clear New Findings

Research on Very Young Offenders

A key finding of OJJDP's Study Group on Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders—that most chronic juvenile offenders begin their delinquency careers before age 12 and some as early as age 10 1 —led OJJDP in 1998 to establish its Study Group on Very Young Offenders (the Study Group). The Study Group assembled a distinguished panel of 15 researchers to examine collaboratively what is known about the prevalence and frequency of very young offending (i.e., offending by children younger than age 13). The Study Group focused specifically on determining whether young offending is predictive of future delinquent or criminal careers, how juveniles are handled by various systems, and what the best methods are for preventing very young offending and the persistence of offending. The Study Group's findings are complete, and OJJDP will issue a Bulletin on the project in late 2001.

—What Have We Learned?

Young offending is serious business. The most recent available national data show that in 1999, police arrested about one-quarter of a million (230,800) youth age 12 and younger. Such very young offenders ("child delinquents") represented about 9 percent of the total number of juvenile arrestees (those up to age 18 in 1999). Although most of these child delinquents were boys, nearly one in four was a girl. These numbers may underestimate the number of child delinquents because in many jurisdictions it is unusual for delinquents under age 12 to be arrested or referred to juvenile court.

In 1997, 2 offenders age 12 and younger made up about 16 percent of those referred to juvenile court. Compared with later onset offenders, child delinquents commit certain types of serious offenses at relatively high rates. For example, they account for 1 in 3 juvenile arrests for arson, 1 in 5 juvenile arrests for sex offenses and vandalism, and 1 in 12 juvenile arrests for violent crime. Child delinquents are also more likely than later onset offenders to engage in minor theft and commit status offenses such as truancy, running away from home, and curfew and liquor law violations.

No evidence of a new and more serious "breed" of child delinquent and young murderer exists. Although statistics relating to the number of child delinquents are sobering, they do not represent a drastic shift in the trend of juvenile offending. The prevalence of child delinquents does not appear to have increased over the past two decades. For example, the number of recorded arrests of juveniles increased 35 percent between 1988 and 1997, but the number of child delinquents increased by only 6 percent during that time. In addition, examination of self-reported delinquency data for the past 20 years indicates no increase in delinquency by young offenders in the United States. Moreover, between 1980 and 1997, the number of murders committed by offenders age 12 or younger remained fairly constant, averaging about 30 per year. Increased media coverage and public awareness of very young offenders, however, may affect the public's view of child delinquents.

It is short-sighted for communities to ignore delinquent acts and problem behaviors of child delinquents in the hope that they will "grow out of them." Child delinquency is a predictor of serious, violent, and chronic offending. Research findings uniformly show that the risk of subsequent violence, serious offenses, and chronic offending is two to three times higher for child delinquents than for later onset offenders. Child delinquents also tend to have longer delinquency careers than later onset delinquents. In addition, child delinquents are more likely than later onset juvenile offenders to become gang members and/or engage in substance abuse.

Members of the OJJDP Study Group on Very Young Offenders
Chairs
David P. Farrington, Ph.D., University of Cambridge, England
Rolf Loeber, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Members
Barbara J. Burns, Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC
Dante Cicchetti, Ph.D., Mount Hope Family Center, Rochester, NY
John Coie, Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC
Darnell Hawkins, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Chicago
J. David Hawkins, Ph.D., University of Washington, Seattle
James C. Howell, Ph.D., Institute for Intergovernmental Research, Tallahassee, FL
David Huizinga, Ph.D., University of Colorado, Boulder
Kate Keenan, Ph.D., University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Dan Offord, M.D., Chedoke McMasters Hospital, Ontario, Canada
Howard N. Snyder, Ph.D., National Center for Juvenile Justice, Pittsburgh, PA
Richard Tremblay, Ph.D., University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Terence P. Thornberry, Ph.D., University at Albany, State University of New York
Gail A. Wasserman, Ph.D., Columbia University, New York, NY

Incarceration in a detention center or correctional facility is inappropriate for child delinquents in most cases. No evidence shows that incarcerating serious child delinquents substantially reduces recidivism or prevents careers of serious and violent offending. In fact, correctional placement of child delinquents may lead to their exposure to and victimization by older, serious delinquent offenders and increase the child delinquents' likelihood of becoming serious and chronic offenders.

—What Does This Mean?

Researchers cannot definitively predict which preschoolers will become child delinquents and serious and violent juvenile offenders, but there are warning signs. A certain level of disruptive behavior is common during the preschool years, especially at ages 2 and 3, when many children of both sexes show high levels of aggression and noncompliance. Although the majority of early-onset delinquents have a history of aggressive, inattentive, or sensation-seeking behavior in the preschool years, the reverse is not true: The majority of aggressive, inattentive, or attention-seeking preschoolers do not go on to become child delinquents. Researchers nonetheless have identified the following important warning signs of later problems:

  • Disruptive behavior that is either more frequent or more severe than that of other children the same age.

  • Disruptive behavior, such as temper tantrums and aggression, that persists beyond ages 2 to 3. For many very young offenders, disruptive behavior becomes apparent during the preschool and certainly the elementary years.

Additional early warning signs for the development of delinquency at a young age include:

  • Physical fighting.

  • Cruelty to people or animals.

  • Covert acts such as frequent lying, theft, and fire setting.

  • Inability to get along with others.

  • Low school motivation during elementary school.

  • Substance use (without parental permission).

  • Repeated victimization (e.g., child abuse or peer bullying).
Definition of Child Delinquency

Child delinquency includes offending between the ages of 7 and 12. The Study Group on Very Young Offenders concentrated on three categories of children:
  • Serious child delinquents: Children between the ages of 7 and 12 who have committed one or more of the following acts: homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, rape, or serious arson.

  • Other child delinquents: Children who commit delinquent acts, excluding serious offenses.

  • Nondelinquent children: Children up to and including age 12 who engage in persistent disruptive behavior but do not commit delinquent acts.

Steps can be taken to prevent child delinquency and its escalation to chronic criminal behavior. The best way to prevent any type of delinquency (including child delinquency) is to focus on risk and protective factors. Risk factors for child delinquency, like those for later onset juvenile offending, exist in the individual child, the family, the peer group, and the school. They probably also exist in the neighborhood in which the child lives. For very young offenders, the most important risk factors are likely individual (e.g., birth complications, hyperactivity, and impulsivity) or family related (e.g., parental substance abuse and poor childrearing practices). Protective factors—that is, those that can buffer or offset the impact of risk factors—include prosocial behavior during the preschool years and strong cognitive performance. Ultimately, children with many risk factors and few protective factors are at highest risk of becoming serious, violent, and chronic offenders.

Communities should emphasize primary prevention and early intervention. Several primary prevention programs reviewed by the Study Group are geared to conflict resolution and violence prevention and focus on enhancing children's problem-solving and interaction skills. Programs that teach children about the causes and the destructive consequences of violence (e.g., the Second Step and the Responding in Peaceful and Positive Ways curriculums) have been shown to reduce aggressive behavior significantly. Several other effective programs focus on reducing early persistent disruptive behavior among children. Some programs (e.g., Parent Management Training, Functional Family Therapy, and Multisystemic Therapy) have been shown to reduce the risk of later, more serious offending.

No single agency can reduce child delinquency; rather, partnerships between agencies are likely to be more productive and efficient. Child delinquents often have co-occurring problems, such as early substance abuse, depression, rejection by peers, academic underachievement, and truancy. Because child delinquents frequently have multiple problems at a young age, they tend to require services from several agencies. Ideally, programs for serious child delinquents should incorporate immediate screening and assessment to identify children's programmatic needs. Interventions for persistently disruptive children and child delinquents should:

  • Be integrated across services.

  • Focus on children younger than age 13.

  • Apply multimodal interventions—that is, those that address more than one risk factor domain (e.g., individual child, family).

  • Address the multiple problems of a child, as necessary.

