the occupants change. No new bounding interview is done when the household contains new residents. Hence, in these households, there is a greater likelihood that reported victimizations would have occurred outside the six-month survey interval, thereby inflating official crime rates.

There has also been a shift in data collection methods over the years, away from face-to-face interviews to telephone and proxy interviews. The latter interview methods result in fewer victimizations being reported than in face-to-face and victim respondent interviews (Steffensmeier and Harer, 1999). Nevertheless, the NCVS provides another source of information to compare with UCR arrest data when looking at trends in juvenile violent crime.

Self-Report Data

Data on the commission of delinquent acts and crimes are also available from surveys of young people. Self-report data include crimes not known to the police, but they have their own set of drawbacks. Some self-report surveys that are frequently used for examining juvenile crime (e.g., Monitoring the Future and the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance system) are conducted in schools. Missing from these data are students who are absent from school when the survey is taken, those who have dropped out of school, and homeless juveniles who are not attending school. In particular, school dropouts have higher rates of delinquency than those who remain in school. There may be an implicit bias inherent in which schools are selected to be included in the study. In addition, the behav-

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

iors covered in large surveys are often not directly comparable to criminal behavior that would result in arrest. National cross-sectional or longitudinal studies that are population-based rather than school-based may provide more valid samples for estimating juvenile crime.

Another problem with self-report data is accuracy of the information provided. Surveys generally indicate higher levels of delinquency than indicated by offenses known to police or arrests. Because police do not know about all offenses, it is difficult to verify the accuracy of the self-report offending data. However, in general, a high proportion of offenses known to the police are reported by respondents, although there is variation by offense (Huizinga and Elliott, 1986).

Some researchers have found the validity of self-report data to vary by race and by gender. For example, some researchers found that black or nonwhite respondents are less likely to report offenses already known to officials than are whites (Hindelang et al., 1981; Hirschi, 1969; Lab and Allen, 1984; Tracy, 1987). It is not known whether the self-reports or the official records are more accurate. More recently, Farrington et al. (1996) found no significant difference in the validity of self-report measures by race. In other research (Maxfield et al., 2000), race differences in the congruence between self-reports and official reports of arrests were sharply reduced in three situations: among those with recorded convictions, among those with both juvenile and adult arrests, and among those with five or more arrests. Maxfield and colleagues (2000) suggested that subjects with more recorded official contacts (e.g., multiple arrests, arrest plus conviction) more often self-reported arrests, regardless of race. Less is known about the effect of gender on self-reports of offending. Some studies have found that self-reports by males and females are equally valid, whereas others have found that females are less likely to report being arrested, even when they were convicted (Maxfield et al., 2000). It may be that girls and women experience more social stigma concerning their criminal behavior than do boys and men and are therefore less willing to report it to interviewers. Males, in contrast, have been found less willing than females to report a history of childhood sexual abuse (Widom and Morris, 1997). Maxfield et al. (2000) suggest that studies relying on self-reports may need to take social desirability into account when males and females have different response patterns.

Each type of data for analyzing crime trends has advantages and disadvantages. It is important to keep the weaknesses of the various types of data in mind whenever crime rates are discussed. In the following sections, trends in juvenile crime, based on the three different datasets, are discussed and compared.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

CRIME TRENDS

Overall arrest rates in the United States have increased over the past three decades for all age groups (Figure 2-1). In 1998, arrest rates were 28 percent higher than in 1970. The increase in arrest rates does not necessarily mean that crime had grown by 28 percent. The arrest rate can be influenced by changes in policy, in police practices, and in the number of offenders arrested per crime. In fact, victim reports of overall crime indicate fairly consistent decreases since the early 1970s. The picture of crime becomes more complicated when broken down by age and offense.

Official crime rates are based on data reported by police agencies to the FBI about the index crimes of homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault—which make up the violent crime index—and burglary, larceny and theft, auto theft, and arson—which make up the property crime index. In 1998, there were a total estimated 12,475,634 index crimes (both violent and property) known to police, 2,481,500 arrests for index crimes, and 14,528,300 arrests for all crimes (including status offenses) in the United States (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1999). The vast major-

FIGURE 2-1 Arrest rates for all crimes. Source: Arrest data from Federal Bureau of Investigation (1971-1999). Population data from Bureau of the Census (1982) and online at http://www.census.gov/population/estimates.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

ity of these arrests—82 percent—were arrests of adults. Arrests of those ages 10 to 17 accounted for 17.7 percent, or about 2.6 million arrests. In 1998, when those ages 10 to 17 were 11 percent of the population, 16.4 percent of all arrests for violent index crimes and 32 percent of all arrests for property index crimes were arrests of those ages 10 to 17.

Not only do young people account for a small percentage of all arrests, but also the vast majority of arrests of those ages 10 to17 are for nonindex crimes (73 percent of arrests in 1998), which are less serious than index crimes (see Table 2-1). In 1998, only 4 percent of juvenile arrests were for index violent crimes and less than one-tenth of one percent of their arrests were for homicide. Even in 1993, at the height of the violent crime wave that began in the mid to late 1980s, only about 6 percent of all juvenile arrests were for violent crimes and about two-tenths of one percent were for homicide. Young people are much more likely to be arrested for property crimes than for violent crimes. Over the past 30 years, between one-quarter and one-third of all juvenile arrests were for the index property crimes of burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. In comparison, in 1998, about 5 percent of arrests of those over age 18 were

