Crime and drug abuse are rated first and third as the biggest worries among Americans according to a recent survey for The Conference Board, a research institute.
Crimes reported to police declined slightly for the third year in a row during 1994, led by an eight percent drop in violent crime in cities with more than a million residents. FBI Uniform Crime Reports, 1994. However, arrests of youths under eighteen years of age for violent crimes surged by seven percent. Id. The number of teenagers under eighteen arrested for murder has risen over one hundred fifty percent from 1985 to 1994. Id. This is a disturbing trend, especially in light of the fact that Justice Department surveys consistently show that less than half of all crime, including crimes of violence, is reported to the police.
Seventeen percent of all serious violent crimes in 1991 were committed by juveniles, either alone (eleven percent) or in juvenile groups (six percent). Juvenile Offenders and Victims: A National Report, National Center for Juvenile Justice (August, 1995). Another eight percent of serious violent crimes were committed by groups of offenders that included at least one juvenile. Id. In all, twenty-five percent of all serious violent crime involved a juvenile offender. Id. Of these crimes, more than one-half involved a group of offenders. Id.
Data gathered from a variety of sources indicate that after a period of relative stability in the rates of juvenile crime, there was a major turning point in about 1985. A. Blumstein, Violence by Young People: Why the Deadly Nexus?, National Institute of Justice Journal 229 (August, 1995). Then, within the next seven years, the rate of homicides committed by young people, the number of homicides they committed with guns, and the arrest rate of non-white juveniles for drug offenses, all doubled. Id. This dramatic increase of juvenile violence seems to be fueled by the increase in drug trafficking since the mid-1980's, most particularly cocaine. Id.
Increasing youth violence has become a national concern, and juvenile arrests are on the rise. Guide for Implementing the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (June 1995). Between 1984 and 1993, arrests of juveniles for violent offenses rose by nearly sixty-eight percent. Id. Most of this increase occurred between 1989 and 1993, during which time juvenile arrests for murder increased forty-five percent, arrests for robbery increased thirty-seven percent, and arrests for aggravated assault increased thirty-seven percent. Id.
The most alarming statistics among these increases are the growth in homicides and weapons violations among younger juveniles. Id. Between 1992 and 1993, homicide arrests of adolescents under age fifteen increased twenty-four percent, while arrests of youth in this age group for weapons violations increased twelve percent. Id. It is interesting to note that between 1988 and 1992, juvenile arrests for murder increased by fifty-one percent compared to a nine percent increase for those over the age of eighteen. Janet Reno, United States Attorney General, Speech at the Birmingham - Jefferson Civic Center (February 25, 1994).
The fact that young people commit crime at a high rate should not be a revelation. A. Blumstein, supra. The rates of robbery and burglary, based upon the offender's age, indicate the peak age for offending is about seventeen. Id. Beginning in 1985, the murder rate for eighteen year-olds more than doubled in the following seven years. Id. For young people of all ages under eighteen, the murder rate dramatically more than doubled. Id.
Among black males aged fourteen to seventeen, the murder rate from the mid-1970's to the mid-1980's consistently ran four to five times higher than the murder rate of similar aged white males. Id. Then, beginning about 1985, the murder rates rose for both groups, most dramatically among blacks. Id. For white males in this age group, the annual rate for murder arrests increased from 7.6 per 100,000 in 1987, to 13.6 per 100,000 in 1991. Id. In those four years, the arrest rate for murder by black males in this age group rose even faster, more than doubling from 50.4 to 111.8 per 100,000. Id.
Beginning in 1985, there was a steady growth in the use of guns by juveniles in committing murder. Id. The number of juvenile murders committed with guns more than doubled from 1985 to 1992. Id.
Juvenile gang killings are the fastest growing type of homicide, increasing almost four hundred percent since 1980. Murder in America: Recommendations from the IACP Murder Summit, International Association of Chiefs of Police (May, 1995).
Juvenile arrests for weapon law violations more than doubled between 1983 and 1992. H. Snyder and M. Sickmund, supra. During this time period, adult arrests for weapons offenses increased by twenty-one percent, while juvenile arrests climbed one hundred seventeen percent. Id.
Drug arrest rates for juveniles, especially for non-whites, are rising as well. The arrests of juvenile drug offenders began to move upward in the early 1980's, and then accelerated significantly after 1985 as the distribution of crack cocaine became widespread. A. Blumstein, supra.
Evidence continues to mount showing that a small proportion of offenders commit most of the serious and violent juvenile crimes. Guide for Implementing the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders, supra. Chronic offenders make up less than ten percent of juvenile offenders, but are responsible for two-thirds of all violent offenses. Id. Data shows that the arrest of serious violent careers begins to increase at age twelve, doubles between ages thirteen and fourteen, and continues to increase to a peak at ages sixteen to seventeen. Id. It drops fifty percent by age eighteen, and continues to decrease through age twenty-seven. Id. Initial arrest for a violent offense in a serious violent career most often takes place several years after initiation into this type of behavior since nearly half of those who continued their violent careers into their twenties reported having begun their violent offending before age eleven. Id. For intervention and treatment purposes, it is clear that the juvenile justice system is not seeing many offenders until it is too late to intervene effectively. Id.