—Selective Bibliography on Research on Very Young Offenders

Loeber, R., and Farrington, D.P. 1997. Never Too Early, Never Too Late: Risk Factors and Successful Interventions for Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders. Final Report of the Study Group on Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders (grant number 95–JD–FX– 0018). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Available from the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse, 800–638–8736.

Loeber, R., and Farrington, D.P., eds. 1998. Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders: Risk Factors and Successful Interventions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Loeber, R., and Farrington, D. In press. Child Delinquency: Early Intervention and Prevention. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 186162).

Loeber, R., and Farrington, D., eds. 2001. Child Delinquents: Development, Interventions, and Service Needs. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

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Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency

Since 1986, OJJDP has sponsored three longitudinal studies—collectively referred to as the Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency—designed to improve understanding of serious delinquency, violence, and drug use by examining how individual juveniles develop within the context of family, school, peers, and community. Samples of inner-city youth from three cities (Denver, CO; Pittsburgh, PA; and Rochester, NY) were selected. The studies involved repeated contacts with the same juveniles, including face-to-face private interviews every 6 to 12 months for a substantial portion of their developmental years. On average, the studies have retained 90 percent of the juveniles in the sample populations.

Researchers at the three sites used the same core measures to examine:

  • Delinquent behavior.

  • Drug use.

  • Involvement in the juvenile justice system.

  • Community characteristics.

  • Family experiences.

  • Peer relationships.

  • Education experiences.

  • Attitudes and values.

  • Demographic characteristics.

Many of this research program's initial findings were reported in OJJDP's Report OJJDP Research: Making a Difference for Juveniles, published in August 1999 (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1999). The current Report focuses on additional research findings and policy implications.

The Causes and Correlates Studies

  • A Longitudinal Multidisciplinary Study of Developmental Patterns (Denver Youth Survey), directed by David Huizinga, Ph.D., at the University of Colorado.

  • Progressions in Antisocial and Delinquent Child Behavior (Pittsburgh Youth Study), directed by Rolf Loeber, Ph.D., at the University of Pittsburgh.

  • A Panel Study of a Reciprocal Causal Model of Delinquency (Rochester Youth Development Study), directed by Terence P. Thornberry, Ph.D., at The Research Foundation, University at Albany, State University of New York.

Additional information on these studies appears on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency Web site: www.ojjdp.ncjrs.org/ccd/.

What Have We Learned?

Multiple family transitions are a risk factor for delinquency. Youth in the studies' urban samples experienced a substantial number of transitions during adolescence.3 Family instability was most pronounced in Rochester, where about two-thirds of the sample experienced at least one transition and nearly one-half experienced two or more transitions during a 4-year period. Almost one-half (49 percent) of the Denver youth and almost one-third (30 percent) of the Pittsburgh youth experienced one or more family transitions during that time. Researchers found a consistent relationship between the number of transitions a youth experienced and his or her level of delinquency and drug use.

Adolescent males' early involvement in drug use and delinquency is highly correlated with teen fatherhood. In Rochester, 70 percent of the high-frequency drug users in the sample became teen fathers (compared with 24 percent of nonusers or low-frequency users). Similarly, nearly one-half of high-rate delinquents 4 later became teen fathers (compared with 23 percent of nondelinquents or low-rate delinquents). In Rochester, researchers also found that teen fatherhood was generally linked to a boy's involvement in deviant behavior such as sexual intercourse before age 16, gang membership, chronic violent behavior, and chronic drug use. Even controlling for other variables, researchers found that a number of these problem behaviors substantially increased a boy's likelihood of becoming a teen father. Chronic drug use alone more than doubled the probability of teen fatherhood.

In the Pittsburgh sample, early delinquency—but not early drug use—was a significant risk factor for teenage fatherhood. The Pittsburgh study found several other significant risk factors for teen fatherhood, including being raised in a family on welfare and being exposed to drugs (e.g., being offered drugs or witnessing a drug deal).

Teen fatherhood does not make young males more responsible and law-abiding. Some policymakers and researchers hypothesize that fatherhood might encourage young males to become more responsible and assume the tasks of helping to establish and support a family. Researchers, however, have found that teen fatherhood is associated with a significant increase in delinquent behavior. In the same year that the young men in the Pittsburgh study reported becoming fathers, they were 7.5 times more likely than nonfathers to commit serious delinquent acts. In the year after the boys became fathers, their risk of committing serious delinquent acts remained relatively high (4.2 times higher than that of non-fathers). Overall, young fathers in the Pittsburgh sample appeared considerably worse off than non-fathers. They were more likely to have had a court petition alleging delinquency, to drink alcohol frequently, to be involved in drug dealing, and to have dropped out of school. What is perhaps most important, the study indicates that it is a mistake to assume that having a child will force young fathers to turn away from delinquency, drug use, and other negative behavior. In fact, without support, the added pressure of this responsibility might result in drinking or drug use, poor school performance, and further isolation from prosocial peers.

—What Does This Mean?

Programs that target at-risk juveniles need to include their families. Previous research on risk and protective factors identified a link between family instability and a child's risk of delinquent behavior. Recent findings of the Causes and Correlates research confirm this link. In particular, research shows that family disruption (whether through divorce, separation, illness, work-related mobility, or imprisonment) greatly affects a child's risk of juvenile delinquency. Prevention and intervention programs for juvenile delinquents, therefore, need to closely examine the juveniles' family circumstances. Family violence, physical and mental health problems, poverty, unemployment, and the criminal activity of a child's parents can all result in multiple family disruptions. Any program that hopes to improve a juvenile's future must include his or her family in the solution.

Teen pregnancy prevention programs should focus on boys and girls. Historically, teen pregnancy prevention programs have focused only on teenage girls. More recently, however, some programs have focused on teenage boys—both in terms of prevention and in terms of encouraging fathers' involvement in child-rearing. Recent findings from the Causes and Correlates program indicate that focusing on both boys and girls is extremely important, especially among youth at risk for delinquency and drug use.

—Selective Bibliography on the Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency

Huizinga, D., Loeber, R., Thornberry, T.P., and Cothern, L. 2000. Co-occurrence of Delinquency and Other Problem Behaviors. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 182211).

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 1999. OJJDP Research: Making a Difference for Juveniles. Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 177602).

Thornberry, T.P., Smith, C.A., Rivera, C., Huizinga, D., and Stouthamer-Loeber, M. 1999. Family Disruption and Delinquency. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 178285).

Thornberry, T.P., Wei, E.H., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., and Van Dyke, J. 2000. Teenage Fatherhood and Delinquent Behavior. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 178899).

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Juvenile Transfers to Criminal Court

The transfer of juveniles from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court to the jurisdiction of the adult criminal court has been part of the juvenile justice system since its inception. The concept of transfer acknowledges that some violent and chronic juvenile offenders are not amenable to treatment and must, for the purposes of public safety and accountability, be dealt with in the criminal justice system. Transfer, however, was originally only a minor part of the juvenile court's routine activities and was invoked only in the most serious cases. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the rate of juvenile violent crime rose significantly, many policymakers looked for a new approach. Between 1992 and 1995, 40 States and the District of Columbia modified their transfer provisions to make the transfer of jurisdiction easier and/or broader under certain circumstances. For example, some States lowered the age of criminal court jurisdiction for particularly serious offenses, such as assault with a deadly weapon. When mandating or allowing for the transfer of jurisdiction, States also considered the number and type of offenses a juvenile had committed.

Transfer mechanisms range from statutory exclusion to concurrent jurisdiction to judicial waiver. Under exclusion statutes, State legislatures exclude from the juvenile court's jurisdiction certain categories of juveniles. Such categories are generally defined by the seriousness of the offense and/or by the number or type of prior offenses committed by the offender. Under concurrent jurisdiction, the district attorney has the option of filing certain types of cases in juvenile court or in adult criminal court. Finally, under judicial waiver, the prosecutor (or defense attorney) asks the juvenile court judge to transfer or waive the juvenile to adult criminal court. Each State has adopted one or more of these mechanisms, generally specifying particular criteria that must be met (e.g., injury to a victim, use of a firearm or other weapon, or a history of serious offenses) to transfer a juvenile to criminal court. (See Three Transfer Mechanisms for more information.)

