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High profile-often very violent-incidents tend to shape public perceptions of juvenile offending. It is important for the public, the media, elected officials, and juvenile justice professionals to have an accurate view of (1) the crimes committed by juveniles, (2) the proportion and characteristics of youth involved in law-violating behaviors, and (3) trends in these behaviors. This understanding can come from studying victim reports, juvenile self-reports of offending behavior, and official records.
As documented in the following pages, many juveniles who commit crimes (even serious crimes) never enter the juvenile justice system. Consequently, developing a portrait of juvenile law-violating behavior from official records gives only a partial picture. This chapter presents what is known about the prevalence and incidence of juvenile offending prior to the youth entering the juvenile justice system. It relies on data developed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Crime Victimization Survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Supplementary Homicide Reports and its National Incident-Based Reporting System, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse's Monitoring the Future Study. Information on gangs is drawn from the National Youth Gang Survey, supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Information on the association between offending and contact with the juvenile justice system comes from one of OJJDP's Causes and Correlates Studies.
In this chapter, you can learn the answers to many commonly asked questions: How many murders are committed by juveniles, and whom do they murder? What proportion of youth are involved in criminal behaviors? How many students are involved in crime at school? Is it common for youth to carry weapons to school? Are students fearful of crime at school? What is known about juveniles and gangs? How prevalent is drug and alcohol use? When are crimes committed by juveniles most likely to occur? Are there gender and racial/ethnic differences in the law-violating behaviors of juvenile offenders?