TABLE 2-1 Percentage of Arrests of Those Ages 10-17, by Offense

1970

1980

1990

1993

1997

1998

Murder

0.08

0.09

0.15

0.17

0.09

0.08

Rape

0.20

0.22

0.27

0.26

0.19

0.20

Robbery

1.81

2.11

1.91

2.18

1.44

1.27

Aggravated Assault

1.27

1.90

2.93

3.37

2.68

2.76

Index violent crime

3.36

4.32

5.26

5.98

4.40

4.31

Burglary

8.82

10.61

6.35

5.71

4.55

4.37

Larceny

18.34

20.49

20.96

19.32

17.52

16.10

Motor Vehicle Theft

4.49

2.97

4.25

3.80

2.38

2.09

Arson

0.28

0.35

0.32

0.36

0.31

0.31

Index property crime

31.92

34.42

31.89

29.18

24.76

22.87

Other assaults

3.13

4.02

6.76

7.73

8.43

9.00

Vandalism

4.31

5.40

5.64

5.72

4.63

4.72

Weapons

1.05

1.21

1.85

2.62

1.85

1.74

Drug abuse violations

4.90

5.10

3.77

4.71

7.90

7.99

Disorderly Conduct

7.48

5.96

5.49

6.04

7.59

7.17

Curfew and loitering

6.56

3.36

3.75

4.30

6.59

7.41

Runaways

10.99

7.11

7.95

7.61

6.95

6.32

Other Offenses

26.29

29.11

27.64

26.12

26.90

28.46

Nonindex crime

64.72

61.26

62.85

64.84

70.84

72.81

Total

100.00

100.00

100.00

100.00

100.00

100.00

Source: Data from Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1971 to 1999.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

for index violent crimes, 0.13 percent for homicides, 10 percent for index property crimes, and 85 percent for nonindex crimes. (See Appendix A for UCR definitions of various offenses.)

The likelihood of arrest differs by race, gender, and area of the country. For young people under 18, blacks and males have consistently higher arrest rates than whites and females, respectively, for both violent crimes and property crimes. In 1998, males accounted for 83 percent of arrests of those under 18 for violent crimes and 72 percent of arrests for property crimes.1 As for race, black juveniles are disproportionately arrested in comparison to their proportion of the population. In 1998, only 15 percent of those under age 18 in the United States were black (whites made up 79 percent and other races were 6 percent of the juvenile population), yet blacks made up 42.3 percent of juvenile arrests for violent crime, whites 55.3 percent, and others 2.4 percent.2 The UCR do not provide estimates for Hispanic juveniles.3 For property crime arrests of juveniles, blacks accounted for 26.6 percent, whites 70.1 percent, and others 3.3 percent. Distributions for adults are similar, with blacks accounting for a disproportionate 40 percent of violent crime arrests and 35 percent of property crime arrests, compared with whites at 58 percent for violent crimes and 63 percent for property crimes, and others at 2 percent for both violent crimes and property crimes. (A more thorough discussion of racial disproportionality and possible reasons for it appears in Chapter 6.)

Violent Crime

The concern in recent years over juvenile crime has centered on violent crime. Indeed, it appears that there was a significant upswing in violence among juveniles and adults. As can be seen in Figure 2-2, beginning in the mid- to late 1980s, there was a large increase in arrests for violent crimes not only among juveniles (10- to 17-year-olds), but also among adults ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34. Arrests for violent crimes of those 35 and older also increased, but more gradually and not nearly as much as for the younger groups. Since the mid-1990s, arrest rates for violent crimes have dropped dramatically for all age groups and are approaching the rates of the early 1980s.

2  

The UCR report crimes for two groups besides blacks and whites: American Indian or Alaskan Native and Asian or Pacific Islander.

3  

Note that for federal data collection purposes, Hispanic is not considered to be a race, but rather an ethnicity. Hispanics are included in both black and white counts.

1  

The UCR do not provide data by race for individual ages, but rather for those under 18 and for those 18 and older.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

FIGURE 2-2 Arrest rates for violent index crimes. Source: Arrest data from Federal Bureau of Investigation (1971-1999). Population data from Bureau of the Census (1982) and online at http://www.census.gov/population/estimates.

Victim reports of violent crimes in which the perpetrator was thought to be under the age of 18 show somewhat different trends, although both indicate increases beginning in the late 1980s through the early 1990s and declines at the end of the century. The juvenile violent crime rate based on victim reports remained fairly flat from 1973 to 1989, then increased between 1989 and 1993 (see Figure 2-3). By 1995, when arrest rates according to the FBI were close to their peak, the victimization rate had returned to the level of the 1989 rate. Victim reports of serious violent crimes by adults, however, show a fairly steady decline, dropping and staying below 1973 rates since 1983, with an increase almost back to 1973 levels in 1993, then dropping again. Victim reports indicate a much higher rate of violent offending by young people and by adults than do arrest rates.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

FIGURE 2-3 Rate of juvenile offending: Comparison of arrests, victim reports, and self-reports. Source: Arrest data from Federal Bureau of Investigation (1974-1999); self-report data from Maguire and Pastore (1994-1998); National Crime Victimization Survey data from Snyder and Sickmund (1999).

Self-reports of violent behavior by juveniles produce even higher rates of offending, but the questions used in such surveys as Monitoring the Future4 may measure less serious behavior than that which results in arrest or victim reports. For example, the data shown in Figure 2-3 for Monitoring the Future are the results of high school seniors who answered at least once to the following two questions: “During the last 12 months, how often have you hurt someone badly enough to need bandages or a doctor?” “During the last 12 months, how often have you used a knife or a gun or some other thing (like a club) to get something from a person?” Other self-report surveys also yield rates of violent behavior much higher than arrest rates. For example, the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which interviewed a representative sample of 9,000 youngsters between the ages of 12 and 16 in 1996, found a prior-year assault rate of 12,000 per 100,000 (Snyder and Sickmund, 1999). The NLSY97 rate is lower than the 14,400 per 100,000 from Monitoring the Future in 1996. The samples in the two surveys are different, with Moni-

4  

Monitoring the Future is an annual school-based survey of high school seniors that has been conducted since 1976.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

toring the Future including only high school seniors5 while NLSY97 included 12- to 16-year-olds. The question in the NLSY97 —“Have you ever attacked someone with the idea of seriously hurting them or have had a situation end up in a serious fight or assault of some kind?”—may elicit more serious incidents of assault than do those in Monitoring the Future. The differences in both the samples and questions may account for the difference in reported rates.

Violence encompasses a wide range of acts, from the threat of harm to assault and homicide. It is instructive to look separately at the various offenses that make up the FBI violence index. Figure 2-4 shows the arrest rates by age group for the violent crimes of homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault (the four crimes that make up the FBI violent crime index) since 1970. (Note that the scales on the y-axes differ for each offense.) There are distinctly different patterns for each of the violent index crimes. Arrest rates for juveniles are lower than the rates for 18- to 24-year-olds for all four violent crimes and lower than the rates for 25- to 34-year-olds for homicide, rape, and aggravated assault.