OJJDP-Funded Research Projects on the Transfer of Juveniles to Criminal Court

  • Two projects directed by Jeffrey Fagan, Ph.D., Columbia School of Public Health, New York, NY:

    • Comparative Impact of Juvenile Versus Criminal Court Sanctions on Recidivism Among Adolescent Felony Offenders: A Replication and Extension.

    • Age, Crime, and Sanction: The Effect of Juvenile Versus Criminal Court Jurisdiction on Age-Specific Crime Rates of Adolescent Offenders.

  • Evaluation of Blended Sentencing in Minnesota, directed by Fred L. Cheesman II, Ph.D., National Center for State Courts, Williamsburg, VA, and Heidi E. Green, MPP, Minnesota Supreme Court. (This project was cofunded by the State Justice Institute.)

  • Juvenile Transfers to Criminal Court Studies, directed by Henry George "Ship" White, Juvenile Justice Accountability Board, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

  • Project To Study the Outcome of Juvenile Transfer to Criminal Court, directed by Howard N. Snyder, Ph.D., National Center for Juvenile Justice, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Pittsburgh, PA.


Although they may have different names in different States, the three general types of transfer mechanisms are judicial waiver, statutory exclusion, and concurrent jurisdiction. Each is described below.
  • Judicial waiver (juvenile court judge). Under judicial waiver, a hearing occurs in juvenile court, typically in response to a prosecutor's request that the juvenile court judge waive or forego the juvenile court's jurisdiction over a matter involving a juvenile and transfer the juvenile to criminal court for trial in the adult system.

  • Statutory exclusion (the legislature). In a growing number of States, legislatures have statutorily excluded certain young offenders from juvenile court jurisdiction based on age and/or offense criteria. For example, many States have set the upper age of juvenile court jurisdiction at 15 or 16. (An estimated 218,000 cases involving youth under age 18 were tried in criminal court in 1996 as a result of State laws defining the youth as adults solely on the basis of an age criterion.) Many States also exclude youth charged with certain serious offenses from juvenile court jurisdiction. Typically, these offenses are capital offenses and other murders and violent offenses. Some States exclude other, additional felony offenses from juvenile court jurisdiction.

  • Concurrent jurisdiction (prosecutor). Under this transfer option, State statutes give prosecutors the discretion to file certain cases in either juvenile or criminal court because original jurisdiction is shared by both courts. Concurrent jurisdiction provisions, like other transfer mechanisms, are typically limited by age and offense criteria. Unlike judicial waiver, however, prosecutorial transfer is not subject to judicial review and is not required to meet due process requirements. Some States have developed guidelines for prosecutors to follow in "direct filing" cases (i.e., cases involving juveniles that prosecutors file directly in adult criminal court).

Although the term "transfer" refers to three general mechanisms, only one (judicial waiver) actually involves the transfer of a juvenile from the juvenile court to the adult criminal court. Cases that follow the other two paths may never pass through the juvenile court system.

Overview of Transfer Research Projects

OJJDP has funded several studies of local and State-level transfer provisions. These research efforts were designed to determine how transfers are being used presently and have been used in the past and to examine the effects of recent legislative changes altering the nature of transfers in specific States. Two projects funded in 1995 include a multi-State study conducted by the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) and a multiyear study in Florida conducted by the Florida Juvenile Justice Accountability Board (JJAB). In 1997, OJJDP funded a two-State study conducted by Columbia University to replicate and expand a previous study it conducted in the early 1990s.

NCJJ study. Using archival data from the 1980s and 1990s, NCJJ conducted studies in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah. The results of these studies were published in an OJJDP research Summary, Juvenile Transfers to Criminal Court in the 1990's: Lessons Learned From Four Studies (Snyder, Sickmund, and Poe-Yamagata, 2000). These three States were selected because they have historically relied on judicial waiver as their primary transfer mechanism.

The study in South Carolina examined waiver cases from 1985 through 1994 because, during that time, the State's only transfer mechanism was judicial waiver. In 1995, State law changed to include other transfer mechanisms.

Because Utah also had a stable judicial waiver provision up until 1995, data from its study cover the period from 1988 to 1994. The Utah data, however, track cases that began in juvenile court but also involved a prosecutor's request for waiver.

The Pennsylvania research included two studies. In the first, researchers collected State data to compare the characteristics of juveniles transferred in 1986 with those of juveniles transferred in 1994, a period during which the State's transfer provisions remained unchanged. In the late 1980s, juvenile crime in Pennsylvania began to increase substantially, and the study examined how the juvenile justice system dealt with this increase. In the second Pennsylvania study, data from three counties were used to examine the effects of State legislation passed in March 1996 that excluded certain juveniles from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. Researchers in this second Pennsylvania study examined the cases of juveniles excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction under this provision during the final 9 months of 1996.

Florida study. The Florida JJAB began its multiphase study in 1995. The study was designed to examine the changes in transfer that resulted from Florida’s broad reform of juvenile justice in 1994. One phase of the Florida study used the statewide Client Information System (CIS), which tracks all juvenile offenders through the juvenile justice system. By comparing the use of transfer mechanisms in 1993 with their use in 1995, researchers hoped to determine the effect of new, more lenient transfer provisions put in place in 1994.

Columbia University study. OJJDP is supporting research at Columbia University that is replicating a 1987 study. The original study compared two urban counties in New Jersey with two boroughs of New York City. The jurisdictions in both States were comparable in terms of population, socioeconomic levels, and urban environments. State transfer provisions in New Jersey and New York, however, differ substantially. Under New York law, all persons age 16 and older are considered “adults” and are thus handled in the criminal court system. Under New Jersey law, youth age 18 and older are considered adults. This difference provided researchers an opportunity to examine how the difference in the age of criminal court jurisdiction may have affected the treatment of adolescent offenders. By matching offenders in the two jurisdictions and tracking their cases, researchers sought to determine whether sanctions applied in criminal court were harsher and more consistently applied than juvenile court sanctions and whether criminal court sanctions resulted in less recidivism among offenders than sanctions applied in juvenile court (hypotheses expounded by proponents of the transfer of juveniles to criminal court).

Concentrating on 16- and 17-year-olds charged with first-degree robbery, second-degree robbery, or first-degree burglary, Fagan (1995) used archival data to track the process of matching pairs of youth from each jurisdiction. In the end, Fagan (1995:253) found that:

Accountability for adolescent offenders in criminal courts was no greater than in the juvenile court, and depending on the social and legal context surrounding the court, appeared to be weaker. Nor was criminal court punishment a more effective strategy for crime control. Quite possibly, more harm than good resulted from the effort to criminalize adolescent crimes.

The replication study being funded by OJJDP, which includes three counties in New Jersey and three boroughs of New York, is designed to expand and update the original research. It expands the list of offenses studied to include serious assault, and researchers are comparing the certainty, quickness, and severity of sanctions and the recidivism associated with criminal versus juvenile court jurisdiction. Further, researchers conducting the replication study are providing an indepth examination of the organizational context of the various jurisdictions to determine how these contexts affect outcomes. This ongoing research from Columbia University will be completed in 2001.

What Have We Learned?

Transfer is generally reserved for the most serious cases and the most serious juvenile offenders. The research studies described in the previous section showed that judges and prosecutors in South Carolina and Utah used similar criteria in determining which juveniles should be transferred to criminal court. Although the decisionmaking process in each State differed significantly, in both States certain common criteria—including a juvenile’s court history and the seriousness of his or her offense—were strong predictors of whether the youth would be transferred. Determinations of the seriousness of an offense or a juvenile’s amenability to treatment changed during the period under consideration. In Pennsylvania, the number of judicial waivers increased 84 percent between 1986 and 1994—an increase that exceeded the 32-percent rise in juvenile crime during the same period. Although some of the increase in waiver derives from the rise in juvenile crime, the research suggests that the juvenile courts waived a larger number of juvenile drug offenders than other offenders. The research also suggests that Pennsylvania courts began to believe that a greater proportion of adjudicated delinquents were no longer amenable to treatment within the juvenile justice system.

