NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 1, 1994

Researchers suggest the juvenile justice system is part of the juvenile crime problem.

Each arrest is an opportunity to deter the educable and incarcerate the incorrigible, but the juvenile system reinforces the present-orientedness common to criminals of all ages by misleading youths into thinking there are no serious consequences to crime. "Initial low levels of punishment and gradual escalation desensitize subjects and make them less likely to respond," according to Peter W. Greenwood of the RAND Corporation. Begun in the Progressive era, the system views juvenile status as a defense against criminal responsibility.

  • Youthful offenders are usually given a number of free rides or diversions before any serious punishment is meted out.
  • When sentencing does take place, the courts are often barred from using previous arrests and convictions in deciding punishment.
  • And since virtually every state seals or expunges juvenile records, offenders need not worry about prior convictions haunting them in the adult world.

Researchers suggest that it is important for youthful offenders to learn that criminality is a choice, since long-term patterns of violent criminal behavior begin during youth and grow in intensity.

  • About one-third of all boys in the United States will be arrested before turning 18.
  • Each successive arrest places them at a higher risk of being detained in the future, reaching a 90 percent probability for those with five or six arrests.
  • These chronic offenders are the 6 percent of boys who account for more than 50 percent of all arrests, according to University of Pennsylvania criminologist Marvin Wolfgang.

Responding to the increasing number of violent crimes committed by juveniles, in 1994 alone 20 states lowered the age at which offenders may be tried as adults. But even in those states most youths are processed by the juvenile justice system, not tried as criminals, and juveniles cannot be kept passed their 25th birthday regardless of their crime.

Source: Nick Gillespie, "Arrested Development," Reason, December 1994, Reason Foundation, 3415 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 400, Los Angeles, CA 90034, (310) 391-2245.


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