Figure 2-5 shows the change in arrest rates for the violent index crimes since 1970 by age group. The increase in arrests of 10- to 17-year-olds for violent crimes is most pronounced in arrests for aggravated assault and homicide. Arrests for aggravated assault peaked in 1995 at 3.5 times the 1970 rate, and homicide peaked in 1994 at 2.5 times the 1970 rate, before both started declining. Rape and robbery increased less, peaking at 1.7 times the 1970 rate in 1991 and 1994, respectively. The increase in juvenile arrest rates for homicide and aggravated assault was not only larger than for rape and robbery, but also much larger among juveniles than among the older age groups. Thus, although juvenile arrest rates for each of the violent crimes were lower than rates for 18- to 24-year-olds throughout the period, the increase in arrest rates for 10- to 17-year-olds was greater than the increase for 18- to 24-year-olds for both homicide and aggravated assault.

Homicide arrest rates for 10- to 17-year-olds and 18- to 24-year-olds rose sharply beginning in the mid-1980s, peaked in 1993, and then began to decline steeply (see Figure 2-4). The homicide arrest rates for 25- to 34-year-olds paralleled rates for the younger groups until the mid-1980s, after which the older group's rates gradually declined.

Data sources other than arrest statistics are available for studying homicide, and those sources may be somewhat more accurate than arrest data. Supplemental Homicide Reports are compiled by the FBI and

5  

Recently, 8th and 10th grade samples were added to Monitoring the Future. We have used only the 12th grade sample to have the longer time trend.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

FIGURE 2-4 Arrest rates for violent index crimes by age group. Source: Arrest data from Federal Bureau of Investigation (1971-1999).

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×
Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

FIGURE 2-5 Change in arrest rates since 1970 for violent index crimes, by age group. Source: Arrest data from Federal Bureau of Investigation (1971-1999); population data from U.S. Census Bureau (1982) and online at http://www.census.gov/population/estimates.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×
Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

include information about the circumstances of the crime, the weapon used, and the information that is known about both the victim and the killer or killers, whether or not an arrest has been made. The FBI receives these data on about 80 to 90 percent of all known homicides. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) also collects information on all deaths, including homicides. Information from medical examiners ' reports is compiled each year for all known homicides. Although the NCHS data do not provide information on the perpetrators, the data serve as a useful check on the number of homicides.

Using Supplemental Homicide Reports data, corrected for underreporting by information from NCHS, Cook and Laub (1998) analyzed homicide commission and victimization rates for 13- to 17-year-olds and 18-to 24-year-olds. They found that victimization and commission rates for both age groups followed similar trends, increasing rapidly in the late 1980s, and beginning to decrease in the early 1990s. The pattern of homicide commission for these younger age groups differed from those over 25, for whom homicide commission rates were declining as the younger groups experienced a sharp increase. Rates for young adults (18- to 24-year-olds) were higher than rates for adolescents (13- to 17-year-olds) or for older groups. Within the adolescent group, homicide commission varied by age. The number and rate of homicide offenders known to the police are consistently higher for older teenagers than for younger ones (Figure 2-6). The peak in homicides in the early 1990s was also greatest for older adolescents.

The increase in homicide victimization and commission was particularly pronounced among young black males. Cook and Laub (1998) note that the increase in the black juvenile homicide rate began about three years earlier than that of white juveniles, and it was greater both proportionally and in absolute count. Homicides by juveniles were also concentrated geographically, with one-quarter of known juvenile offenders in 1995 coming from just five counties—those containing Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Detroit, and New York City. The vast majority of counties (84 percent in 1995) reported no known juvenile homicide offenders (Sickmund et al., 1997).

The increase in homicide rates among juveniles from the late 1980s through the early 1990s was entirely due to an increase in homicides committed with firearms by adolescents (see Figure 2-7). Similarly, the declining homicide rate since the mid-1990s seems to involve primarily handgun-related homicides (Blumstein and Rosenfeld, 1998). Some researchers have argued that if the increase in homicides (and other violence) by young people was due to an increased viciousness or amorality among them, then there should have been an increase in homicide rates for all weapons, not just guns, and an increase in all crimes, not just

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

FIGURE 2-6 Rate of known homicide offenders by age. Source: Snyder and Sickmund (1999); population estimates accessed online at http://www.census.gov/population/estimates.

violent crimes (e.g., Blumstein, 1995; Blumstein and Cork, 1996; Cook and Laub, 1998). The fact that the increase in homicides was confined to those committed with guns and that property crimes did not increase in the same way that violent crimes did argues against the explanation of increasingly vicious young people. Blumstein (1995) argues that the homicide increase was a result of the introduction of crack cocaine markets, particularly in inner cities, in the mid-1980s. These drug markets used children and adolescents as sellers. Because of the nature of the drug trade, these sellers were well armed. Other young people in their neighborhoods began carrying guns out of a perceived need for protection. Since guns are more deadly than other weapons, conflicts among young people became more deadly.

Fagan and Wilkinson (1998) argue that Blumstein's explanation relies on indirect measures and provides no direct evidence of a causal link

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

FIGURE 2-7 Juvenile homicide rate by weapon. Source: Snyder and Sickmund (1999); population estimates accessed online at http://www.census.gov/population/estimates.

between adolescents' involvement in drug markets and adolescent homicide commission. The extent to which homicides committed by adolescents are related to drug selling remains unknown. Qualitative studies suggest that adolescent violence in recent years involves material goods or personal slights and may be unrelated or only tangentially related to drugs (Anderson, 1997; Canada, 1995, Wilkinson and Fagan, 1996). Levitt (1998) analyzed relative incarceration rates and violent crime rates for juveniles and adults. The results of his analysis suggest that 60 percent of the larger increase in violence among juveniles compared with adults was accounted for by the relative lenience of juvenile sanctions compared with adult sanctions, which had gotten much harsher during the 1980s.

Whether as a result of drug markets or not, a number of sources point to increased possession of guns by juveniles beginning in the mid-to late 1980s. Arrests for weapons offenses among adolescents doubled between 1985 and 1993 (Greenfeld and Zawitz, 1995). The percentage of adoles-

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

cent suicides committed by guns also began increasing in the late 1980s (Blumstein and Cork, 1996). Ethnographic reports also indicate that gun possession by young people has increased, but there is little information about how those guns were obtained (Fagan and Wilkinson, 1998).