In Pennsylvania, judges and prosecutors generally agree on which juveniles should be transferred. In Florida, however, prosecutors and judges viewed the purpose and impact of reform differently. In four out of five cases examined in the first Pennsylvania study, the juvenile court supported the request for waiver, indicating that prosecutors and judges in that State generally agree about who should be waived and who should not. It may be that prosecutors are simply able to gauge the cases in which a judge is likely to grant a waiver request. The study of exclusions in Pennsylvania indicated that criminal court judges agree with juvenile court judges about which cases should be transferred.

The Florida study included a survey of prosecutors and juvenile court judges in the State’s judicial districts. The survey was designed to help researchers understand these players’ perceptions of the State’s statutory changes. Although prosecutors and juvenile court judges were found to generally agree on the results of the reforms, the survey showed important distinctions. For example, 61 percent of the prosecutors believed that the most significant change was the lowering of the direct file age (from 16 to 14), whereas only 32 percent of the juvenile court judges regarded this as the most significant change. In addition, 36 percent of prosecutors felt that public safety was the goal of transfers, and only 8 percent of judges held that view. The study also showed that 79 percent of prosecutors viewed direct file as the preferred method of transfer, compared with 36 percent of judges.

Exclusion laws are not necessarily having their intended effect. Transfer provisions that went into effect in Florida in 1994 specifically addressed and made it easier to transfer younger offenders, felons, and juveniles with significant offense records. Data from CIS, however, indicate that the reforms had little effect on the types of youth transferred during the year following the changes. The lack of an immediate impact may mean that prosecutors and judges have been slow to exercise their new authority. It may also reflect a disconnect between the sentiments of legislators and those of practitioners who deal directly with juvenile offenders.

The Florida study has several other components, including a survey of youth who were the subject of proceedings in the criminal or juvenile court. The respondents in the juvenile system and those in the criminal system were matched (according to factors such as age and offense seriousness) to allow researchers to compare the experiences of similar juveniles in the two systems. Finally, the study is exploring the use of blended sanctioning, whereby a juvenile receives both a juvenile and an adult sanction. These last two study elements are continuing, and results will be reported in late 2001. The project has completed all data collection activities on these elements and is currently writing analyses and reports based on the data collected.

What Does This Mean?

Although transfer provisions are often adopted to address a perceived problem of increasing juvenile violence, the studies in Florida and Pennsylvania show that it is unclear whether broader transfer provisions actually result in increased use of transfer. The Florida data, for example, indicate that the State’s 1994 reforms did not result in the transfer of more juveniles to criminal court. The Pennsylvania study of exclusions similarly showed that only those juveniles who would have ended up in criminal court anyway remained there. The Pennsylvania exclusion study also revealed a considerable time lag in prosecuting juveniles in criminal court. Thus, while the sanction ultimately imposed was similar to the sanction a youth would have received in the juvenile system, the criminal system expended greater resources to prosecute the case and detain the juvenile prior to sentencing.

—Selective Bibliography on Juvenile Transfers to Criminal Court

Bishop, D.M., Frazier, C.E., Lanza-Kaduce, L., and White, H.G. 1999. A Study of Juvenile Transfers to Criminal Court in Florida. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 99113).

Fagan, J. 1995. Separating the men from the boys: The comparative advantage of juvenile versus criminal court sanctions on recidivism among adolescent felony offenders. In Sourcebook on Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders, edited by J.C. Howell, B. Krisberg, J.D. Hawkins, and J.J. Wilson. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., pp. 238–260.

Puzzanchera, C.M. 2000.Delinquency Cases Waived to Criminal Court, 1988–1997. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 200002).

Snyder, H., Sickmund, M., and Poe-Yamagata, E. 2000. Juvenile Transfers to Criminal Court in the 1990’s: Lessons Learned From Four Studies. Summary. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 181301).

Torbet, P., Griffin, P., Hurst, H., Jr., and MacKenzie, L.R. 2000. Juveniles Facing Criminal Sanctions: Three States That Changed the Rules. Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 181203).

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Juveniles in Corrections

Even though juvenile arrest and victimization data for the past few years indicate that juvenile crime has been dropping, a large number of juvenile offenders remain in residential detention and corrections programs across the Nation. Responses to OJJDP’s Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement (CJRP) identified more than 125,800 young persons assigned beds on October 29, 1997, in 1,121 public and 2,310 private facilities nationwide. Of these individuals, nearly 105,800 (84 percent) met the inclusion criteria for the Census, which included being under age 21, being assigned a bed in a residential facility at the end of the day on October 29, 1997, having been charged with or court adjudicated for an offense, and being in residential placement as a result of that offense.

Although there are many juveniles residing in facilities on any given day, the quality and condition of these facilities are largely unknown. How well do these facilities operate? Is the safety of juveniles and staff assured? Are facilities fulfilling the dual mission of the youth detention and corrections system: to keep the public safe and provide treatment to young offenders so that they will return to the community as productive citizens? How can facilities measure their effectiveness and identify areas that need improvement? The Research Division supports several projects that examine these questions.

In 1995, OJJDP launched the Performance-based Standards (PbS) project, largely in response to its landmark Conditions of Confinement Study, which found high rates of suicidal behavior by youth in residential placement, few timely or professionally conducted health screenings, and high levels of staff turnover at detention and correctional facilities. In addition, the study found that pervasive crowding at facilities was related to high rates of injury to staff and youth. OJJDP recognized the need for national performance standards to improve the quality and conditions of such facilities and awarded a grant to the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA) to develop and implement performance standards for youth correctional and detention facilities. Through the consensus of more than 40 representatives from major youth corrections and detention agencies, correctional associations, and related organizations, an advisory board and four working groups established outcome measures and data elements to assess the impact of the following PbS goals for the areas of operations:

  • Security: To protect public safety and provide a safe environment for youth and staff. Security is essential for effective learning and treatment.

  • Order: To establish clear expectations of behavior and an accompanying system of accountability for youth and staff that promotes mutual respect, self-discipline, and order.

  • Safety: To engage in management practices that promote the safety and well-being of staff and youth.

  • Programming: To provide meaningful opportunities for youth to improve their educational and vocational competence, address underlying behavioral problems, and prepare for responsible lives in the community.

  • Justice: To operate the facility in a manner that is consistent with principles of fairness and that provides ways to ensure and protect the legal rights of youth and their families.

  • Health/Mental Health: To identify and effectively respond to youth’s physical and mental health problems and to related behavioral problems throughout the course of confinement by using professionally appropriate diagnostic, treatment, and prevention protocols. 5

What Have We Learned?

Standards appear to be making a difference in the quality of service. Thirty-two facilities have been implementing PbS since August 1998. These facilities have completed four rounds of data collection and are continuing to work on improvements before completing their next data collection in spring 2001. Since beginning implementation of PbS, several facilities have reported measurable improvements, such as reduction of youth injuries and decline in staff turnover.

A facility that had experienced a youth suicide and received major criticism from the media, policymakers, and the public before implementing the standards showed dramatic improvement 1 year after implementation. The facility’s data report showed that there had been no suicides during the year and that all youth were screened at intake for risk of suicide before being assigned housing. The evaluation also showed a reduction in the use of mechanical restraints and indicated that no youth had been injured when restraints were used. During the same period, the facility’s use of isolation and room confinement was cut in half and there were fewer injuries to youth and fewer escapes from the facility. Each of these areas had been targeted for improvement, and each had been the subject of public criticism. A consequence of the reduction in use of mechanical restraints and greater staff involvement in handling disruptive situations has been an increase in staff reports of fear (a 17-percent increase in 1 year). The facility and PbS project have responded by hiring experts to train staff on deescalation techniques. Followup for this and other facilities is ongoing to ensure that improvements are sustained and other key performance areas do not suffer.

