High profile-often 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 juvenile self-reports of offending behavior, victim reports, 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 self-report and victim data developed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Crime Victimization Survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, the National Institute on Drug Abuse's Monitoring the Future Study, the National Youth Gang Center's National Youth Gang Survey, and the University of Pittsburgh's Pathways to Desistance Study. Official data on juvenile offending are presented from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Supplementary Homicide Reports and its National Incident-Based Reporting System.
In this chapter, readers can learn the answers to many commonly asked questions: What proportion of youth are involved in crime at school? Is it common for youth to carry weapons to school? Are students fearful of crime at school? How prevalent is drug and alcohol use? What is known about juveniles and gangs? How many murders are committed by juveniles, and whom do they murder? 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?
Official statistics on juvenile offending as it relates to law enforcement, juvenile and criminal courts, and correctional facilities are presented in subsequent chapters in this report.