Nature and Extent of the Juvenile Crime Problem
Rarely does an evening pass in which the locally televised nightly news does not provide coverage of at least one shocking and disturbing act of criminal violence involving juveniles. Nightly reports of drive-by shootings, teens as young as 14 being remanded to adult court to stand trial for murder, gang initiation ceremonies involving sadistic and brutal acts of rape, and caches of drugs and weapons being confiscated from elementary school lockers have permeated the mass media at an alarming and accelerated rate. Unfortunately, these media portrayals are not always anomalies or isolated incidents of shock journalism. Disturbingly these reports can be heard on any big city newscast or read in any small town newspaper. Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that an even greater number of less sensationalistic, yet nonetheless equally violent, juvenile crimes never make the headlines or front page at all. A large proportion of this juvenile violence is being perpetrated upon the offenders' own classmates, neighbors, and members of their own age cohort. Snyder and Sickmund (1995) report that results from the 1991 National Crime Victimization Survey reveal that nearly half of the juvenile violent crime victims were attacked by another juvenile. Violence has infiltrated the Nation's youth subculture with teens often preying upon each other as a means of simply understanding, surviving, and coping with the stress, tension, and anxiety that often accompany the troubled period of adolescence. As Elliott (1993) notes, the most pronounced difference between the youth crime of today, and juvenile crime of the prior decade, is its lethality. Adolescent homicide rates have doubled since 1988 and in 1991 homicide became the second leading cause of fatal injuries among youth under the age of 20 (Elliott, 1993; Snyder and Sickmund, 1995). The increase in youth violence has dramatically affected and altered the nature and procedural operations of the juvenile justice system; a system which was previously overburdened and often stretched to capacity by its efforts to effectively manage the historically predominant, and less benign, juvenile property offender. While property related offenses continue to constitute the largest percentage of the system's work activities and caseload patterns the rise in juvenile violent crime has exerted a considerable impact upon, and consequently increased, the volume and complexity of law enforcement, juvenile court, and juvenile detention agencies' workloads. Caseload and operational statistics quantitatively demonstrate the impact of increasing violent crime on each of the three major components of the juvenile justice system. Nationally; the violent crime arrest rate, for youthful offenders under the age of 18, increased 44.8% from 1988 to 1992. A slight decline of 0.65% in the rate of juveniles arrested for property offenses contributed to a modest 1.6% increase in the overall juvenile arrest rate between 1988 and 1992 (Flanagan and Maguire, 1990; Maguire and Pastore, 1994). The rate of petitioned delinquency cases, filed in the Nation's juvenile courts, grew by 24.8% from 1988 to 1992. The largest proportion of this total growth can be directly attributed to a significant rise in the rate of petitioned violent crime cases. The filing rate for petitioned violent crime delinquency cases experienced a 62.7% increase; an increase nearly three and one-half times larger than the 18.2% increase which occurred in the filing rate, for property offense petitions, during this same period (Butts, Snyder, Finnegan, Aughenbaugh, Tierney, Sullivan, and Poole, 1995). Increases in the arrest and petition filing rates have exercised an influence on the Nation's public juvenile confinement facilities. The juvenile confinement rate expanded by 4.4% from 1987 to 1991. The composition of this confined population also experienced...
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