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Securing Our Children's Future New Approaches to Juvenile Justice and Youth Violence
Brookings Institution Press Copyright © 2002 Brookings Institution Press and Governance Institute
All right reserved.
Chapter One Introduction: Issues and Institutions
NO ERA IN WORLD HISTORY has been untouched by youth violence. Tablets describing the challenges that the misbehaving young pose for society have been found that date from before 2000 B.C. Millennia later, in his annual reports to the commonwealth of Massachusetts, nineteenth-century education reformer Horace Mann pointed to the criminal behavior of young people to support his arguments for a "common school." Indeed, a twenty-first-century American who traveled back two centuries would find the youth violence of the day quite familiar. The time traveler would see, for example, that in 1806 a 13-year-old girl was tried in Tennessee for the murder of her father and that violent youth gangs roamed the streets of Manhattan and Philadelphia in the 1830s and after. Nor would the traveler be shocked to find that before his eighteenth birthday in 1877, a gun-toting youth from a dysfunctional home-whom legend would know as "Billy the Kid"-had committed his first homicide, the beginning of a career of lethal violence.
In our time, both the public and the government have felt in recent years a heightened sense of urgency and frustration about youth violence. The United States confronts the unsettling reality that the homicide rate for children under 15 far exceeds that of other industrialized countries. Today, when 70.2 million Americans-more than one in four-are below age 18, the country's intense concern about youth violence has played out against a series of seemingly contradictory trends that defy easy analysis. The decade beginning in 1983, which was marked by a dramatic rise in youth violence, particularly lethal violence, has been followed since 1993 by a dramatic decline. Notwithstanding an increase in the size of the juvenile population and predictions of a rise in violence, juvenile violence has fallen-although there have been suggestions of a coming upturn. During this period of decline, however, a rash of shootings by young people at school-in places such as West Paducah, Kentucky; Pearl, Mississippi; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Springfield, Oregon; Littleton, Colorado; Santee, California; and Williamsport, Pennsylvania-has reverberated in the public consciousness. These tragic shootings have intensified concerns about safety-notwithstanding data showing that students are safer in school than elsewhere and that in recent years lethal crime in schools has in fact declined.
The problem of youth violence has prompted a flurry of commentary, legislative activity, scholarly studies, and government and private sector initiatives. Explanations for the fluctuations in youth violence have varied, as have proposed approaches to combating the problem. For example, in accounting for the apparent decline in youth violence, some observers have pointed to changing demographics or an improving economy, while others have pointed to successful law enforcement initiatives, such as efforts to stop the traffic in crack cocaine. The debate about how best to deal with youth violence and reduce it also has been framed in a variety of ways. Discussions sometimes have been cast in terms of law enforcement measures versus prevention programs and at other times in terms of criminal justice mechanisms versus public health or social service responses. Some have focused on the etiology of violence-its "root causes"-while others have focused more on the impact of external institutions and programs. More recent discussions of policies and programs to prevent and control youth violence have increasingly focused on partnerships among the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
All too often, discourse about "the violent crime problem" has given way to quick conclusions and subtle analysis has been supplanted by misleading categorization of the causes. The crime problem is complex and multidimensional; indeed, it is not just one problem, but many. At the end of a century that suggested some reason for optimism in addressing youth violence and at the beginning of a new century that is nevertheless fraught with uncertainty about how to proceed, the time is ripe to think about how institutions can better organize and integrate their efforts to prevent youth violence. Unless we reinforce initiatives to address the urgent problem of youth violence now, we leave yet another generation at risk.
