Chapter 4: How Can Juvenile Crime Be Prevented?
Community Policing Strategies Do Little to Prevent Crime
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his former police commissioner, William Bratton, have seized credit for the abrupt drop in New York City’s murder rate. They claim that their policing strategy of “zero tolerance” for minor lawbreakers like squeegee men has made New York safe again; now other cities, including Washington, D.C., are heralding their tactics as the best way to combat crime.
No Correlation Between Police and Declining Murder Rates
But while the argument that the police deserve all the credit for the drop in homicides sounds plausible, no solid scientific evidence supports their claims of omnipotence. Indeed, the weight of the evidence suggests that the mayor and his commissioner were simply in the right place at the right time.
The most significant thing one needs to know about the annual homicide rate is that it fluctuates. Look at the figures for New York City over the past 20 years, and you’ll find that the homicide rate has twice gone down and twice gone up. From 1981 to 1985, murder fell by 24 percent (from 1,832 to l,392), and from 1991 to 1996 murders declined by 55 percent (from 2,161 to 984). On the other hand, from 1978 to 1981, murders jumped 21 percent (from 1,518 to 1,832), and from 1985 to 1990 they soared 63 percent (from 1,392 to 2,262). Like the decline in snowfall in New England this winter  after years of unusually high amounts, homicides in New York City also have returned to more...
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Preventing Juvenile Crime: An Overview
The crime seems too monstrous to contemplate. A six-year-old boy, accompanied by eight-year-old twin brothers, allegedly broke into an apartment, sought out a one-month-old baby, and punched, kicked, and beat the infant nearly to death.
Juveniles Are Committing More Violent Crimes
The baby survived but is expected to suffer permanent brain damage. The sixyear- old, who reportedly said he wanted to kill the baby because the baby’s parents had harassed him and looked at him the wrong way, has since been charged with assault and trespassing. The twins have each been charged with burglary.
The assault, which occurred in April 1996 in a run-down section of Richmond, California, is a shocking anomaly. It is unusual for children as young as six or eight to be charged with serious violent crimes. But some fear this may not be true for long. Recent studies indicate that juveniles are committing crimes at younger ages, and the crimes they commit are increasingly more violent.
In response to mounting public concern about this, state lawmakers have been rushing to pass legislation designed to crack down on juvenile lawbreakers with stiffer penalties for serious offenses. Proponents of these “get tough” measures argue that the juvenile justice system, with its focus on rehabilitation, is too soft on young offenders. Those opposed argue that tougher sanctions ignore the root cause of juvenile crime and will not curb the...
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Tough Punishments Are Necessary to Prevent Juvenile Crime
Rarely do you hear the phrase “juvenile delinquency”—a term prevalent decades ago that signified worrisome but not cataclysmic behavior. As everyounger predators not only violate personal safety and property rights and disregard moral standards, however, “delinquency” seems a quaint label.
An Emerging Consensus to Get Tough on Violent Juveniles
Homicide arrests among 14- to 17-year-olds have tripled during the last decade, for grotesque example, and that age group will expand by 20 percent during the next decade. There appears to be a fitful consensus emerging about how to handle these youthful raptors, but it is bitterly controversial.
Across the country, states are making drastic changes in handling juveniles. “The thrust of the new laws is to get more juveniles into the adult criminal-justice system,” the New York Times reported recently with faint disapproval, “where they will presumably serve longer sentences under more punitive conditions.”
The trend outrages liberals. “We are stepping down a very grim path toward eliminating childhood,” frets Lisa Greer of the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office. Her perspective is odd when you reflect that vicious crimes by teens contradict the meaning of “childhood” in any useful sense. Whether this brutality is due to the usually invoked factors—poverty, family disintegration, violence in the popular culture—is adjunctive, at...
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Both Prevention Programs and Punishment Are Needed to Control Juvenile Crime
Judging from countless media reports in newspapers from coast to coast, it would surely seem that we have finally gotten a handle on the Nation’s crime problem. The most recent FBI release of crime statistics for 1995 revealed a welcome drop in violent crime, including an 8 percent decline in homicide. After four straight years of lower crime levels, some crime experts and law enforcement officials have even dared boldly to suggest that we’re winning the war against crime.
