Juvenile Court Trend Analysis

by : Kenneth R Tapscott

The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks four offenses murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault in its Violent Crime Index. The juvenile arrest rate for each of these offenses has been declining steadily since the mid-1990s; for murder, the rate fell 70% from its 1993 peak through 2001. (Snyder 2003) Juvenile crime statistics from law enforcement agencies do not tell the entire story about the extent of crime for several reasons. One reason is that victimization surveys generally show there is a significant amount of crime committed each year that is not counted in official statistics because it is not reported to law enforcement authorities. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 1993 about two-thirds of all crimes went unreported to the police. Specifically, about 50 percent of violent victimizations, almost 60 percent of household crimes, and 70 percent of all personal thefts went unreported.

A second reason crime is underreported is that when several crimes are committed by an offender at the same time, only one (usually the most severe) is counted in the data. For example, if a juvenile offender robbed a store, assaulted a clerk, and killed a customer, only the homicide would be reported. Research has shown that crimes committed by juveniles are more likely to be cleared by law enforcement than are crimes committed by adults. Therefore, drawing a picture of crime from law enforcement records is likely to give a high estimate of the juvenile responsibility for crime. The clearance data in the Crime in the United States series show that the proportion of violent crimes attributed to juveniles by law enforcement has declined in recent years. The proportion of violent crimes cleared by juvenile arrests grew from about 9% in the late 1980s to 14% in 1994 and then declined to 12% in 2001. (Snyder 2003)

The juvenile proportion of cleared forcible rapes peaked in 1995 (15%) and then fell, with the 2001 proportion (12%) still above the levels of the late 1980s (9%). The juvenile proportion of robbery clearances also peaked in 1995 (20%); it fell substantially by 2001 (14%) but was still above the levels of the late 1980s (10%). The juvenile proportion of aggravated assault clearances in 2001 (12%) was slightly below its peak in 1994 (13%) and substantially above the levels of the late 1980s (8%). The proportion of Property Crime Index offenses cleared by juvenile arrests in 2001 (21%) was below all but 2 years in the 1980s and 1990s. (Snyder 2003)

The text highlights an overall increase in the rate of drug offenses as well as simple assaults amount juveniles. By review of arrest statistics the finding were that law enforcement agencies made an estimated 202,500 arrests of young people for drug abuse violations in 2001. Of those 202,500 arrests a drug abuse violation is seen to be the most serious. A noticeable decline in juvenile arrests for murder was found between 1992 and 2001. During this time period there were unfortunately a large number of increases as well. Statistics show motor vehicle theft (51%), burglary (40%) were up as well as major increases in juvenile arrests for drug abuse violations (121%). (Snyder 2003) Also on the increase were the rates of simple assault offender amongst juveniles. Simple assault increased by great margins between the early 1980s and the late 1990s— more than 150% between 1983 and 1997. Fortunately this rate did fall slightly (7%) between 1997 and 2001.

Arrests of females for various offenses are increasing more (or decreasing less) than arrests of males, and the overall juvenile arrest rate for simple assault in 2001 remained near its all-time high. (Snyder 2003) Of the juvenile arrests reported in 2001 females accounted for 23% of those arrests for aggravated assault and 32% of juvenile arrests for other assaults (i.e., simple assaults and intimidations). Females also appeared to be the leading sex in regards to runaway violations. Females were involved in 59% of all arrests for running away from home. Arrests for curfew and loitering law violations were reported at 31% for female juveniles. Females accounted for 23% of juvenile arrests for aggravated assault and 32% of juvenile arrests for other assaults (i.e., simple assaults and intimidations) in 2001. Females were involved in 59% of all arrests for running away from home and 31% of arrests for curfew and loitering law violations. (Snyder 2003)

The text points out that the disparity in violent crime arrest rates for black juveniles and white juveniles declined substantially between 1980 and 2001. In 2001 the juvenile population was comprised of 78% white, 17% black, 4% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1% American Indian. Violent crime statistics showed that 55% involved white youth, 43% involved black youth, 1% involved Asian youth, and 1% involved American Indian youth. The results for property crime arrests were 68% white youth, 28% black youth, 2% Asian youth, and 1% American Indian youth. Between 1980 through 2001 black-to-white disparity in juvenile arrest rates for violent crimes show a decrease. The black juvenile Violent Crime Index arrest rate was 6.3 times the white rate in 1980 and in 2001; the rate disparity had declined to 3.6. This reduction in arrest rate disparities primarily due to the decline in black-to-white arrest disparities for robbery (from 11.5 in 1980 to 6.8 in 2001), which was greater than the decline for aggravated assault (3.2 to 2.8).

The outlook for the juvenile crime rate is uncertain as there are many factors which will affect those final numbers. One thing is for certain and that is that the population is projected to grow throughout the county at a rapid pace. The number of juveniles age 11 through 17--the ages of juveniles responsible for 99 percent of juvenile arrests will increase in the next decade. This will ultimately cause a spike in juvenile offenses and arrest numbers.


Snyder, H. (December 2003). U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Juvenile Arrests 2001. Retrieved December 8, 2005, from http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/ojjdp/201370.pdf