Chapter 2: Jurisdictional and Program Self-Assessment
Juveniles and Delinquent Offenses

The general public often expresses a fear and a belief that juvenile crime rates are spiraling upward. Instantaneous and comprehensive national coverage of an event makes the threat of juvenile crime loom large. However, as Jones and Krisberg (1994) illustrate, these beliefs are not always based on statistical facts. Therefore, juvenile justice professionals must be knowledgeable about current data and realities to both assuage public fear and serve juvenile offenders effectively.

The data in this chapter provide a general national perspective on issues of juvenile crime as a tool for jurisdictions and programs to use in examining their own data. Local data must be gathered and specific local contextual factors must be considered to accurately interpret the juvenile delinquency problem and to formulate an appropriate juvenile justice system response for a given jurisdiction or program.

Law enforcement officers made more than 2.6 million arrests of persons under age 18 in 1998. With an unknown proportion of youth arrested more than once in the year, it is impossible to accurately convert annual arrest counts to an unduplicated count of arrested youth. However, it is fair to say that there were probably about 2 million youth arrested in 1998. Young people ages 10-17 constituted 20 percent of the U.S. population between ages 10 and 49, the age group that accounts for 95 percent of all arrests. Juveniles (10-17 years of age) were involved in 18 percent of all arrests in 1998, a proportion roughly equivalent to their proportions in the population (Snyder, 1999).

The vast majority of arrested juveniles are arrested for property crimes and other nonviolent offenses. In 1998, just 0.3 percent of all juvenile arrests involved a charge of murder or forcible rape (Snyder, 1999).

The juvenile proportion of arrests has declined in recent years. Whereas juveniles were arrested in 19 percent of all violent crime arrests in 1994, they were involved in 17 percent of such arrests in 1998. In 1998, juveniles were responsible for 12 percent of murder arrests—a proportion down substantially since its high of 17 percent in 1994. The juvenile proportion of arrests for robbery fell from 32 percent in 1995 to 27 percent in 1998. Similarly, the juvenile proportion of arrests for motor vehicle theft dropped from 45 percent in 1993 to 36 percent in 1998.

Since juveniles commit crimes in groups, the juvenile proportion of arrests overestimates the juvenile responsibility for crime (Snyder and Sickmund, 1995). For instance, although juveniles were involved in 17 percent of violent crime arrests, they were responsible for just 12 percent of violent crimes cleared by arrest in 1998—a better measure of the proportion of crimes actually committed by juveniles (Snyder, 1999).

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Jurisdictional Technical Assistance Package for Juvenile Corrections Report - December 2000