The decrease in homicides by young people has also been entirely a decrease in homicides committed with handguns. Blumstein and Rosenfeld (1998) suggest several possible explanations for the decrease. First, the crack market began to mature, reducing disputes over territorial control, and the crack epidemic, which spurred the arming of many innercity juveniles, began to abate in the early 1990s. These changes led to less need for juveniles to carry guns. Second, the economic expansion of the mid- and late 1990s may have played a part in moving young people into legitimate jobs. At the same time, police crackdowns on drug markets may have limited the opportunities for revenue from illegal activities, increasing the likelihood of taking the more available legal jobs. Finally, the high rate of incarceration of drug offenders may have had an impact on homicide rates, although Blumstein and Rosenfeld (1998) point out that it is unlikely to have played a major role for young offenders.

The argument that juveniles' access to guns influenced the homicide rate is buttressed by the similar role that gun availability played in juvenile suicide rates (Kachur et al., 1995). The suicide rate increased from 1980 to 1992 by 121 percent for children ages 10 to 14 and by 27 percent for adolescents ages 15 to 19. As Table 2-2 shows, the increase in suicides among black adolescents ages 15 to 19 almost entirely involved suicides committed with firearms. Males, both black and white, had a higher rate of firearm suicides than females. At approximately the same time that homicide rates began dropping, so did firearm-related suicides. In fact, the decrease in firearm-related suicides accounted for all the suicide decrease in this age group between 1994 and 1996. Just as the proliferation of firearms appears to have played a part in making violence by young people more deadly, so, too, the use of firearms in suicide attempts is much more likely to result in death than the use of other means. In a study of suicides in one state, Hopkins et al. (1995) found that 3.2 percent of all suicide attempts resulted in death, but 78.2 percent of attempts involving firearms resulted in death. Males appear to be more likely to use firearms in suicide attempts than females. This may account for their high rate of completed suicides compared with females, in spite of females' much higher rate of suicide attempts.

Interestingly, the rates of homicides by juveniles in Canada, although much lower than the rate in the United States, followed a similar pattern of rising in the mid- to late 1980s and declining in the early 1990s. In Canada, handgun use did not play a part in the increase or decrease in homicide rates (Hagan and Foster, 2000). Thus a satisfactory explanation

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

TABLE 2-2 Suicide Rates (per 100,000) for Adolescents, Ages 15-19

1980

1985

1990

1994

1995

1996

1997

Total

8.51

9.87

11.07

11.06

10.46

9.74

9.45

Firearm

5.37

5.96

7.45

7.82

7.01

6.15

5.95

Nonfirearm

3.15

3.91

3.64

3.22

3.43

3.59

3.50

Males

13.83

15.78

18.05

18.25

17.44

15.55

15.16

Firearm

8.94

9.94

12.55

13.32

12.09

10.31

9.92

Nonfirearm

4.89

5.84

5.54

4.88

5.30

5.24

5.24

Females

3.03

3.71

3.71

3.48

3.11

3.55

3.38

Firearm

1.69

1.81

2.08

2.02

1.66

1.71

1.73

Nonfirearm

1.34

1.90

1.64

1.47

1.45

1.84

1.64

Whites

9.29

10.7

11.85

11.31

11.05

10.26

9.96

Firearm

5.94

6.51

7.99

7.87

7.30

6.38

6.24

Nonfirearm

3.36

4.19

3.89

3.42

3.72

3.88

3.72

Blacks

3.59

4.90

6.74

9.62

8.12

6.72

7.12

Firearm

1.99

3.01

5.05

8.01

6.21

5.17

5.00

Nonfirearm

1.60

1.89

1.70

1.61

1.91

1.55

2.13

Source: Data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, availableonline at http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/osp/usmort.htm (accessed 6/24/99 and 3/14/00).

cannot depend entirely on handguns or local reactions to crack markets. Current information is insufficient to explain either the causes of the growth in homicide and other violent acts or their decline in the past few years.

Aggravated Assault

Self-report data by young people for some offenses show less change since the early 1980s than arrest data. Figure 2-8 shows the change in UCR-reported arrest for aggravated and other assaults compared with two self-reported items from the Monitoring the Future survey. Young people's self-reports of engaging in serious fighting are relatively flat from 1982 to 1998; self-reports of injuring someone badly enough to need bandages or a doctor rose somewhat beginning in 1989 and in 1998 were 27 percent higher than in 1982. Aggravated assault arrests, in contrast, began rising above 1982 levels in 1986 and reached a peak in 1994 that was 2.1 times the 1982 rate. Arrests for other assaults have been steadily increasing since 1985.

It should be noted that official reports of assault are influenced by police policies and discretion. Aggravated assaults represent a heterogeneous set of acts, from threatening with a weapon with no resulting injury

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

FIGURE 2-8 Change since 1982 in assault arrests versus self-report behavior. Source: Arrest data from Federal Bureau of Investigation (1983-1999); self-report data from Maguire and Pastore (1994-1998).

to the victim to attempted murder. From the official arrest statistics it is impossible to ascertain what percentage of aggravated assaults falls at the less serious end of the offense category, in contrast to the percentage that is very serious. How assaults are counted and classified is essentially a matter of police discretion. There is considerable circumstantial evidence from a number of sources that indicates that a changing police threshold for charging aggravated assault was responsible for the increase in aggravated assault arrests during the 1980s (Zimring, 1998). The patterns of arrests for aggravated assault of 10- to 17-year-olds and 25- to 34-year-olds from 1980 to 1995 are nearly identical, but the two groups' homicide arrest patterns were very different, with the older group's homicide arrest rates declining at the same time the younger groups was growing rapidly.

If the rate of aggravated assaults was really increasing, Zimring argues, the older groups' homicide rates should have also increased. Arrests for simple assaults increased for both age groups over this same time, consistent with increased police willingness to arrest for assault.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

Victim reports of assault and self-reports of serious fighting were both much more stable than the arrest rate over this time period. On the basis of this evidence, Zimring (1998) concluded that “the major reason for increasing arrest rates in the younger age bracket for assault was not a change in the behavior of young offenders but a change in the classification of attacks that are close to the line that separates simple from aggravated assaults.” It is quite possible that the increase in arrests for aggravated assault is as much a reflection of increased willingness of the police to arrest juveniles in assault cases and for charges of aggravated assault (rather than simple assault) to be brought against them as it is of a change in juvenile behavior. An increased willingness to arrest juveniles may also account for the increase in arrests for other assaults.

