The Research

In 1996, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released the Research Report State Responses to Serious and Violent Juvenile Crime (State Responses) prepared by the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ). That report documented the extensive changes States made during their 1992 to 1995 legislative sessions to target increases in serious violent juvenile crime. The magnitude of change States undertook during the first half of the decade created a need to gauge the impact of those new laws, policies, and programs on juvenile offenders and the justice system and to continue monitoring new laws enacted in the mid-1990's. NCJJ used a four-pronged approach in conducting this update:

bullet An analysis of laws enacted in 1996 and 1997 that addressed serious and violent juvenile offenders.
bullet An indepth statutory analysis of current transfer provisions.
bullet A phone survey of key contacts in each State to identify substantive and procedural changes and the impact of those changes.
bullet Selection of three sites for indepth case studies to document the impact of changes at the State and local levels.

Legislative changes were identified bysearching the LEGIS data bases on Westlaw® for those years. These data bases contain bills passed by the legislative bodies of the States; in the majority of cases, the Governor signs the bills into law. As a double-check, telephone survey respondents verified changes in a State and sent summaries of individual State legislation.

Juvenile Violence: The Facts of the Matter

The juvenile violent crime arrest rate remained relatively constant from the early 1970's to the late 1980's, increased 64% between 1988 and 1994, and dropped 12% from 1994 to 1996. Similarly, the number of juveniles arrested for murder more than doubled between the mid-1980's and the peak in 1993, representing a percentage change far greater than the increase in adult murder arrests. These facts, and the publicity that surrounded them, focused national attention on the juvenile violent crime problem.

Three points are worth considering:
bullet Juveniles are not responsible for most violent crimes: Based on FBI clearance data, in 1986 juveniles were responsible for 9% of all violent crimes (5% of all murders) and in 1996 they accounted for 13% of all violent crimes (8% of all murders). Although these statistics represent an increased share for juveniles, even in 1996 adults were responsible for 7 out of every 8 violent crimes.
bullet Juvenile violence is declining but is still at much higher levels than a decade ago: 1996 was the second year in a row the juvenile violent crime arrest rate declined (9% from the 1995 level). However, even with this decline, the number of juvenile violent crime arrests in 1996 was 60% above the 1987 level.
bullet Today's juveniles do not commit more acts of violence than did members of the previous generation, but more juveniles are violent. Research by NCJJ investigated whether there is a new breed of violent juveniles, or "superpredators." Study findings imply that recent increases in juvenile violent crime were not due to a new breed of juveniles who commit violent crimes with greater regularity, but to the fact that more of the juvenile population was being brought into the justice system for violent acts.

Sources: Snyder, H. 1997 (November). Juvenile Arrests 1996. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; Snyder, H. 1998. Serious, violent and chronic juvenile offenders: An assessment of the extent of and trends in officially-recognized serious criminal behavior in a delinquent population. In Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders: Risk Factors and Successful Intervention, edited by Rolf Loeber and David Farrington. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

State Legislative Responses to Violent Juvenile Crime: 1996-97 Update Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  November 1998