Juvenile Justice Reform Initiatives in the States

Chapter 1
The Scope of Juvenile Violence

Trends and Clauses


The reality, fear, and consequences of juvenile violence continue to plague this Nation and drive legislative and political agendas at every level of government. More and more States are lowering the age at which juveniles can be waived or transferred to criminal court and enacting other measures to "get tough" with violent juvenile offenders. Meanwhile, prognosticators warn of a coming tide of juvenile violence, driven primarily by increased arrests of juveniles for serious and violent crime over the past 10 years and shifting demographics of age and race. These forecasts are based to some extent on the assumption that current trends are likely to continue.

  Yet the hyperbole and alarm that surround much of the political posturing and new legislation obscure a simple fact: Very few juveniles engage in criminal acts, especially violent criminal acts. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data, about 6 percent of all juveniles were arrested for some offense in 1994and of those arrested, about 7 percent were arrested for a violent crime. Therefore, less than one-half of 1 percent of juveniles in the Nation were arrested for a violent offense in 1994.1

  However, as a number of studies have shown, juveniles commit a proportionately higher number of violent crimes than members of other age groups, and since the mid-1980's, juvenile offenders have become increasingly violent.2   These findings are supported by comparisons of arrest statistics for adult and juvenile offenders. The number of individuals of all ages arrested for murder and negligent manslaughter increased approximately 23 percent between 1985 and 1994, while the number of juveniles arrested for those crimes in the same period grew by 150 percent.3

In 1991, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which seeks information on crimes committed against persons age 12 or older, found that victims attributed about one in four personal crimes (crimes of violence and theft, including larceny) to juvenile offenders. Juveniles were reported to be responsible for about one in five violent crimes, and juveniles in groups were involved in about one in seven serious violent crimes.

  A juvenile's chance of becoming a victim of violence or a violent offender is, to some extent, affected by race and geography. Data from the NCVS and the FBI's UCR indicate that African-American juveniles are more likely to be homicide victims and offenders than other racial and age groups. The rate of homicide victimizations for African-Americans was six times greater than for whites in 1994. According to the NCVS, African-American males had a rate of violent crime victimization in 1993 of 76 victimizations per every 1,000 persons, compared with the rate for white males of 59 victimizations per 1,000 persons.4

  While African-Americans constituted 12.5 percent of the population in 1994, they accounted for nearly 29 percent of the juvenile arrests and more than half of the arrests for violent crime, including 59 percent of the juvenile homicide arrests.5

  The majority of juvenile offenders and victims are concentrated in large cities. FBI data show that more than half of the juvenile homicide arrests in 1994 occurred in six States -- California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Texas -- and just four cities -- Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York. These accounted for nearly one-third of all juvenile homicide arrests.6 By contrast, approximately 8 out of every 10 counties in the Nation had no known juvenile homicide offenders in 1994.

1. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Dep't of Justice, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: Update on Violence iv (1996) [hereinafter Update].

2. Id. at 14-15.

3. Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Dep't of Justice, Crime in the United States: 1994, at 221 (1995) [hereinafter 1994 UCR].

4. Update, supra note 1, at 4.

5. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dep't of Justice, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1995, 409 (1996).

6. National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, An Analysis of Juvenile Homicides: Where They Occur and the Effectiveness of Adult Court Intervention 1 (July 1996).

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