This book focuses on the juvenile justice system and the strategic role of institutions, broadly conceived, in the identification, coordination, and implementation of anti-youth violence strategies. At a time when the direction of youth violence policy is very much the subject of debate, the Governance Institute-in cooperation with the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government- brought together a wide range of skilled professionals and academics to participate in a project entitled Securing Our Children's Future: New Approaches to Juvenile Justice and Youth Violence. Harnessing their experience and their contributions, this volume of the same title examines, in practical terms, how institutions can be mobilized in the service of initiatives to combat youth violence. It attempts to identify promising strategies to confront the challenges of youth violence and to facilitate communication and sharing of perspectives among prosecutors, defense attorneys, the courts, correctional institutions, probation departments, faith-based groups, schools, the media, nonprofit institutions, and private entities in their efforts to develop and implement such strategies. The focus of the project and of this book is not on the root causes of violence-an important concern that has been the subject of other works-but on the conception and implementation of policy and the design of institutional processes. One purpose of this effort is to stimulate dialogue among practitioners, another is to develop a workable action plan to guide decision-making. The project considers the problems that result from viewing youth violence through different prisms; in doing so it examines strategies from the vantage of particular institutions and explores the meaning of management and leadership both within those institutions and in their relationships with others. It also examines collaborative efforts among institutions.
Before briefly describing the succeeding chapters, the remainder of this introduction relates in statistical terms the scope of youth violence and presents a snapshot of the institutional context in which the problem is addressed.
Trends in Youth Violence
Any examination of trends in youth violence must first examine the source of the statistics used; it also must clarify the definition of terms. There are two basic kinds of statistical source-official reports of law enforcement agencies and self-reports. With respect to the former, a basic standard resource is the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), an annual compilation of data on U.S. crime and arrests based on information provided to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by local law enforcement agencies. The FBI publishes its annual Crime in the United States report on the basis of that information. We will use both of these sources for the discussion that follows. At the outset, however, it should be noted that a primary limitation on official reports arises from the fact that some criminal behavior is not reported to law enforcement agencies, and that, as a general proposition, some crimes (with the exception of murder, which is usually reported) go undetected. Moreover, UCR statistics report the number of arrests made in a particular year; they do not measure the number of crimes committed nor the number of individuals who committed crimes. A single crime committed by a youth gang may result in multiple arrests, and a single individual may be arrested repeatedly. Statistics also can be misleading because of the problem of classification of offenses. While the official arrest statistics have limitations, they are the best measure of reported crime that flows into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Because of the limitations of official reports and the fact that much criminal behavior goes undetected, policy analysts also have looked to confidential longitudinal and cross-sectional surveys that ask young people about violent acts that they may have perpetrated or been victims of over time. The recent surgeon general's Report on Youth Violence takes note of Monitoring the Future, an annual cross-sectional survey of high school seniors that has been conducted since 1975. Indeed, the surgeon general's report concludes that such surveys of young people establish that most crimes by young people escape the attention of the justice system.
For the purposes of preliminary analysis and statistical reference below, "youth" or "juvenile" refers to individuals who are under 18 years of age. (In fact, in 2000, the legal definition of "juvenile" in 13 states referred to persons who were younger than 17 years of age, including three states in which all 16- and 17-year-olds were defined as adults.) "Violent crime" refers to the four violent crimes that make up the violent crime index of the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports-criminal homicide (murder and nonnegligent manslaughter), robbery, aggravated assault, and forcible rape.
In 2000, juveniles were involved in fewer than one in six arrests for all violent crime index offenses. That year, there were approximately 2.4 million juvenile arrests, of which 99,000 were for violent crime index offenses. Of those 99,000 arrests, 1,200 were for criminal homicide, 4,500 were for forcible rape, 26,800 were for robbery, and 68,300 were for aggravated assault. For every 100,000 youths between 10 and 17 years of age, there were 309 arrests for violent crime index offenses. If each of those arrests involved a different juvenile, then about one-third of 1 percent of juveniles ages 10 through 17 years were arrested for a violent crime in 2000. Minorities were disproportionately involved in juvenile arrests. Although the racial composition of the juvenile population in 2000 was 79 percent white, 16 percent black, and 5 percent of other races (with Hispanics classified as white), 55 percent of juvenile arrests for violent crime involved white youth and 42 percent involved black youth.