Property Crime Trends

Property crimes make up the majority of juvenile offending. In contrast to the trends for violent crimes, index property crime arrest rates have remained fairly constant for juveniles. Victims report a 60 percent decrease in all property crimes between 1973 and 1998. Because there is no victim report information on perpetrators of property crimes, it is impossible to tell whether the decline was attributable to a decrease in offenses by juveniles, by adults, or by both. Self-report trends on property crimes by juveniles vary depending on type of behavior. Figure 2-9 compares several self-reported property offenses to arrest rates for juveniles. Self-reports of taking something worth less than $50 has remained relatively stable since 1982, similar to arrest rates. In contrast to the stability in arrest rates, self-reports of other property crimes by juveniles have increased. Since 1992 the rate of damaging school property has been 10 to 20 percent higher than the 1982 rate. Taking a car without permission has fluctuated a good deal since 1982, but has been consistently higher than the 1982 rate. Taking something worth more than $50 has increased since 1982, peaking in 1997 at 1.9 times the 1982 rate. The two questions from the Monitoring the Future survey that do not reflect inflation—about automobile theft and damage to school property—do not show the magnitude of increase shown for theft of property worth more than $50. Thus, it is possible that the increase in stealing items worth more than $50 is at least partially explained by inflation.

Just as with the index violent crimes, arrest rates for the index property crimes vary from one another (see Figure 2-10). Arrest rates for 10- to 17-year-olds are higher than rates for other age groups for all four index property offenses. Arrest for larceny/theft and burglary dominate index property arrests. Arrest rates for burglary have been dropping since the early 1980s for both 10- to 17-year-olds and 18- to 24-year-olds and by

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

FIGURE 2-9 Change since 1982 in property arrest rates of 10- to 17-year-olds compared to self-reported property offense rates by high school seniors and victim reports of property offenses for all ages. Source: Arrrest rates from Federal Bureau of Investigation (1983-1999); self-report data from Monitoring the Future as reported in Maguire and Pastore (1994-1998); victim reports from the National Crime Victimization Survey, accessed online at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/proptrd.txt.

1998 were 35 and 23 percent lower than 1970 rates, respectively ( Figure 2-11). For older groups, the burglary arrest rate began increasing in the early 1980s and remained nearly 60 percent higher than in 1970 for those 35 and older. As can be seen in Figures 2-10 and 2-11, although the property arrest rates are higher for 10- to 17-year-olds and 18- to 24-year-olds, the increase in the arrest rate has been larger among 25- to 34-year-olds and those 35 and older.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

FIGURE 2-10 Arrest rates for index property crimes, by age groups. Source: Arrest data from Federal Bureau of Investigation (1971-1998); population data from Bureau of the Census (1982) and online at http://www.census.gov/population/estimates.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×
Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

FIGURE 2-11 Change in arrest rates since 1970 for index property crimes, by age group. Source: Arrest data from Federal Bureau of Investigation (1971-1998); population data from Bureau of the Census (1982) and online at http://www.census.gov/population/estimates.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×
Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×
Status Offenses

A category of offenses that affects only juveniles is status offenses — acts that are considered unlawful only because of the age of the offender. The status offenses for which arrest data are available include curfew violations, running away, liquor law violations, and weapons possession. Figure 2-12 shows the change in arrest rates relative to 1970 rates for these four status offenses.

Starting with the mid-1970s through 1993, arrest rates for curfew violations and running away were consistently 20 to 40 percent below the 1970 rates. Because one of the provisions of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 was the deinstitutionalization of status offenders, in order to receive federal juvenile justice funding, states could no longer keep status offenders in secure detention facilities. Although the decline in status offense arrests began prior to the passage of the act, it is possible that the act reinforced the trend away from arresting juveniles for status offenses. The public discussions prior to the passage of the act may have also encouraged states to begin changing their policies regarding status offense arrests in anticipation of the federal law.

FIGURE 2-12 Change in arrest rates for status offenses. Source: Arrest data from Federal Bureau of Investigation (1971-1998); population data from Bureau of the Census (1982) and online at http://www.census.gov/population/estimates.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

In 1993, arrests for curfew violations begin increasing and by 1996 had reached a level 50 percent higher than their 1970 rate. With the increase in concern over juvenile violence in the late 1980s and early 1990s, curfews gained popularity in various locales around the country. The emphasis on curfews as a way to curb juvenile crime could explain the sudden increase in curfew violation arrests beginning around 1993. The increase in curfew arrests began the year following the increase in drug arrests of juveniles (see Figure 2-13) and both peaked in the same year. Police efforts to curb drugs may have emphasized keeping young people off streets through more strict enforcement of curfew laws. More detailed analyses (perhaps using time series), which were beyond the panel's resources, would be necessary to determine the effects of the fed

FIGURE 2-13 Change in arrest rates for drug offenses versus change in self-reported drug use. Source: Arrest data from Federal Bureau of Investigation (1976-1998); population data from Bureau of the Census (1982) and online at http://www.census.gov/population/estimates; self-report data from Monitoring the Future (Johnston et al., 1998).

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

eral, state, and local laws and policies on the various status offense arrest rates.

Girls have consistently had a higher rate of arrest for running away than have boys. For example, in 1997, the rate of runaway arrests for girls ages 10 to 17 was 764 per 100,000 compared with 527 per 100,000 for boys. Studies of runaways, however, have found that boys and girls are about equally likely to run away (Finkelhor et al., 1990; Kaufman and Widom, 1999). This disproportionate arrest of girls for running away has been explained by “a unique and intense preoccupation with girls' sexuality and their obedience to parental authority” (Chesney-Lind and Shelden, 1998:135), but it could also reflect a greater concern for their safety.

