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.
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.
Juvenile Arrest Rates: 1980-2009. Presented to the 2010 Educational Conference, Missouri Juvenile Justice Association. October 2010. Lake of the Ozarks, MO. (Office 2003 version. Larger file.)
The diverse mix of policies and practices introduced in recent years raises important questions about the posture of juvenile justice today. Most scholars agree that decades of “get-tough” reforms diminished the influence of the juvenile court. Many contend that these changes rendered the criminal (adult) and juvenile justice systems largely indistinguishable. Others question these claims and suggest that rehabilitation remains a critical goal for juvenile justice professionals.
This chapter answers two deceptively simple questions, “How much juvenile crime is there today?” and “How does the level of juvenile crime today compare with juvenile crime 20 or 30 years ago?”
Researchers debate why violent crime in the United States suddenly dropped in the 1990s, but one fact all researchers endorse is that the overall decline in violent crime probably had much to do with falling rates of youth crime.