The decade beginning in 1983 and ending in 1993-a period during which adult criminal violence declined-saw a dramatic increase in the overall arrest rate for violent crimes committed by youths between the ages of 10 and 17. The rate then fell through 2000, the most recent year for which figures are available. Between 1983 and 1993-1994, the arrest rate of youths for violent offenses increased by approximately 70 percent. During that time, both the actual number of youths who were arrested for homicide and the rate of homicide arrests nearly tripled. In the peak year of 1993, there were about 3,800 juvenile arrests for murder, but by 2000, the number fell to 1,200. The juvenile murder arrest rate dropped 74 percent from its peak in 1993 to 2000, when it reached its lowest level since the 1960s. The upsurge in juvenile lethal crimes between 1983 and 1993 was tied largely to an increase in the use of firearms by adolescents committing violent acts. By 1994, 82 percent of homicides by youths were perpetrated with a firearm. The dramatic drop in homicides between 1993 and 2000 coincided with a decline in firearm use.
The substantial decline in juvenile arrest rates for murder should not divert attention from the reality that the statistical picture of youth violence is complex. To be sure, by 2000 the juvenile arrest rate for violent crime index offenses had fallen to its lowest level since 1985 and was 41 percent below the peak year of 1994, although marginally higher than the 1983 rate. Moreover, after a 44 percent increase between 1980 and 1991, the arrest rate for forcible rape declined by 2000 to 13 percent below the 1980 rate, and the 2000 juvenile arrest rate for robbery was at its lowest level since at least 1980 and 57 percent below the peak year of 1994. However, while the juvenile arrest rate for aggravated assault dropped 30 percent between 1994 and 2000, the 2000 juvenile arrest rate was 42 percent above its 1980 level. Furthermore, data derived from Monitoring the Future show that self-reported violent behavior is at least as high today as it was in 1993.
The recent rash of highly publicized shootings in school has brought a new focus on the level of violence in U.S. schools. In fact, overall school crime has decreased since 1992. In 1999, all nonfatal crimes at school against students ages 12 through 18-including theft, rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault-declined to 2.5 million, from 3.4 million in 1992. (In 1999, theft constituted 64 percent of all crime at school, reflecting a decline from 95 thefts per 1,000 students in 1992 to 59 per 1,000 in 1999.) In 1999, students ages 12 through 18 were the victims of 884,100 nonfatal violent crimes-that is, serious violent crimes plus simple assault-at school, reflecting a decline to 43 crimes per 1,000 students from the 1992 rate of 48 per 1,000 students. They were the victims of 1.1 million nonfatal violent crimes away from school, reflecting a decline to 39 crimes per 1,000 students from the 1992 rate of 71 per 1,000.
The rate of serious violent crime against students at school-including rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault, but not simple assault-remained constant from 1992 to 1999. In 1999, a total of 185,600 nonfatal serious violent crimes against students were committed at school or on the way to or from school. During that year, students in urban and suburban areas were victimized by serious violent crime at school at similar rates. However, away from school, urban students were more vulnerable than suburban students to serious violent crime, and suburban students were more vulnerable to such crimes than were rural students. Nonfatal serious violent crimes against students are more likely to be committed away from school than at school. In 1999, eighteen students in 1,000 were victims of serious violent crimes while away from school; in contrast, seven in 1,000 students were victims of serious violent crime while at school or on the way to or from school. At the same time, the rate of crimes against students outside of school has declined since 1992. For example, nonfatal serious violent crimes away from school against students ages 12 through 18 declined in 1999 to eighteen students per 1,000 from thirty-two per 1,000 in 1992.
Moreover, in recent years-contrary to popular perception-weapon carrying and physical fighting by students have declined steadily.
Excerpted from Securing Our Children's Future Copyright © 2002 by Brookings Institution Press and Governance Institute
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