Drug Offenses

The availability of data on self-reported drug use provides an interesting comparison to arrest data for drug offenses. National surveys of high school students—in particular, Monitoring the Future—have collected information on self-reported drug use since the mid-1970s. As Figure 2-13 shows, arrest rates for drug offenses rose in the late 1980s at the same time as self-reported illicit drug use for both marijuana and other illicit drugs continued to decline. Use began rising again in 1993, but still remained lower than the rates in the late 1970s. Arrest rates for drug offenses, however, dramatically increased beginning in 1993, to a rate in 1997 that was 67 percent higher than 1975 arrest rates. It should be noted that drug arrests and self-reported drug use may be measuring different activities. Arrests can be for actions other than drug use, such as possession or sales. Drug use and drug sales may be correlated, however (Huizinga and Jakob-Chien, 1998). UCR published data do not specify the type of drug or the type of activity for which the arrest was made and the national self-report surveys, such as Monitoring the Future and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, do not ask about involvement in drug sales.

Although rates and trends of drug arrests were similar for both blacks and whites prior to 1981, whites were more likely than blacks to be arrested for drug offenses. Since 1981, arrests of blacks for drug offenses have soared. Were one to use arrest data alone, it could be concluded that there has been an explosion of drug use among black juveniles since the late 1980s. This conclusion is not borne out by self-reported drug use data. In fact, black 8th, 10th, and 12th graders consistently report lower use of all illegal drugs than is reported by white students (Johnston et al., 1998).

As with most offenses, boys are more likely to be arrested for drug offenses than are girls. Since the early 1980s, the drug arrest rate for male adolescents has been between 5 and 6 times higher than that for girls. In

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

1997, the drug offense arrest rate for boys was 1,240 per 100,000, and the arrest rate for girls was 200 per 100,000 (Snyder, 1999b). Although males report higher drug use than females, the differences are much smaller than arrest rates would indicate. For example, in 1997, 40.9 percent of male and 35.5 percent of female high school seniors reported having used marijuana in the past year. Past-year cocaine use was reported by 6.6 and 4.2 percent of 12th grade males and females, respectively (Johnston et al., 1998). Yet boys were arrested more than 6 times as often as girls for drug offenses in 1997. If drug use by boys is more frequent or done in more public places than drug use by girls, boys could be more likely to be arrested.

It is obvious that the arrest rates for drug offenses do not reflect drug use as reported by young people, whether one looks at young people in the aggregate or by race or sex. Drug offenses exemplify the need for caution when using any single data source as an indicator of offense rate.

GIRLS AND DELINQUENCY

The study of delinquency and juvenile crime has historically focused on males in spite of the fact that girls account for about one-quarter of all juvenile arrests (Chesney-Lind, 1997). Of the 2.6 million arrests of those under age 18 in 1998, 26 percent were females. As a proportion of juveniles arrested, the number of girls has increased since 1981, when they accounted for 20 percent of all arrests of those under 18 (Snyder, 1999b). Prior to 1981, the FBI did not record arrests by sex and age, so national data on arrests of adolescent girls before the 1980s are not available. Arrests of girls for both property crimes and violent crimes have increased over the past two decades (see Figure 2-14). For violent crime, the arrest rate of young females increased more than that of young males—120 percent between 1981 and 1994 compared with 60 percent for males. In 1997, the young male violent arrest rate was just under 20 percent higher than in 1981, but the young female rate was about 90 percent above the 1981 rate (Snyder and Sickmund, 1999). Nevertheless, of all reported juvenile arrests in 1997, only 2.7 percent of girls' arrests and 4.9 percent of boys' arrests were for violent offenses.

The types of offenses for which girls are arrested differ from the types for which boys are arrested. Table 2-3 presents the five most frequent offenses for which boys and girls were arrested in 1985, 1994, and 1997. Girls have consistently been most likely to be arrested for larceny/theft, which usually involves shoplifting (Chesney-Lind and Shelden, 1998), and for running away from home. Larceny/theft is also a common cause of arrest for boys, but running away accounts for only 3.9 percent of their arrests compared with 15.4 percent of arrests for girls. In fact, running

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

FIGURE 2-14 Female proportion of arrests of those under age 18. Source: Snyder (1999b).

away and curfew violations make up nearly a quarter of the offenses for which girls are arrested.

Boys have consistently higher arrest rates than girls for all crimes except for prostitution and running away. In 1998, boys and girls were arrested for index violent crimes at a rate of 603 per 100,000 and 127 per 100,000, respectively and for index property crimes at a rate of 2,733 per 100,000 and 1,156 per 100,000, respectively. 6 Self-report data show more similarity between boys' and girls' behavior than do arrest data for some offenses (see Table 2-4). For example, in 1998, 21 percent of male high school seniors reported having been in a serious fight within the past 12 months, compared with 11 percent of female high school seniors (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1999). This 2:1 ratio for self-reports of serious fighting compares to a 3:1 boy to girl ratio for simple assault arrests. For more serious assaults, arrests and self-report data are more similar. The ratio of

6  

Arrest rates by sex calculated from UCR data by committee staff with the methodology used by Snyder (1999b).

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

TABLE 2-3 Rank Order of Adolescent Male and Female Arrests for Specific Offenses

Females

Offense

% of Total 1985

Offense

% of Total 1994

Offense

% of Total 1997

(1) Larceny/theft

26.4

(1) Larceny/theft

25.6

(1) Larceny/theft

22.8

(2) Runaway

20.2

(2) Runaway

17.1

(2) Runaway

15.4

(3) Other offenses

15.4

(3) Other offenses

14.4

(3) Other offenses

15.2

(4) Liquor laws

7.3

(4) Other assaults

8.6

(4) Other assaults

9.5

(5) Other assaults

4.9

(5) Disorderly conduct

6.0

(5) Disorderly conduct

7.6

1985

1994

1997

Arrests for violent offenses

2.1

3.4

2.7

Arrests for status offenses

24.6

22.9

23.1

Males

Offense

% of Total 1985

Offense

% of Total 1994

Offense

% of Total 1997

(1) Larceny/theft

20.2

(1) Larceny/theft

17.2

(1) Other offenses

16.9

(2) Other offenses

16.8

(2) Other offenses

16.4

(2) Larceny/theft

15.5

(3) Burglary

10.0

(3) Other assaults

7.7

(3) Drug offenses

9.1

(4) Vandalism

6.6

(4) Drug offenses

7.1

(4) Other assaults

8.1

(5) Liquor laws

5.8

(5) Vandalism

6.7

(5) Disorderly conduct

7.6

1985

1994

1997

Arrests for violent offenses

4.9

6.6

4.9

Arrests for status offenses

8.2

8.6

9.9

Source: Adapted from Chesney-Lind (1997), Snyder (1999a), and Snyderand Sickmund (1999).

