NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Good News On Juvenile Crime

April 19, 2002

Between 1980 and 1994, crime rates soared, led by surging juvenile violent crime. Researchers predicted an even larger crime wave was building, because the population of Americans ages 10 to 17, which had declined through the 1980s, was expected to grow by more than 20 percent in the next two decades.

But after 1994, the violent crime rate fell for six straight years. And even as the number of juveniles increased, the rate of juvenile crimes led the decline, according to Urban Institute researchers.

  • Juvenile arrests for violent crimes (murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault) grew 64 percent between 1980 and 1994 -- with arrests for murder doubling.
  • Youth accounted for 32 percent of the increase in violent crime arrests between 1980 and 1994, but generated 58 percent of the subsequent decline.
  • According to data just released by the FBI, the rate of juvenile violent crime in 2000 was lower than at any time in the previous two decades.

Since 1994, the juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes has dropped by more than a third, and all juvenile arrests have dropped by 13 percent.

The decline occurred while the number of juveniles was increasing from about 27 million to 31 million.

Social scientists who didn't predict the decline are now trying to explain it. The strong economy, growing intolerance of violent behavior, get-tough sentencing practices and changes in the drug market are among the popular theories.

Source: Steven Chapman, How 'juvenile' and 'delinquent' parted," Washington Times, April 14, 2002; Richard Morin and Claudia Deane, "On Crime, Youth Serves Up Some Good News," Washington Post, April 8, 2002; Jeffrey A. Butts and Jeremy Travis, "The Rise and Fall of American Youth Violence: 1980 to 2000," March 2002, Urban Institute.

For Urban Institute study


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