Implementation of PbS is challenging, but valued. Recent survey results from an evaluation being conducted by the National Academy of Public Administration are encouraging, in terms of both adoption of PbS and improvements in facility outcomes. Even the nearly one-third of facilities that reported experiencing significant difficulties with initial implementation of standards felt strongly that the standards would ultimately be accepted and used in youth correctional and detention facilities. Researchers found that PbS goals are widely shared by facility administrators and staff.

—What Does This Mean?

Interest in and adoption of PbS are growing. In fall 2000, the 32 facilities originally engaged in PbS activities were joined by 25 new facilities. OJJDP is working with CJCA to publish and distribute a Bulletin on the PbS project, a PbS user’s manual, and resource guides that describe effective programs and provide resources to help facilities improve their practices. Topics to be addressed in the resource guides include suicide prevention, treatment of sex offenders, educational programming, mental health services, and facility communications. The PbS Web site (www.cjca.net/sitecode/cjca_projects_pbs.html) is another vehicle that OJJDP uses to provide the field with information on facilities participating in the PbS project.

Additional research on the impact of PbS is needed. Although initial findings on the impact of PbS are encouraging, ongoing evaluation and research are necessary to ensure that positive changes are sustained and facilities are able to adapt to modifications in staffing patterns and populations. Implementation in a wide range of facilities offers the field a unique opportunity to understand how targeted changes in practice and training and the infusion of additional resources affect important outcomes for youth in confinement.

Standards can be applied to other facility activities. Early successes encouraged the PbS team to look beyond the six areas of operations originally identified for standards and consider what facilities are doing to prepare youth for reintegration when they return to the community. The PbS team has partnered with OJJDP’s Intensive Aftercare Program to develop a set of standards and outcome measures relating to facilities’ efforts to transition youth from confinement to the community.

—Selective Bibliography on Juveniles in Corrections

Sickmund, M. 2000. Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement Databook. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 200008).

Sickmund, M. 2000. State Custody Rates, 1997. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 183108).

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Youth Gang Research

The Research Division sponsors a broad-based program of research that focuses on many aspects of youth gangs. Through a series of research projects and evaluations, secondary data analysis, and activities of the National Youth Gang Center (NYGC), OJJDP continues to learn valuable information about the prevalence, nature, and impact of youth gangs in communities across the country. Most important, this information is used to craft solutions and strategies to counter the impact of gang activity on youth and schools.

National Youth Gang Center

The National Youth Gang Center (NYGC) collects data, analyzes State legislation related to gangs, conducts reviews of literature dealing with gang issues, identifies promising gang program strategies, and provides technical support to the National Youth Gang Consortium. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) convenes the Consortium—which includes all Federal agencies and bureaus engaged in antigang activities—three times a year to build partnerships and coordinate Federal resources at the local level to develop comprehensive approaches to gang prevention, intervention, and suppression.

Since 1995, NYGC has conducted the annual OJJDP National Youth Gang Survey of law enforcement agencies. Summaries and Fact Sheets based on the survey are published regularly through OJJDP. NYGC also provides training and technical assistance for the Rural Youth Gang Initiative and will do the same for the Gang-Free Schools and Communities Initiative launched in early 2001. The NYGC Web site is an excellent resource for information on gang programs, research, and legislation. Full-text publications, bibliographies of publications relating to gang research, and lists of gang legislation by State and subject can be found at www.iir.com/nygc/.

—What Have We Learned?

Although the prevalence of youth gangs is decreasing nationwide, it is increasing in rural communities. In 1998, nearly half (4,463) of the U.S. cities and counties responding to the National Youth Gang Survey reported experiencing youth gang activity. Such activity included an estimated 28,700 gangs and 780,200 active youth gang members in the United States, a modest decrease of about 3 percent from 1997 and a decrease of 5 percent from 1996, when 53 percent of all responding jurisdictions reported active youth gangs. Most of the nationwide decrease occurred in large suburban counties (i.e., those with populations of 250,000 or more). Counter to the nationwide trend, however, between 1996 and 1998, the number of gang members in rural counties increased 43 percent and the number of gang members in small cities increased 3 percent.

Even with a national decrease in youth gang activity, many communities face major challenges as they address their gang problem. In 1998, more than two-thirds of jurisdictions reported that their gang problem was either “staying about the same” or “getting worse,” compared with previous years. In addition, only 16 percent of jurisdictions reported that gang members in their communities did not use firearms in conjunction with assaults. More than half indicated that gang members used weapons “often” or “sometimes.” Moreover, one-third of all youth gangs today are drug gangs (i.e., gangs organized specifically for the purpose of trafficking in drugs). These drug gangs appear most prevalent in rural counties (38 percent). Jurisdictions report most of their gang members are involved in one or more of the following serious and/or violent crimes: larceny/theft (17 percent), burglary/breaking and entering (13 percent), aggravated assault (12 percent), motor vehicle theft (11 percent), and robbery (3 percent).

Youth gangs are prevalent in schools, where drug and gang activities appear linked. The most recent data available indicate that more than one-third (37 percent) of students report a gang presence at school (Howell and Lynch, 2000). A high correlation exists between student victimization of all types and school gang presence. In addition, most gangs that students see at school are actively involved in criminal activity. Students reported, for example, that about two-thirds of school gangs were involved in violence, drug activity, or gun carrying. Students also reported that gangs were most prevalent in schools where drugs were easy to obtain.

What Does This Mean?

A comprehensive approach appears to be the most promising way to address gang activity. OJJDP’s Comprehensive Gang Program model incorporates five key components that continue to show the greatest promise for communities addressing the activities of youth gangs: community mobilization, social intervention, provision of opportunities, suppression of gang activity, and organizational change and development. This comprehensive approach coordinates services (e.g., social, academic, vocational, and law enforcement) to prevent youth from becoming involved in gangs and to help jurisdictions intervene with gang-involved juveniles and reduce the criminal impact of gangs. Two current OJJDP projects—the Comprehensive Community-Wide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression Program (being used in five communities) and the Rural Youth Gang Initiative (under way in four rural sites)—are implementing the strategies of the Comprehensive Gang model.

OJJDP is expanding its comprehensive approach to youth gangs through the new FY 2000 Gang-Free Schools and Communities Initiative. This initiative includes two new programs being launched by OJJDP to address and reduce youth gang crime and violence in schools and communities across America: OJJDP’s Gang-Free Communities Program, which will offer seed funding to up to 12 communities to replicate OJJDP’s Comprehensive Gang Model, and OJJDP’s Comprehensive Gang Model: An Enhanced School/Community Approach to Reducing Youth Gang Crime, which will support up to 4 demonstration sites implementing school-focused enhancements to the OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Model. Both efforts will include technical assistance and training through OJJDP’s NYGC and provide support for program evaluation. The initiative through which these programs are being launched represents a collaboration between OJJDP and the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury.

OJJDP-Funded Gang Research
  • Action Research on Youth Gangs in Indian Country: Profiling the Problem and Seeking Solutions, directed by Troy Armstrong, Ph.D., Center for Delinquency and Crime Policy Studies, California State University, Sacramento.

  • Case Studies and Evaluation Planning of the OJJDP Rural Youth Gang Initiative, directed by Barry Krisberg, Ph.D., National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Oakland, CA.

  • Evaluation of the Comprehensive Community-Wide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression Program, directed by Irving Spergel, Ph.D., School of Social Services Administration, University of Chicago, IL.

  • Finding and Knowing the Gang Naye’e in the Navajo Nation, directed by James W. Zion, Ph.D., Navajo Nation Judicial Branch, Window Rock, AZ.

  • National Youth Gang Center (conducts the annual National Youth Gang Survey), directed by Emory B. Williams, Ph.D., Institute for Intergovernmental Research, Tallahassee, FL.

  • Socialization to Gangs in an Emerging Gang City, directed by G. David Curry, Ph.D., Department of Criminology, University of Missouri, St. Louis.

  • Survey of School-Based Gang Prevention and Intervention Programs, directed by Gary D. Gottfredson, Ph.D., Gottfredson Associates, Inc., Ellicott City, MD.