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

TABLE 2-4 Self-Reported Involvement in Delinquent Behavior of High School Seniors by Sex in 1998 (percentage) Compared to Arrests in 1998 (percentage)

Male

Female

Ratio

Serious fight at school

21

11

2:1

Simple assault arrest

1.2

0.35

3:1

Hurt someone enough to need bandages or doctor

23

6

4:1

Aggravated assault arrest

0.4

0.09

4:1

Used a weapon to take something from someone

7

2

4:1

Robbery arrest

0.19

0.02

9:1

Stole something worth more than $50

17

7

2:1

Stole something worth less than $50

39

25

2:1

Theft arrest

1.8

0.97

2:1

Damaged property at school or work

21

8

3:1

Vandalism arrest

0.67

0.12

5:1

Source: Monitoring the Future data from Pastore and Maguire (1998);arrest data from committee analysis of UCR (Federal Bureau of Investigation,

boys to girls for aggravated assault arrests is 4:1, the same ratio as self-reports of hurting someone badly enough to need bandages or a doctor.

The differences between male and female self-reports of offending have remained fairly constant since the early 1980s (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1999). The increase in arrest rates of girls for index crimes, however, was greater than that of boys. This increase may be due as much to a change in police behavior toward girls as to a change in girls' behavior (Chesney-Lind and Shelden, 1998).

FORECASTING TRENDS IN JUVENILE CRIME7

How much crime will there be in the United States in the next 5 or 10 years? Will crime rates go up or down or remain about the same? Since juvenile crime is often an indication of crime problems to come, how many juvenile offenses will there be? Will the number of juvenile serious violent offenders or homicide perpetrators increase? What will be the resulting demands on the juvenile and the criminal justice systems? Will trends in juvenile crime influence trends in adult crime? Over the past three decades, criminologists have made a number of attempts to address

7  

Appendix B is a more complete and technical discussion of forecasting trends in juvenile crime.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

these and related questions. These attempts have usually taken the form of efforts to explain past variations or to project future levels of crime by applying techniques of demographic and statistical analysis. Such analyses may be useful exercises with respect to explanation of past experiences in the ups and downs of observed crime or to the projection of recent trends in order to anticipate resources that will be needed in the near future by the juvenile and the criminal justice systems. Users of such analyses must be aware, however, that all projections are fraught with uncertainty, and the farther into the future the projection is made, the more uncertainty there is.

A review of several existing contributions to the crime forecasting literature suggests that these forecasts are heavily influenced by trends in crime rates in the years just prior to the period for which the forecasts are made. For example, based on crime rates in the early 1980s and anticipated decreases in the population at high risk of committing crimes (i.e., those between 15 and 24), Steffensmeier and Harer (1987) forecast that violent crime rates would fall about 13 percent during the period 1980 to 2000. Using a different methodology, other researchers also predicted falling rates of violent crime during the 1980s (Cohen and Land, 1987; Fox, 1978) with a gradual increase in the 1990s (Fox, 1978) or in the 2000s (Cohen and Land, 1987). None of these predictions was borne out—the juvenile population did not behave as expected in the projections. Similarly, forecasts based on the sudden rise in juvenile violent crime in the mid-1980s to early 1990s also proved incorrect. Shortly before violent crime rates dramatically decreased, Bennett et al. (1996), Fox (1996), and Wilson (1995) all predicted continually rising violent crime trends. To the extent that crime forecasts are meant to represent likely paths that crime rates may take, they should attempt to minimize, or at least be cognizant of, the effects of continuity bias—that is, the assumption that the current patterns will continue—on the forecasts.

Uncertainty can be built into crime forecasts by adapting and applying the high-, medium-, and low-scenarios approach widely employed in demography. By using high-low projection cones (the range of predictions between the low and high scenario), the scary forecasts of a new wave of juvenile homicide offenders in the first decade of the 21st century, made by some researchers in the mid-1990s, are shown to be relatively implausible. Appendix B presents this type of projection with respect to juvenile homicide. The most likely projection suggests that the numbers of juvenile male homicide offenders will continue to decline during the period 1998 to 2002 and then increase slightly thereafter to the year 2007. However, the possibility that juvenile homicide rates will increase dramatically in the near future also exists and is portrayed by the upper bounds of the projections.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

There are two additional implications of the uncertainty in forecasts of crime rates and offenders: the periods over which crime forecasts are made should be as short as possible and the forecasts should be updated frequently. Large-scale social systems have elements of complexity or nonlinear dynamics and uncertainty that militate against the accuracy of long-term forecasts. In practical terms, this means that forecasting cones (upper and lower bounds) for enveloping the ranges within which crime is likely to fall with a high probability will grow very rapidly from the base year into the future. To take this into account, the time periods of the forecasts should be relatively short and the forecasts should be revised when new information becomes available. For most police, court, and penal components of the juvenile and the criminal justice systems, this is not particularly problematic, as forecasts typically are necessary only for one- or two-year government budgeting cycles. Only occasionally are projections more than five years into the future required for budgeting or planning purposes.

CONCLUSIONS

Official data to track or monitor crimes committed by juveniles and the justice system responses to juvenile offenders are clearly inadequate. They provide, at best, only a crude measure of perpetrators estimated by victims to be under 18 or of the number of arrests for the various crimes of juveniles under 18. The reporting of crimes known to the police and arrest data is voluntary on the part of local police agencies and states. Therefore, published FBI annual crime figures are based on different agencies' and states' reports each year, depending on which agencies and states submitted their data on time. Official data are insufficient for studies to determine whether changing arrest rates are related to changes in police policies and practices or to changes in juvenile behavior. Comparing victim reports and arrest data to juvenile self-reports of behavior improves the situation somewhat. Many self-report studies, however, are conducted with school-based samples, omitting dropouts and truants who may have higher offending rates than children and adolescents who attend school regularly.

