Arresting Children: Examining Recent Trends in Preteen Crime

Jeffrey A. Butts and Howard N. Snyder (2008). Arresting Children: Examining Recent Trends in Preteen Crime. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Are juvenile offenders getting younger? The American public often hears policymakers and justice practitioners assert that young people are committing crimes at younger and younger ages. Is this true? This analysis explores the question by examining data collected by law enforcement agencies across the country.

This analysis shows that juvenile offenders today are not significantly younger than were juvenile offenders in the 1980s and 1990s. Although the rate and severity of juvenile crime has fluctuated in recent decades, especially before and after the dramatic wave of  youth violence that peaked in 1994, the behavior of preteen offenders generally follows the pattern exhibited by older youth. With few exceptions, the age profile of juvenile offenders has not changed substantially in the past 20 to 25 years. Yet many juvenile justice professionals would assert that it has, and that the youth coming into police stations and courthouses across the country seem to be getting younger and younger every year. What explains this discrepancy?