  • Women and Gangs: A Field Research Study, directed by Ann McGuigan, Ph.D., Illinois State University, Normal. (For a description of the project, refer to Women and Gangs later in this Report.)

  • Youth Gangs in Juvenile Detention and Corrections Facilities, directed by David W. Roush, Ph.D., National Juvenile Detention Association, Richmond, KY.

  • Youth Groups and Gangs in Europe, directed by Finn-Aage Esbensen, Ph.D., Department of Criminal Justice, University of Nebraska, Omaha.

—Selective Bibliography on Youth Gang Research

Burch, J., and Kane, C. 1999. Implementing the OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Model. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 99112).

Egley, A., Jr. 2000. Highlights of the 1999 National Youth Gang Survey. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 200020).

Esbensen, F. 2000. Preventing Adolescent Gang Involvement. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 182210).

Howell, J.C. 2000. Youth Gang Programs and Strategies. Summary. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 171154).

Howell, J.C., and Gleason, D.K. 1999. Youth Gang Drug Trafficking. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 178282).

Howell, J.C., and Lynch, J.P. 2000. Youth Gangs in Schools. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 183015).

Moore, J.P., and Cook, I.L. 1999. Highlights of the 1998 National Youth Gang Survey. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 99123).

National Youth Gang Center. 2000. 1998 National Youth Gang Survey. Summary. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 183109).

Wyrick, P. 2000. Vietnamese Youth Gang Involvement. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 200001).

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Diversion From Juvenile Court: Teen/Youth Courts and Restorative Justice Programs

An estimated 1,755,000 juvenile cases were referred to juvenile court in 1997, but only 57 percent (996,000) went through the formal court process. The rest (43 percent or 759,000) were nonpetitioned. Fewer than half of the nonpetitioned cases resulted in a dismissal. What happened to the other nonpetitioned cases? Undoubtedly, many were diverted to alternative programs such as teen/youth courts and restorative justice programs. These options have been available for several years, and more and more communities today are using them to handle juvenile offenders diverted from the formal court process.

Teen courts, first established about 20 to 25 years ago, are generally used for younger juveniles (ages 10 to 15) with no prior arrests who have been charged with minor violations (e.g., shoplifting, vandalism, and status offenses). These offenders are typically offered diversion to teen court in lieu of more formal handling by the traditional juvenile justice system. Although teen courts often include many of the same steps as the formal juvenile court (e.g., intake, preliminary review of charges, court hearing, disposition), they differ from other juvenile justice programs in that young people, rather than adults, are in charge. Youth in teen courts may act as prosecutors, defense counsel, jurors, court clerks, bailiffs, or judges (or as members of a panel of youth judges). Adults act as administrators who provide oversight, planning, and training. Although some teen court programs involve deliberation on charges, the key feature of all teen court programs is the substantial role that youth play in the imposition of sanctions on young offenders.

OJJDP’s Evaluation of Teen Courts Project recently conducted a national survey of teen and youth courts. More than 300 programs responded to the survey (a more than 70-percent response rate). Responses to the survey documented the range of teen and youth court programs used in jurisdictions across the country, the characteristics of teen and youth court clients, the sanctions imposed, the courtroom models used, the extent of community support received, and the challenges faced. Survey findings are described in the next section .

In addition to diverting youth to teen and youth courts, many communities are starting to use another alternative to formal processing: restorative justice conferences. Based on the Australian model of family group conferencing, a restorative justice conference brings together an offending youth, his or her victim, and supporters of both with a trained facilitator to discuss the incident and the harm and effect it has had on the victim and supporters. In a restorative justice conference, the victim has an opportunity to explain how he or she has been harmed and to question the offending youth. Supporters have a chance to describe how they have been affected by the incident, and the conference ends with a reparation agreement in which all participants agree on how the offending youth can make amends to the victim. The reparation agreement may include an apology and/or some type of restitution to be made to the victim. It may also describe other actions to be taken by the youth, such as improving school attendance or completing homework. As part of a balanced and restorative justice model, these conferences seek to hold youth accountable, involve and meet the needs of victims, and build a community of support around youth.

The field of research on restorative justice efforts— for both adults and juveniles—is growing. A recently completed OJJDP-funded evaluation of one such program in Indianapolis, IN, found highly positive results in terms of conference completion, participant satisfaction, and youth reoffending.

Research on Diversion Programs
  • Evaluation of Teen Courts, directed by Jeffrey Butts, Ph.D., State Policy Center, The Urban Institute, Washington, DC.

  • Preventing Juvenile Crime: Evaluating Restorative Justice Conferences as an Innovative Response to Juvenile Crime, directed by Edmund McGarrell, Ph.D., Crime Control Policy Center, The Hudson Institute, Indianapolis, IN.

Research findings on both of the alternative methods discussed in this section—teen/youth courts and restorative justice conferences—continue to provide OJJDP with important information about the obstacles to establishing such programs, the challenges of sustaining volunteers and funding, and the key elements to program success. Research findings can be used by communities to guide program planning and implementation.

What Have We Learned?

The potential benefits of teen/youth courts and restorative justice conferences are widely recognized. Communities are increasingly using teen/ youth courts and restorative justice programs, largely because of the great potential benefits of these alternative programs. Such benefits include improved accountability in minor offense cases that are unlikely to result in sanctions from the traditional juvenile justice system, more timely handling of cases, cost savings (teen/youth courts and restorative justice programs rely heavily on volunteers), and enhanced community-court relationships. Some evaluations also show that participants in teen/youth courts and restorative justice programs have higher levels of satisfaction and feel more invested in the process than participants in more traditional juvenile justice programs (and even participants in other diversion programs).

Teen/youth court and restorative justice programs are selective about the types of cases they will handle. Comprehensive screening of case referrals helps ensure that only offending youth who are amenable to intervention end up in teen/youth court or restorative justice programs. Overall, these youth are nonviolent offenders who commit less serious offenses, and most have not had a previous referral. For example, more than 90 percent of teen court programs that responded to the survey reported that they “never” or “rarely” accept youth who have had a previous juvenile court referral. Even fewer programs accept youth who have a prior felony arrest. The Indianapolis Restorative Justice Project reported that it screens out juveniles with prior adjudications and juveniles older than age 14 and requires juveniles to admit responsibility for their offense. (Restorative justice conferences are not fact-finding hearings. If a youth challenges the allegations, the matter proceeds to court.)

A program’s screening processes may influence its impact (e.g., if more difficult cases are screened out, positive results may be less meaningful). Evaluations that appropriately compare these interventions with other diversion programs that serve youth with similar characteristics and offenses and use similar screening procedures are more likely to provide meaningful information about the effectiveness of various diversion options.

Even though many serious cases may be screened out, the cases that are handled by teen/youth courts and restorative justice programs often call for a serious response. Most cases that teen court programs reported handling involve theft, minor assault, disorderly conduct, possession or use of alcohol, and vandalism. These cases are similar to those handled by the Indianapolis Restorative Justice Project, which reported handling primarily conversion (shoplifting), battery, theft, and criminal mischief cases.

Benefits of alternatives to formal court processing may include greater satisfaction for victims, greater involvement of offenders and parents, and lowered recidivism rates. Indianapolis’ restorative justice program recorded high levels of satisfaction for victims. More than 90 percent of victims (compared with 68 percent of victims in the control group) either “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that they were satisfied with the conference. Typically, victims participating in the program reported feeling much more involved in the process (97 percent versus 47 percent of victims in the control group). In addition, many victims who participated in the program indicated that they would recommend the process to a friend in a similar situation. Although levels of satisfaction for participating offenders and their parents did not differ from those of offenders and parents in other diversion programs, participants and their families felt much more involved in the process. In terms of reoffending, the results of restorative justice conferences are promising. When compared with the total sample and with juveniles who successfully completed other diversion programs (the control group), youth participating in restorative justice conferences were significantly less likely to be rearrested 6 months after the incident.

