Juvenile Crime: Reasons are Complex, Solutions can be Simple

Dallas (October 20 , 1999) -- Following in the aftermath of this year's highly publicized school shootings, President Clinton and many in Congress are assembling 350 high school students from across the nation for a two-day conference on juvenile crime.

According to Morgan Reynolds, director of the Criminal Justice Center at the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), if you're looking for a reason for juvenile crime, you don't have to look far from home: "One of the main reasons why juvenile crime sky-rocketed in the 1980s and early 1990s, is the increase in the number of children without their real father in the home."

Reynolds points to an analysis which tracked young males ages 14 to 22 from 1979 to 1993. The results showed that boys who grow up without a father in the household are twice as likely to go to prison before 30 as are boys from intact families. Just having a man in the household as a second adult or role model is not enough - having a stepfather in the household actually increases the risk to three times that of boys from intact families.

While reducing fatherlessness is a long-term solution that is not easily solved by government mandate, communities across the country have take steps in the right direction to curb juvenile crime. Filling the void in punishment and discipline, they've taken a tough love approach to prosecution and have increasingly begun to treat juvenile offenders as adults. The result has been that as with all crime, youth crimes have been declining sharply since 1994.

"Juvenile crime is declining for many of the same reasons adult crime is on the decline," said Dr. Reynolds. "Youths are less likely to commit crimes if they see real consequences to their actions."

Each year police arrest nearly two million youths under age 18 on criminal charges. In 1997, one in 15 juveniles taken into police custody were referred to criminal (adult) court - the highest percent (6.6 percent) in history. That means real consequences were more likely.

This "tough love" approach has garnered real results:

According to the Justice Department's recent Crime Victimization Survey, serious violent crimes committed by juveniles ages 12 to 17 dropped 40 percent between 1993 and 1996.

  • The main victims of young criminals are young themselves. The victimization survey also shows that serious violent crimes against youths ages 12 to 17 is down 39 percent since 1993.
  • According to the FBI, the number of youths arrested for murder has dropped 39 percent between 1993 and 1997.
  • During the last school year, school-related violent deaths were half of those six years earlier.

Concluded Reynolds: "If government in Washington wants to have a real impact on curbing youth violence, it should support local communities willing to give real consequences to youth offenders. If we need a short run rallying cry, it should be 'if you're old enough to do the crime, you're old enough to do the time!'"