In 1993, a peak year for violent crime, police agencies nationwide reported about 13 under-age-18 murder arrests for every 100,000 youth ages 10 to 17. The youth arrest rate for murder dropped 79 percent between 1993 and 2017.
We actually need young people who are bold, willing to challenge conventional thinking, and to break rules, but we also need them to respect others, to rely on logic rather than force, and to appreciate the corrosive effects of violence and exploitation. In short, our communities need powerful and creative young people who want to improve us and not simply to fight us. These should seem like obvious concepts to anyone working around the youth justice system, but it is often surprisingly difficult to implement them in practice.
New York State’s Raise the Age legislation is an important opportunity to improve public safety, but it is just that – an opportunity. The success of Raise the Age depends on the efforts of every partner in the larger justice system, from police, to prosecutors, probation agencies, and the broad network of service providers who work with youth to keep them from becoming more deeply involved in the justice system.
Measuring positive outcomes in youth justice requires a shift away from recidivism as the sole indicator of program effectiveness. A youth justice system embracing the PYD approach would gauge its success by tracking positive youth outcomes, such as the formation of strong and supportive relationships, academic engagement, labor market readiness, and improved socio-emotional skills.
"Nothing in the governor's plan ensures that Wisconsin will have an effective approach to youth justice," cautioned Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. "Poor implementation and ineffective management can ruin the best of plans."
Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay, said access to weapons among young men inured to violence and living in poverty can lead to deadly results. “Think about yourself and some dumb things you did when you were a teenager,” said Butts. “And then imagine living in Brownsville and walking around with a pistol in your pocket all the time. You’re 17 years old, you think you’re invulnerable, and you pull that weapon out.”
“It’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ culture with some of the people they have managing these facilities,” added Butts, who has worked with policymakers in 28 states, largely on youth justice. “With strong kids controlling the weak kids — and the staff controlling the strong kids. “You are using violence to try to teach kids not to use violence.”
Stargate Theatre Company began in 2013 as a theatre-making, workforce readiness, and literacy project for justice-involved youth. For seven weeks each summer, a small group of young men meets at least four days per week to write, rehearse and perform a collaboratively crafted play in an Off-Broadway venue in New York City.
Youth justice is a challenging environment in which to implement a rigorous PYD approach. The insights and lessons of developmental science do not translate easily into the day-to-day tasks of youth justice systems, which often focus on control and compliance. Youth justice practitioners require assistance as they apply developmental principles. The Positive Youth Justice (PYJ) Model was developed to meet this challenge. It provides a simple framework for designing PYD-compatible interventions for justice-involved young people and for supporting youth justice reforms.
In five communities, survey respondents report a number of potentially valuable improvements, and the results imply that the cities involved in the National Forum may be increasing opportunities for youth and improving the extent to which violence prevention approaches draw upon the perspectives and expertise of a broad range of community members. There are also indications that some cities are developing better overall capacity to reduce youth violence, and that local perceptions of law enforcement efficacy may be improving.
Today, we will talk to Laura Saunders, a child and adolescent psychologist from Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living. She’ll tell us how violence affects the development of both children and their families. We’ll also talk with Jeffrey Butts, a researcher at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Lou Gilbert, the director of a Hartford program that works with children who’ve witnessed violence, as well as Robert Plant, a Department of Children and Families director of community services, who can talk about what that state organization is doing with this population.
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.