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.
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.
Another explanation could be an affordable housing crisis exacerbated by Nashville's booming economy, said Jeffrey Butts, the director of the Research & Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. This can be particularly true for some neighborhoods. “The social stresses of shared housing and multifamily housing increase the chances that adolescents become frustrated and alienated," Butts said, creating an environment conducive to more crime.
Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that in some ways, law enforcement never has been best equipped for crunching the numbers. Go to a police department and ask to be taken to the unit that does the crime reporting. Sometimes, it’s civilians with advanced degrees and computers, he said. “Other places, you walk in and it’s full of uniforms,” he said, pointing out that some departments view crime reporting as a desk job for officers who no longer want to work patrol. At a department such as the New York City Police Department, there are civilian research analysts with doctorates.
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.
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.
Taken together, arrests for the eight serious offenses included in the FBI Crime Index decreased nearly 50 percent between 1995 and 2010. Arrests for some of the most common, less serious offenses, however, increased substantially from 1985 through 2005, and they remained at higher levels in 2010 when compared with the early 1980s.
The scale of incarceration is not simply a reaction to crime. It is a policy choice. Some lawmakers invest heavily in youth confinement facilities. In their jurisdictions, incarceration is a key component of the youth justice system. Other lawmakers invest more in community-based programs. In their view, costly confinement should be reserved for chronic and seriously violent offenders. These choices are critical for budgets and for safety.