Juvenile Justice Reform Initiatives in the States


Juvenile crime and violence continue to be serious problems in our Nation. In 1994, more than 150,000 juveniles were arrested for violent crimes -- murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults. From 1985 to 1994, the rate of murders committed by teens ages 14 to 17 increased 172 percent. Many of these offenders were friends and acquaintances of their victims.

As Governors, we are concerned about juvenile violence and must find ways to combat it. States and communities are implementing innovative strategies to stem the tide of juvenile violence, from parental responsibility laws to prevention and early intervention programs to initiatives that allow the most violent and intractable youth to be tried in adult court. Some methods seem to be working, considering recent press accounts and Government reports on the decline in juvenile violence arrests in 1995.

Despite the recent leveling off of juvenile crime rates, we must not lose sight of the fact that the incidence of youth crime and violence is far too prevalent in our communities. Therefore, we must continue to develop efficient and effective programs to prevent and deter young people from committing crimes, and we must find swift and effective methods of sanctioning those who do.

Violent crime tears at the very fabric of civilized society. It fills citizens with fear, causes them to rearrange their lives, and discourages them from venturing from their homes. Our citizens living in public housing developments, for example, suffer when the entire complex is ravaged by gang violence. Children miss school -- not to play hooky, but to play it safe by staying at home. Businesses find it difficult, if not impossible, to operate in a climate of violence and intimidation, a climate that makes customers too afraid to shop. Many people leave our inner cities and crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Our citizens have a right to be free from the fear of crime, whether in their homes, on the streets, or in any other place in their communities. They expect the government to provide for their safety and protection.

We Governors are leading the way in attacking crime, especially juvenile crime. This report demonstrates that States are finding innovative methods of dealing with juvenile violence. It is a major analysis of the tools being used to combat violence, with an indepth focus on the comprehensive juvenile justice reform that is taking place in four States -- Colorado, Connecticut, Ohio, and Oregon.

I wish to thank the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for providing the funding for the report and the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) for developing it. NCJA's work with the National Governors' Association through the years has produced many innovative policies to assist Governors in tackling the crime problem.

Whatever juvenile crime initiatives the Federal Government may choose to undertake in the future, the States, because of our system of government, will retain the primary responsibility and authority for dealing with youth violence. And we must be willing and able to perform. I hope that tools such as this report will help Governors and other State officials make appropriate and better informed decisions.

Governor Bob Miller
National Governors' Association

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