Policymakers, advocates, and even some researchers claim that youth confinement rates across the United States dropped in recent years due to changes in policy and practice. Such claims remain unproven, but voters and elected officials are inclined to accept them as factual because they are offered by reputable agencies and repeated in news media sources. Without reliable evidence, however, the notion that state-level youth confinement rates fall primarily in response to progressive policy reforms is merely appealing rhetoric.
Over the last five years the number of police stops and arrests involving Capital Region youths has fallen more than 45 percent, according to state data. It's a stunning drop -- but one without a clear single reason, say law enforcement and juvenile justice system professionals. Several factors are likely in play, including an overall drop in crime in the country, changes in the drug trade, increased use of alternatives to incarceration and changes in youth culture, said Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, tracking trends, and something definitely feels different than it did 20 years ago,” Butts said.
Between 2000 and 2018, the steepest declines in drug arrests were observed among youth ages 10 to 14 (–52%) and young people ages 15 to 17 (–56%). Arrest rates among young adults also fell. Specifically, the drug arrest rate dropped –35 percent for 18-20 year-olds and –15 percent for adults ages 21-to 24.
As Jeffrey Butts, director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice research and evaluation center in New York City, noted four years ago, “the public health approach of [Cure Violence] CV currently merits the label ‘promising’ rather than ‘effective.’” “CV, however, offers something to communities that other well-known violence reduction models cannot,” he added. “It is potentially very cost-efficient, and it places less demand on the political and administrative resources of law enforcement and the larger criminal justice system. "
Based on the latest statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the national violent crime arrest rate declined 38 percent overall between 1988 and 2018, but the steepest declines were observed among youth ages 10 to 14 (–53%) and 15 to 17 (–54%). The arrest rate for 18-20 year-olds dropped 47 percent while the arrest rates for adults ages 21-24 and 25-49 declined 42 percent and 23 percent, respectively.
The decline in possession of weapons at school and in the prevalence of weapon-related threats in schools also holds true for overall juvenile crime, according to Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “One popular theory is that the drug trade was much more dangerous 30 years ago. Kids that lived in neighborhoods with active drug sales going on often felt that they needed to have a gun on them to protect themselves,” he said. “The daily threat from street-corner drug sales has gone way down.”
“I’m a big fan. I think [Cure Violence is] a very valuable asset for a community to have,” said Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research Evaluation Center at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who has observed Cure Violence programs in New York, New Orleans and Philadelphia. “But it’s definitely possible to do it poorly."
“People have tried to put a number on the cost of a death. If someone is shot — even injured — much less killed, there are policing costs,” Butts told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Someone has to show up to process the scene. There are prison costs for the shooter, and then all the other costs for family who have a person shot and or killed. There’s lifelong trauma, loss of income. You can actually estimate the total cost.”
It’s not possible to pinpoint exactly why Brooklyn has more people incarcerated with these long sentences using borough-by-borough numbers alone, said Jeffrey Butts, director of John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Research and Evaluation Center. In order to determine why Brooklynites are serving so many life and virtual life sentences, Butts said, it would be necessary to control for specific crimes to then see if there is a pattern in sentencing.