The Youngest Delinquents: Offenders Under Age 15

Jeffrey A. Butts and Howard N. Snyder (1997). The Youngest Delinquents: Offenders Under Age 15. (Juvenile Justice Bulletin.) Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, US Department of Justice.

Why do many people continue to believe that juvenile delinquents are getting younger and that they commit more serious crimes at earlier ages than the young offenders of 10 or 15 years ago? This study compared the characteristics of young offenders arrested in recent years with those arrested in 1980 and analyzed the juvenile court’s response to those offenders once they had been charged. Findings suggest that today’s serious and violent juvenile offenders are not significantly younger than those of 10 or 15 years ago. Yet many juvenile justice professionals, as well as the public, would assert the opposite. The study suggests several factors are at work: (1) Overall growth in the number of violent juvenile offenders has drawn increased attention to the problem of young offenders in general; (2) The nature of the delinquency cases involving juveniles age 12 or younger has changed; (3) Delinquency caseloads have doubled nationwide since 1970; (4) Justice professionals tend to accumulate memories of exceptional cases; and (5) The news media have increased their reporting of crime, especially violent crimes by the very young.