Declining Crime Rates but Rising Juvenile Crime Rates
Though recent trends are encouraging, at least superficially, there is little time to celebrate these successes. It is doubtful that today’s improving crime picture will last for very long. Most likely, this is the calm before the crime storm. While many police officials can legitimately feel gratified about the arrested crime rate—better that it be down than up—there is much more to the great crime drop story. Hidden beneath the overall drop in homicide and other violent crime is a soaring rate of mayhem among teenagers.
There are actually two crime trends ongoing in America—one for the young and one for the mature, which are moving in opposite directions. Since 1990, for example, the rate of homicide committed by adults, ages 25 and older, has declined 18 percent as the baby boomers matured well past their crime prime years. At the same time, however, the homicide rate by teenagers, ages 14 to...
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Violence Prevention Programs Can Stop Juvenile Crime
By all accounts, violent crimes—homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault— are on the decline in the United States. Even so, there is an important reason for society to be concerned: America is now experiencing a historically unprecedented epidemic of youth violence. Even as overall levels of violent crime have diminished over the last half decade, rates at which young people aged 14–18 have attacked and been victimized by one another have increased dramatically. Both offending and victimization rates for this age group are now at historical peaks.
Reasons for Concern
An important social-science finding of the last decade is that citizens’ fears of crime are tied less closely to their objective risks of victimization than to far more common conditions such as abandoned vehicles, broken streetlights, littering, and graffiti. These are apparently interpreted as “signs of crime.” One of the most important of such signs is “disorderly youth.” Society has long viewed young males as generally threatening. Indeed, social psychologists have learned that they can induce uncomfortably high levels of fear simply by showing ordinary citizens still pictures of groups of young males walking toward them. Given that there are lots of kids, that they frequent subways, parks, and malls where many other citizens pass, it is easy to understand how youth violence would become a particularly scary problem for the society.
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Harsh Punishments for Juveniles Are Not Justified
You can get dizzy these days listening to the statistics and studies being issued about crime. On one hand, rates of crime are down modestly in most places and way down in some cities like New York. On the other hand, public anxiety remains very high. There are special efforts to focus citizen fear on projected increases in youth crime in the United States over the next ten to fifteen years. Early in 1996 the Washington-based Council on Crime in America issued a report on crime warning of “a coming storm of juvenile violence.” The House subcommittee on crime has just concluded a five-city road show on the prospects for a youth crime wave in the near future.
Predictions of a Future Juvenile Crime Wave
The biggest numbers and most specific policy recommendations on this pending juvenile crime wave come from Princeton professor and Brookings Institution fellow John DiIulio, who wrote in February 1996 that “about 270,000 more juvenile super-predators,” will be roaming the streets of America by 2010 than were present in 1990. In “How to Stop the Coming Crime Wave,” Professor Di- Iulio tells us there is a need for at least 150,000 new placements in juvenile secure confinement in the next 5 to 7 years alone. . . .
It turns out, however, that the DiIulio projections are phony for two reasons. The phrase “juvenile super-predator,” is meaningless. And his “270,000 extra” such mythical creatures by 2010 can only be...
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Prevention Efforts Should Be Aimed at Adult Violence
When a 3-year-old Los Angeles girl was murdered in an apparent gang killing in 1995, nationwide media coverage exploded. When a 3-year-old Beverly Hills boy was murdered by his 37-year-old father three weeks later, notice was scant. Two tragic killings of small children. One cited as the signature of today’s brutal young, the other relatively ignored.
Hype over Juvenile Crime
Candidates of both parties and experts of all stripes proclaim skyrocketing violence among America’s youth as the nation’s most urgent crisis. Images of “children killing children” and “kids more violent at younger ages” grip the national psyche. Candidates compete to be tougher on teen crime. Experts declare the rise in youth violence to be all the more baffling and frightening because adult crime has not increased.
Ignored in the furor is that California—particularly Los Angeles—displays a stunningly different pattern, one that challenges conventional wisdom. The state’s violent-crime increase in the last decade has centered not on teenagers, but on adults older than 30. Our grade-school kids are less violent today than at any time in the last 15 years. Since 1990, violent felony (including murder) rates have fallen among all age groups—particularly L.A. adolescents.
California’s violent criminals are getting older. In 1955, the average age of violent arrestees was 28, up from 25 in 1985. From 1985 to 1995, the...
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