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.
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?
Additional early warning signs for the development of delinquency at a young age include:
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:
Selective Bibliography on Research
on Very Young Offenders
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.
Researchers at the three sites used the same core measures to examine:
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.
What Have We Learned?
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?
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
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).
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.)
Overview of Transfer Research Projects
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 Floridas 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:
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?
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 States judicial districts. The survey was designed to help researchers understand these players perceptions of the States 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?
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. 238260.
Puzzanchera, C.M. 2000.Delinquency Cases Waived to Criminal Court, 19881997. 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 1990s: 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).
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 OJJDPs 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:
What Have We Learned?
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 facilitys 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 facilitys 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?
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 OJJDPs 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
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).
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.
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.
A comprehensive approach appears to be the most promising way to address gang activity. OJJDPs 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 projectsthe 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: OJJDPs Gang-Free Communities Program, which will offer seed funding to up to 12 communities to replicate OJJDPs Comprehensive Gang Model, and OJJDPs 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 OJJDPs 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.
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).
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.
OJJDPs 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 juvenilesis 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 findings on both of the alternative methods discussed in this sectionteen/youth courts and restorative justice conferencescontinue 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.
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 programs 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.
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 OJJDPs 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 programs 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.
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
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).
OJJDPs 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, OJJDPs 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:
Juvenile violent crime continues to decline. In 1999, law enforcement agencies arrested an estimated 2.5 million persons under the age of 18an 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 Nations 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.
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. OJJDPs 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.
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, 19881997. 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, 19881997. 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
Scahill, M.C. 2000. Juvenile Delinquency Probation Caseload, 19881997. 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, 19881997. 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 Americas 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: 19891998. 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 FBIs Supplementary Homicide Reports: 19801998. 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, 19941998. 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; 5082380073; 5082380651 (fax); CJCA@corrections.com (e-mail); www.cjca.net/sitecode/cjca_home.html (Internet).