Statistical Briefing Book > Juveniles in Court Previous Page
Delinquency Cases
Q: Has the juvenile courts' formal delinquency caseload grown?
A: After reaching a peak in 1997, the number of formally processed delinquency cases declined 72% through 2020.

It is important to note that 2020 was the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have impacted policies, procedures, and data collection activities regarding referrals to and processing of youth by juvenile courts. Additionally, stay-at-home orders and school closures likely impacted the volume and type of law-violating behavior by youth referred to juvenile court in 2020.
  • A juvenile court intake officer or prosecutor determines whether to handle a delinquency case formally or informally. They may decide to dismiss the case for lack of legal sufficiency or to resolve the matter informally. Informal dispositions are voluntary and include referral to a social agency for services, informal probation, or some form of restitution.
  • Formal processing involves the filing of a petition requesting that the court hold an adjudicatory or waiver hearing. A waiver hearing could result in the juvenile court waiving its jurisdiction in the case, transferring the matter to criminal court. At an adjudicatory hearing, the youth may be adjudicated (judged) delinquent and the case would proceed to a disposition hearing. If the youth is not adjudicated, the case is generally dismissed but the youth may be asked to take some actions, such as making restitution or voluntarily attending drug counseling, prior to the final adjudication decision.
  • The number of formally processed delinquency cases declined 72% between 1997 and 2020. Similarly, the number of informally handled cases decreased 73% during the time period.
  • Since 1993, formal cases have accounted for a larger share of the delinquency caseload than informal cases. In 2020, there were 19% more formal than informal delinquency cases.

Internet citation: OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Available: Released on January 10, 2023.

Adapted from Easy Access to Juvenile Court Statistics. Available on-line at:

Data Source: National Juvenile Court Data Archive. National Center for Juvenile Justice. Pittsburgh, PA.