A principal goal of both teen/youth courts and restorative justice programs is to hold young offenders accountable for their behavior. Every youth who admits guilt or is found guilty in teen/youth court receives some form of sanction. In many cases, these sanctions do more than punish a young offender; they encourage him or her to repair (at least in part) the damage caused to the community or inflicted on a specific victim. Sanctions may include an order to pay restitution or perform community service. In some cases, sanctions involve writing a letter of apology to a victim. Many teen/youth courts require offenders to serve on a subsequent teen/youth court jury. The satisfaction level of offenders diverted to teen/youth courts has not yet been measured. However, the greater accountability required of these offenders might result in findings similar to those of the restorative justice project.

—What Does This Mean?

Communities need clear guidelines to implement alternative programs. As more and more communities begin to adopt alternative programs such as teen/ youth courts and restorative justice initiatives, they need clear guidelines on how to develop the programs and what key components to include for successful implementation. OJJDP, through its Training and Technical Assistance Division, provides communities with this type of assistance. Examples include the National Youth Court Center and OJJDP publications such as the Guide for Implementing the Balanced and Restorative Justice Model. These resources and OJJDP’s evaluation efforts in this area inform the technical assistance that OJJDP provides to communities. Such assistance helps communities continue to provide juvenile offenders, their families, and victims alternatives to formal court processing that offer support and rehabilitation and promote accountability.

More research on teen courts and restorative justice conferences is needed.Although teen/youth courts and restorative justice programs tend to enjoy broad community support, little is known about their actual effectiveness in reducing future delinquent behavior. Favorable media coverage, high short-term satisfaction levels of parents and youth, and widespread public interest make these programs popular options for policymakers. Yet, little research has been conducted on what the outcomes are for juvenile offenders participating in the programs, whether these alternatives are more effective at reducing future delinquent behavior than the formal juvenile court or other diversion programs, and how the programs affect victims and the community. Preliminary findings from recent studies indicate that participation in teen/youth court may be associated with lowered recidivism rates, improved youth attitudes toward authority, and increased knowledge of the justice system among youth. In addition, although the findings of the Indianapolis Restorative Justice Project (which shows higher levels of satisfaction and lower recidivism rates than other diversion programs) are encouraging, more research is required to determine whether these positive results can be sustained over the long term and replicated reliably in other communities.

Community-based involvement appears to improve the likelihood of a program’s longevity and success. Community involvement in both teen/youth courts and restorative justice conferences is extremely important. Programs, therefore, often need to engage in efforts early on to recruit and train volunteers, locate appropriate referrals, and maintain the support of youth-serving organizations. Also important is the continuing involvement of other agencies and organizations, including courts, law enforcement, and social services agencies. Schools and faith organizations can play an important role by providing facility space, volunteers, and opportunities for community service.

Teen/youth court programs indicated that their three greatest challenges are sustaining funding, retaining youth volunteers, and continuing to receive sufficient case referrals. Teen/youth court programs operated by schools or private agencies were significantly more likely to report problems with funding, judicial support, and coordination with other agencies than were those operated by courts, law enforcement, or prosecutors. Although these findings may not be surprising, they reinforce the need for strong community-based collaboration to design, implement, and sustain an effective teen/youth court program.

—Selective Bibliography on Diversion From Juvenile Court: Teen/Youth Courts and Restorative Justice Programs

Butts, J., and Buck, J. 2000. Teen Courts: A Focus on Research. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 183472).

Butts, J., Hoffman, D., and Buck, J. 1999. Teen Courts in the United States: A Profile of Current Programs. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
(FS 99118).

McGarrell, E. In press. Restorative Justice Conferences as an Early Response to Young Offenders. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 187769).

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 1998. Guide for Implementing the Balanced and Restorative Justice Model. Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 167887).

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National Statistics on Juvenile Offenders and Victims

OJJDP’s Research Division monitors trends relating to juvenile offenders and victims, including information on self-reported offending and official statistics on juvenile offenses, juvenile arrests, and juvenile offenders. Working with other branches of the U.S. Department of Justice, including the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other government agencies, such as the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Bureau of Labor Statistics, OJJDP’s Research Division gathers information that provides a complete look at the nature and extent of juvenile delinquency and victimization in the United States. To that end, the Research Division supports the following projects:

  • The National Juvenile Court Data Archive (NJCDA). NJCDA collects, stores, and analyzes data about young people referred to U.S. courts for delinquency and status offenses. A series of OJJDP Fact Sheets and Bulletins about these data informs the field on a regular basis.

  • National Juvenile Justice Data Analysis Project (NJJDAP). NJJDAP was established in 1998 to address an important need of the juvenile justice community: current, high-quality information on a broad spectrum of issues. Most research projects address specific issues through scientific research designs that include data collection and analysis. NJJDAP, on the other hand, makes use of existing data sets. By searching out experts on data sets and contracting them to complete analyses, NJJDAP takes full advantage of existing expertise. The project team also has in-house expertise on important juvenile justice data sets such as the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY97) and the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement. NJJDAP is able to develop reports, bulletins, and other products on a wide range of topics. To date, it has produced the CJRP Databook (a Web-based interactive program), fact sheets on self-reported delinquency (based on NLSY97), briefing materials on crowding in detention centers, briefing materials on school suspension, and analyses of the National Crime Victimization Survey.

  • Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement. Conducted for the first time in 1997, CJRP gathers detailed information on juveniles in residential placement facilities as a result of contact with the juvenile justice system. CJRP collects data on characteristics of juveniles in the facilities (date of birth, race, sex, and most serious offense), court of jurisdiction (juvenile or criminal), adjudicatory status (pre- or post-adjudication), and the State or county with jurisdiction over the juvenile. OJJDP has developed an online databook that contains both national and State-level tables based on the data from CJRP. (The databook can be found in the Statistical Briefing Book via OJJDP’s Web site, www.ojjdp.ncjrs.org, under “JJ Facts & Figures.”) Data from the second CJRP (conducted in 1999) will identify trends during the past 2 years, and the online databook will be updated to include this information. Information from the 1999 CJRP will be released in late 2001.

  • Survey of Youth in Residential Placement (SYRP). SYRP will survey the same youth included in CJRP: those in residential custody as a result of their contact with the juvenile justice system. SYRP researchers will interview youth directly about their offense history, service needs, experience in custody, and general background (including standard demographic items). The survey will also examine the risk and protective factors of the youth. OJJDP began a 2-year development phase for this survey in 1998 by awarding a cooperative agreement to Westat, Inc., and the first full implementation of the survey will occur in 2002.

  • Juvenile Probation Survey. OJJDP is developing the Juvenile Probation Survey to complement various other censuses that deal with juvenile custody. Even though juvenile probation has been described as “the workhorse of the juvenile justice system” (Torbet, 1996), few data exist on the use of probation and no data exist on the number of juveniles on probation at any given time. The new Juvenile Probation Survey will fill this gap. OJJDP hopes to field test the survey in 2001.

  • Juvenile Residential Facility Census (JRFC). To complement CJRP, OJJDP developed JRFC, which will describe both the residential environments in which juveniles are held and the services they receive while residing in the facilities. The census will cover security arrangements, health services, mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, education, and facility capacity. A large-scale feasibility test of the census was performed in October 1998, and the census was implemented nationally for the first time in October 2000.
Resources for OJJDP Statistical Projects

The Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement, the Juvenile Residential Facility Census, and the Juvenile Probation Survey, directed by Joseph Moone, M.S., Program Manager, Research and Program Development Division, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in collaboration with the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

National Juvenile Court Data Archive and National Juvenile Justice Data Analysis Project, directed by Howard N. Snyder, Ph.D., National Center for Juvenile Justice, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Pittsburgh, PA.

Planning for the Survey of Youth in Residential Placement, directed by Andrea Sedlack, Ph.D., Westat, Inc., Rockville, MD.

