Serious & Violent Juvenile Offenders: Risk Factors and Successful Interventions
Publication Year: 1999
Detailed and comprehensive, this volume presents authoritative discussions by leading scholars on issues surrounding serious and violent juvenile offenders. This population is responsible for a disproportionate percentage of all crime and poses the greatest challenge to juvenile justice policymakers. This volume integrates knowledge about risk and protective prevention programs, so that conclusions from each area can inform the other.
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
Part I: Developmental Course and Risk Factors
- Chapter 2: Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders
- Chapter 3: Race, Ethnicity, and Serious Juvenile Offending
- Chapter 4: The Contemporaneous Co-Occurrence of Serious and Violent Juvenile Offending and other Problem Behaviors
- Chapter 5: Development of Serious and Violent Offending Careers
- Chapter 6: Predictors of Violent or Serious Delinquency in Adolescence and Early Adulthood: A Synthesis of Longitudinal Research
- Chapter 7: A Review of Predictors of Youth Violence
- Chapter 8: Membership in Youth Gangs and Involvement in Serious and Violent Offending
- Chapter 9: Screening of Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders: Identification, Classification, and Prediction
Part II: Preventive Interventions and Graduated Sanctions
- Chapter 10: The Prevention of Serious and Violent Juvenile Offending
- Chapter 11: Comprehensive Community- and School-Based Interventions to Prevent Antisocial Behavior
- Chapter 12: Promising Programs for Youth Gang Violence Prevention and Intervention
- Chapter 13: Effective Intervention for Serious Juvenile Offenders: A Synthesis of Research
- Chapter 14: The Impact of the Juvenile Justice System and Prospects for Graduated Sanctions in a Comprehensive Strategy
- Chapter 15: Intermediate Sanctions and Community Treatment for Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders
Part III: Concluding Overview
Copyright © 1998, 1999 by Sage Publications, Inc.
First cloth edition 1998
First paper edition 1999
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Main entry under title:
Serious and violent juvenile offenders: Risk factors and successful interventions/[edited] by Rolf Loeber, David P. Farrington.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7619-1275-4 (cloth: acid-free paper)
ISBN 0-7619-2040-4 (pbk.: acid-free paper)
1. Juvenile delinquency—United States—Prevention. 2. Deviant behavior—United States—Prevention. 3. Violent crimes—United States—Prevention. 4. Problem youth—Behavior modification—United States. I. Loeber, Rolf. II. Farrington, David P.
99 00 01 02 03 04 05 10 9 8 7 6 5 4
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Foreword: Never too Early[Page ix]
For decades, scholars have quarreled over whether crime could best be reduced by punishing offenders or treating offenders. In the punishment group were those, including myself, who argued that we knew too little about the causes of crime; that such causes as could be identified were beyond much planned change; and that in any event the results, if any, of those changes would take years, perhaps decades, to appear. In the treatment group were writers who believed that causes could be found; that government could change them significantly; and that the benefits of those changes, even if they took years to appear, would do less harm than the painful effects of punishment. Among those effects, they argued, were the tendency of punishment to confirm people in a life of crime. Prisons were not only costly, they were also schools for crime.
That debate continues, but now, I think, in a somewhat less extreme fashion. The defenders of the deterrent and incapacitative effects of punishment still argue (reasonably, I believe) that higher levels of punishment have in fact lowered crime rates in the United States, but they now concede that the financial and human costs of this strategy are, indeed, very large. We have more than a million inmates in state and federal prisons (plus many in jails). Not only has this created a substantial monetary burden, it has also affected racial groups very differently. An Afro-American male born today will, if present imprisonment and crime rates continue, have more than a one in four chance of being in state or federal prison before he dies. It is hard to be sanguine about a policy that produces so profound a racial divide in our society.