Although the panel acknowledges the weaknesses in available data, we nevertheless had to rely on currently available data to analyze juvenile crime trends. Based on our analysis, the panel drew the following conclusions.

  • There was an increase in juvenile homicide beginning in the mid-1980s, peaking in the early 1990s, and decreasing in the late 1990s. This increase was not confined to juveniles, however. For example, homicide

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

rates increased similarly among young adults and were higher among 18-to 24-year-olds than among 10- to 17-year-olds over the same period of time. Although there are theories about the reasons for the increase and subsequent decrease in homicide, current research is inadequate to completely explain the trends. Some of the rise in other violent crime arrest rates between the mid-1980s and early 1990s seems 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 increasing willingness to arrest for assault. Much of the rise in juvenile homicides appears to be linked to an increase in the use of firearms. Even at the peak rate of violence in the early 1990s, the vast majority of arrests of those under age 18 were for property crimes, not serious violent crimes.

  • Blacks are disproportionately represented among juveniles arrested for crimes committed in the United States. The degree to which this is a consequence of differential behavior or biases in the system remains a continuing debate, one to which the report returns in Chapter 6.

  • The increase in homicide rates among juveniles from the late 1980s to the early 1990s was entirely due to an increase in homicides committed with firearms. Similarly, the decline in homicide rates since the mid-1990s seems to involve primarily handgun-related homicides.

  • Rising rates of arrests for black youth on drug-related charges are not paralleled by increased reporting of drug use among black youth. Therefore, at least some of the discrepancy between arrest rates for blacks and whites for drug offenses may be related to differential visibility of black and white drug use and criminal justice system practices rather than to the juveniles' behavior.

  • Forecasts of juvenile crime based on the spike in homicide rates proved to be misleading and highlight the caution with which predictions of future juvenile crime trends must be made.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Data to track or monitor crime committed by juveniles are inadequate. The UCR data do not lend themselves to analyses of specific crimes in relation to the ages of juveniles who are arrested. Therefore, we 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.

The voluntary nature of UCR reporting results in unstable, potentially nonrepresentative samples of law enforcement agencies. Reporting both among and within states varies so widely that state-to-state compari

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

sons cannot be made using the UCR, and year-to-year comparisons are likely to be misleading. Although the National Incident Based Reporting System may eventually provide much improved information about juvenile crime, full implementation is years away. In the interim, measures to improve the quality of the data and increase the number of agencies that report are needed. Furthermore, no system is in place to monitor the collection of data submitted to the FBI, yet FBI figures are used for policy making.

Recommendation: Incentives need to be established to encourage all police agencies to report data to the 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.

Even with improvements in official arrest data, not all crimes result in arrest. Furthermore, until the full implementation of NIBRS, arrest data provide no information about co-offending, the circumstances of the crime, the use of weapons during commission of the crime, and so forth. There will remain a need for better self-report and victim report data to provide a more complete picture of juvenile offending. Each of the current sources of self-report information have limitations and are the subject of continuing critiques and arguments. There is an urgent need for alternative sources of information to permit better estimates of the extent of juvenile crime and the circumstances under which it occurs.

Recommendation: Congress should appropriate additional funding to the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to improve the quality of existing information and to develop alternative sources of juvenile crime information. There is a need to test the reliability and validity of reported age, race, and ethnicity estimates by victims in the National Crime Victimization Survey. In addition, self-report surveys of juvenile criminal behavior should collect information regarding co-offending.

Public policy on juvenile crime, particularly the trend toward more punitive sanctions (see Chapter 5), has been greatly influenced 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, long-term forecasting is fraught with uncertainty.

Recommendation: Because of the inaccuracies inherent in long-range predictions, public policy should not be based on the

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
×

assumption that any specific forecast will be true. To improve future forecasts of crime rates and the number of offenders, the panel recommends the following:

  • forecasts should be accompanied by warnings of their inherent inaccuracy and cautions about their appropriate use;

  • forecasts should guard against continuity biases or at least explicitly recognize their presence in projections of which the objective is to draw out implications of recent trends;

  • forecasts should take into account uncertainty in the predictions by developing upper and lower bounds within which paths of crime rates are expected to lie;

  • the forecast time period should be shortened as much as the purpose for which the forecasts are produced will allow; and

  • forecasts should be updated frequently.

The incorporation of these characteristics into crime forecasts should result in more realistic uses and assessments of the forecasts. Nevertheless, current capacity to forecast crime rates is very limited. Errors in forecasts over even relatively short time periods of 2 to 3 years, let alone for a decade or more, are very large.

Suggested Citation:"Patterns and Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2001. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9747.
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Even though youth crime rates have fallen since the mid-1990s, public fear and political rhetoric over the issue have heightened. The Columbine shootings and other sensational incidents add to the furor. Often overlooked are the underlying problems of child poverty, social disadvantage, and the pitfalls inherent to adolescent decisionmaking that contribute to youth crime. From a policy standpoint, adolescent offenders are caught in the crossfire between nurturance of youth and punishment of criminals, between rehabilitation and "get tough" pronouncements. In the midst of this emotional debate, the National Research Council's Panel on Juvenile Crime steps forward with an authoritative review of the best available data and analysis. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice presents recommendations for addressing the many aspects of America's youth crime problem.

This timely release discusses patterns and trends in crimes by children and adolescents--trends revealed by arrest data, victim reports, and other sources; youth crime within general crime; and race and sex disparities. The book explores desistance--the probability that delinquency or criminal activities decrease with age--and evaluates different approaches to predicting future crime rates.

Why do young people turn to delinquency? Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice presents what we know and what we urgently need to find out about contributing factors, ranging from prenatal care, differences in temperament, and family influences to the role of peer relationships, the impact of the school policies toward delinquency, and the broader influences of the neighborhood and community. Equally important, this book examines a range of solutions:

  • Prevention and intervention efforts directed to individuals, peer groups, and families, as well as day care-, school- and community-based initiatives.
  • Intervention within the juvenile justice system.
  • Role of the police.
  • Processing and detention of youth offenders.
  • Transferring youths to the adult judicial system.
  • Residential placement of juveniles.

The book includes background on the American juvenile court system, useful comparisons with the juvenile justice systems of other nations, and other important information for assessing this problem.

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