According to national arrest estimates calculated with data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), law enforcement agencies across the United States made about 53,000 violent crime arrests involving youth under age 18 in 2013, compared with more than 60,000 in 2012. The total number of violent youth crime arrests fell eight percent overall, led by a decline of 12 percent in arrests for aggravated assault.
Before 1995, placement rates among all delinquency cases were somewhat similar, although the rate among 17-year-olds was not declining as much as the rate for younger youth. After 1995, placement rates for 17-year-olds remained stable, while the rate among youth ages 16 and younger continued to fall sharply. Among adjudicated cases and adjudicated cases involving person offenses, the difference was marked.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, increasing numbers of arrests among juveniles and older youth were disproportionately responsible for the growing rate of violent crime. In recent years, however, young people contributed an even larger share to the declining rate of violent crime. In fact, young people appear to be leading a second crime drop in the United States.
Juvenile justice advocacy groups in the United States are celebrating the nation’s falling rate of juvenile incarceration. How do we explain this welcome trend? Some see it as evidence of reform, suggesting that cities and states around the country are handling more young offenders with community-based programs rather than with incarceration or other forms of out-of-home placement. Is this accurate?
Violent crime arrests involving under-18 youth dropped considerably since 2008. The violent youth arrest rate peaked in 1994, before falling through 2004. Violent arrests began to grow after 2004, however, reaching a rate of nearly 300 per 100,000 10-17 year-olds between 2006 and 2008. Between 2008 and 2011, the violent youth arrest rate fell sharply once again, plunging from approximately 300 to 200 arrests per 100,000 youth. In 2011, the violent crime arrest rate was 30 percent lower than it had been just three years earlier in 2008.
Youth justice practitioners need to understand the basics of evaluation research, including the statistical methods used to generate evidence of program effectiveness. A study that reports statistically significant results is not necessarily evidence of effectiveness, and being evidence-based does not mean a program is guaranteed to work. In today’s youth justice system, understanding these basic principles of evaluation research is part of every practitioner’s job.
The number of drug-related arrests reported by U.S. law enforcement agencies increased sharply between 1980 and 1995, and for some groups the volume of arrests did not decline significantly between 1995 and 2010. The largest relative growth in drug arrests occurred among adult women, especially those charged with drug possession offenses rather than sales or manufacture. Drug arrests involving male offenders still outnumbered those involving females in 2010, but arrests of women increased more since 1980.
The declines in the rate of murder arrests involving juveniles and young adults completely reversed the increases seen prior to 1994, bringing murder arrest rates down to levels below those of 1980. In general, the changing arrest rates for older juveniles mirrored those of young adults during the 1990s and early 2000s. Robbery was the exception.
The 1995-2010 drop in violent crime ranged from –50% to –74% in these states, but the size of the decline was not related to the use of transfer. Florida transfers more youth than any other state, but its violent crime drop (–57%) was in the middle of the range. In states that use transfer much less often, total violent crime fell almost as much (California and Washington) or far more (Ohio) than it did in Florida.