The defenders of treatment have become a bit less optimistic about what rehabilitative programs can achieve, are less convinced now that merely increasing the number of jobs or multiplying new government programs [Page x]will reduce the crime rate, and are more willing than previously to acknowledge the vital importance of early childhood experiences and personal endowments in explaining why some youth commit crimes at such high rates. Moreover, they now are more inclined to admit that community-based alternatives to traditional juvenile prisons must exercise very close supervision if they are to be as effective.
The narrowing of the punishment-versus-treatment policy gulf is best illustrated by the increased attention both sides now give to crime prevention. By prevention I mean intervening in a person's life before he or she has become a serious or high-rate offender. This book provides a rigorous synthesis of much that has been learned about such prevention programs.
Though I would draw somewhat different conclusions from the data reviewed in some parts of this book, I am struck by the extent to which so many authors now emphasize early childhood experiences. Crime prevention is less likely to be defined by scholars as trying some bold new program, whether it involves how police are trained or assigned; what prosecutors do; how Neighborhood Watch can make places safe; or why bringing down the unemployment rate, embracing some new rehabilitation program, or mounting innovative high school courses can make our streets much safer.
Instead, the focus is to a greater extent than ever before on several important themes that are supported by research:
- The precursors of crime occur very early in the lives of many serious offenders.
- These precursors involve a complex array of relationships between child and parents.
- Changing those precursors requires a complex intervention that affects parents as well as children and that best occurs early in the life of the youngsters.
Interventions based on these principles are likely to make the most difference for children who display certain risk factors: early use of alcohol and drugs, ties to antisocial friends, early expressions of aggression, poor parent-child relations, low intelligence, and similar factors. Modern criminology has rediscovered arguments made in the 1950s by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck and soon thereafter rejected by people who wrongly believed that families were of little importance compared with economic opportunity.
Gail Wasserman and Laurie Miller supply us with a good review of what we know about the consequences of programs that attempt to modify family life. Richard Catalano and his colleagues are sufficiently impressed with efforts to alter the factors that put children at risk that they press for “comprehensive,” “community-wide” interventions that embody a variety of treatments. Of course, the story is not over once the child becomes a delinquent, as Mark Lipsey and David B. Wilson show in their analysis of interventions on known offenders.
Some early childhood programs do make a lasting difference, just as some rehabilitation programs applied to certain kinds of offenders seem to make a difference. But to expand on these programs some difficult problems must still be overcome.
Very few of the more successful interventions were expressly aimed at reducing the crime rate of serious offenders. Some may have had this effect, but we are not quite certain why. Many of these successful efforts were small-scale programs run by dedicated clinicians employing talented staff, but we have no reason yet to think that these efforts would be as successful as they were for 2 dozen children if they were applied to 2,000 or 200,000 youngsters. We now have a pretty good understanding of the characteristics of children who are at risk of becoming serious [Page xi]offenders, but that knowledge is not so good that we can reliably identify the at-risk children at an early age. Some of the best early interventions were carried out many years ago, before drug use, social disorganization, and high levels of gang violence had become as commonplace as they are now. In short, our growing awareness of the potential value of early interventions rests on replication of those findings in several sites by people other than those who invented the program.
What is impressive about many of the essays in this book is that they reveal a common interest in early intervention involving both parents and children, and they are informed by a shared knowledge of the experimental efforts that seem to have worked.
This common interest should help to further narrow the policy differences among scholars. The choice today is not one between the death penalty or midnight basketball. The real choice is between mounting a serious, large-scale effort to rebuild weak families or continuing a politically attractive but largely sterile debate over how great the maximum sentence should be for convicted felons. Rebuilding weak families is still very much in the pilot project phase: We do not know how to do it on a large scale. We can discuss comprehensive, community-wide projects, but we have virtually no experience with actually producing them. By the same token, making people who commit serious crimes face longer maximum sentences is in part a cheap, symbolic effort, given the fact that most offenders—because of plea bargaining, judicial discretion, or prison crowding—serve only a fraction of these maximum penalties.