OJJDP’s Web-Based Statistical Briefing Book

More and more, OJJDP has turned to high-tech solutions and the Internet to inform the public of new research findings and their implications for the field. The OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book (www.ojjdp.ncjrs.org/ojstatbb/index.html) allows users to access online data via OJJDP’s Web site to learn more about juvenile crime trends across the Nation and in specific communities. The Briefing Book also provides basic information on juvenile crime and victimization and on youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Data in several content areas listed on the site (e.g., juvenile populations, juvenile arrests, juveniles in court, and juveniles in corrections) provide timely and reliable statistical answers to the most frequently asked questions of policymakers, the media, and members of the general public.

—What Have We Learned?

Juvenile violent crime continues to decline. In 1999, law enforcement agencies arrested an estimated 2.5 million persons under the age of 18—an 8-percent decrease from 1998 but still an increase of 11 percent over the number arrested in 1990. In 1999, juveniles accounted for 17 percent of all arrests and 16 percent of all violent crime arrests. In 1999, for the fifth consecutive year, the juvenile violent crime arrest rate (i.e., the number of juvenile arrests per 100,000 persons ages 10 to 18 in the population) declined. Specifically, between 1995 and 1999, the juvenile violent crime arrest rate declined 9 percent. The juvenile murder rate fell 68 percent in 1999 from its peak in 1993, reaching its lowest level since the 1960s.

In 1997, courts with juvenile jurisdiction disposed more than 1.7 million delinquency cases. The number of delinquency cases disposed in 1997 (about the same as the number disposed in 1996) represented a 48-percent increase from the number disposed in 1988. Most cases (84 percent) handled in juvenile court in 1997 had been referred by law enforcement, although some referral variations existed across offenses.

Younger juveniles account for a substantial proportion of juvenile arrests and the juvenile court caseload. Thirty-two percent of juveniles arrested in 1999 were younger than age 15. The proportion of juvenile arrests involving younger juveniles (under age 15) was highest for arson (67 percent), followed by sex offenses (51 percent), vandalism (44 percent), and other assaults (43 percent). Of all delinquency cases processed by the Nation’s juvenile courts in 1997, 58 percent involved juveniles younger than age 16.

Female delinquency continues to grow. In 1999, 27 percent of juvenile arrests involved a female offender. Between 1990 and 1999, the number of female juvenile offenders arrested increased more or decreased less than the number of male juvenile offenders arrested in most offense categories. The number of juvenile court delinquency cases involving females increased 83 percent between 1988 and 1997, while cases involving males increased 39 percent during this period. Females accounted for one in seven juveniles in residential placement in 1997.

Twenty-five percent of the juveniles in residential custody nationwide were charged with Violent Crime Index offenses. Data from the 1997 Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement, which replaced the Children in Custody series, show more than 105,790 juveniles in public and private facilities on October 29, 1997. One-quarter of the juveniles in placement had been charged with or adjudicated for a violent offense. Youth charged with delinquent offenses made up 93 percent of juvenile offenders in both private and public residential placement; those charged with status offenses made up 7 percent.

Minority juveniles continue to be overrepresented in the custody population. For every 100,000 non-Hispanic black juveniles in the U.S. population, 1,018 were in a residential placement facility on October 29, 1997. The rate was 515 for Hispanics and 204 for non-Hispanic whites.

—What Does This Mean?

Even with recent declines, juvenile crime remains too high. Despite decreases in recent years, juvenile arrests in 1999 were 11 percent higher than in 1990. For violent crimes committed by juveniles, 1999 arrests were 5 percent higher than in 1990. Such increases confirm that juvenile crime and delinquency remain serious problems in the Nation.

Communities should place special focus on young offenders and female offenders. These two groups account for a greater proportion of the delinquency population than ever before. Therefore, the unique factors that contribute to these groups’ increased involvement in crime and delinquency and ways to effectively intervene with the groups should be examined and tested.

Additional research on juveniles in custody is necessary. To understand where to focus resources, communities need to learn more about the characteristics and needs of juveniles in custody. Unfortunately, most information about juveniles in residential facilities is provided by the facilities themselves. OJJDP’s Research Division is planning the Survey of Youth in Residential Placement, which will gather individual-level data directly from the juveniles in residential facilities. In addition, the Juvenile Residential Facility Census will gather information on programs and services offered by residential facilities across the country.

—Selective Bibliography on National Statistics on Juvenile Offenders and Victims

Moone, J. 2000. Innovative Information on Juvenile Residential Facilities. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 200011).

Porter, G. 2000. Detention in Delinquency Cases, 1988– 1997. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 200017).

Puzzanchera, C.M. 2000. Delinquency Cases Waived to Criminal Court, 1988–1997. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 200002).

Puzzanchera, C.M. 2000. Juvenile Court Placement of Adjudicated Youth, 1988–1997. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 200015).

Puzzanchera, C.M., Stahl, A., Finnegan, T., Snyder, H.N., Poole, R., and Tierney, N. 2000. Juvenile Court Statistics 1997. Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 180864).

Scahill, M.C. 2000. Female Delinquency Cases, 1997. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
(FS 200016).

Scahill, M.C. 2000. Juvenile Delinquency Probation Caseload, 1988–1997. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 200019).

Scahill, M.C. 2000. Person Offense Cases in Juvenile Court, 1988–1997. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 200006).

Sickmund, M. 2000. Offenders in Juvenile Court, 1997. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 181204).

Sickmund, M. 2000. State Custody Rates, 1997. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 183108).

Sickmund, M., and Wan Y. 1999. Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement: 1997 Databook. Data presentation and analysis package. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice (available online).

Snyder, H.N. 1999. Juvenile Arrests 1998. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 179064).

Snyder, H.N. 2000. Counting America’s Youth: Easy Access to Population Data. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 200014).

Snyder, H.N. 2000. Juvenile Arrests 1999. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 185236).

Snyder, H.N., Finnegan, T.A., Kang, W., Poole, R., Stahl, A., and Wan, Y. 2001. Easy Access to Juvenile Court Statistics: 1989–1998. Data presentation and analysis package. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice (available online).

Snyder, H.N., Finnegan, T.A., and Wan, Y. 2001. Easy Access to the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports: 1980–1998. Data presentation and analysis package. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice (available online).

Snyder, H.N., and Poole, R. 2000. Easy Access to FBI Arrest Statistics, 1994–1998. Data presentation and analysis package. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice (available online).

Snyder, H.N., Poole, R., and Wan, Y. 2000. Easy Access to Juvenile Populations. Data presentation and analysis package. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice (available online).

Stahl, A. 2000. Delinquency Cases in Juvenile Courts, 1997. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 200004).

Stahl, A. 2000. Juvenile Vandalism, 1997. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (FS 200010).

Stahl, A., McGlynn, E., and Wan, Y. 2000. Easy Access to State and County Juvenile Court Case Counts 1997. Data presentation and analysis package. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice (available online).

Torbet, P.M. 1996. Juvenile Probation: The Workhorse of the Juvenile Justice System. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (NCJ 158534).


1 The full findings of the Study Group on Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders appear in Loeber and Farrington's 1998 publication Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders: Risk Factors and Successful Interventions. The Study Group Report on which this publication is based (Loeber and Farrington, 1997) is available from the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse. See the selective bibliography for more information on both publications.

2 1997 is the most recent year for which national juvenile court data are available. This is due to the lengthy technical process of creating a national database from dozens of State and local courts. Juvenile and family courts across the Nation voluntarily provide data to the National Juvenile Court Data Archive (available online at www.ojjdp.ncjrs.org/ojstatbb/njcda/), which collects, stores, and analyzes data on juvenile justice.

3 Transitions are changes in the family structure caused by events in the parenting figures' lives such as divorce, separation, death, or long-term hospitalization.

4 "High-rate offending" was defined as a high frequency of general delinquency offending. High-rate offenders were those juveniles who fell into the highest quartile of offending frequency.

5 Additional information on PbS for juvenile detention and corrections is available from the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, Stonehill College, 16 Belmont Street, South Easton, MA 02375; 508–238–0073; 508–238–0651 (fax); CJCA@corrections.com (e-mail); www.cjca.net/sitecode/cjca_home.html (Internet).

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OJJDP Research 2000 OJJDP Report
May 2001