Theft and other forms of property crime are, as it turns out, more susceptible to control than violent crime. Our rates of property crime, have, for the most part, gone down since 1980, and now are, for many offenses, lower than they are in England, Sweden, or other European nations. But we are still today, as we have been for generations, the murder capital of the industrialized world. Most troubling, it has been the murder rate among juveniles that has, in recent years, climbed the fastest. If we wish to reduce the murder rate, for example, we must confront the fact that we have only imperfect ways of identifying would-be murderers at any early age (and hence prevention is difficult) and the median murderer released from prison today has probably served after considerable pretrial delay no more than 6 years in confinement (and hence sanctions are both postponed and moderate). We ought to try to improve our performance on both prevention and punishment efforts, but we have a long ways to go before we know how to do either.
Crime prevention, I think, has come face to face with the central social question of our time: How, if at all, can we sustain a healthy family life in a culture that rewards personal self-expression, an economy that no longer is dominated by family labor, and a policy world that provides countless opportunities for living apart from family obligations? Crime control, in short, is now engaged with the issue whose resolution will profoundly affect the future of our culture. This book is a good place to start looking for what we know and what we do not know about why this has happened and what can be done about it.James Q.Wilson[Page xii]
Foreword: How Criminology Can Be Enhanced by the Study of Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders[Page xiii]
This book brings together new insights and understanding of the origins of criminal careers and the effectiveness of intervention or prevention programs. The task was greatly facilitated by the initiation over the past two decades of major research studies focused on the development of delinquent conduct. The productivity of the Study Group that produced this book was also enhanced by several strategic decisions on the issues to be explored. From the outset a primary concern was to search for explanations of serious and violent conduct by juvenile offenders. This helped to sensitize literature reviews to the factors accounting for such conduct. At the same time it made the search more difficult because serious and violent offending occurs at a low rate among all juvenile offenses. In a number of instances this led to additional analyses of existing data sets focusing more sharply on correlates of such behavior.
Another defining strategy was the primacy given to studies of delinquent and criminal behavior that took a developmental approach involving successive interviews with one or more age cohorts. This approach broadens the range and salience of the questions that can be addressed. For example, it can relate the evidence of early childhood problems to the various pathways leading to serious and violent conduct. It can explore the predictive value of self-reports of offending compared to arrest data at different age levels, and it can determine the relative importance of gang membership as a factor in the development of serious and violent behavior. In fact, each of the chapters in this report provides fresh evidence of the explanatory power gained through the developmental study of age cohorts.
[Page xiv]Another major guideline was the constant attention to identifying both risk and protective factors in the progression toward serious and violent conduct. How did these factors vary with age and their relation to other problems of childhood and youth? Finding answers to this type of question was, of course, one of the primary aims in creating the Study Group with the support of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the U.S. Department of Justice. This agency has also provided support for several developmental research studies represented in the Study Group and was interested in assessing the current state of knowledge in the field in general.
A second aim of the Study Group was to assess the relevance of knowledge gained from the developmental studies for the design of intervention and prevention policies and programs. This interest served to highlight the importance of community institutions, social agencies, and contextual influences on the type and rates of juvenile offenses. It led to a major effort by the Study Group to survey the results and effectiveness of programs of interventions and prevention. The Study Group encountered serious deficiencies in the design and effectiveness of studies because of the complexities in administration and costs of experimental evaluations. It, nevertheless, concluded that the available evidence justified a much greater attention to the role of community influences on juvenile conduct in research studies of risk and protective factors and in the design of intervention and prevention policies and programs.
Throughout the report the Study Group has pointed to gaps and limitations of existing research findings and program development. Taken as a whole they constitute an impressive agenda for further basic research on risk and protective factors and program evaluations. Most of the research studies in recent years have focused on the individual differences in the characteristics and experiences of various types of offenders. Much less attention has been devoted to identifying community and institutional differences that could become major targets for intervention and prevention strategies. In calling attention to these types of deficiencies in our knowledge, the Study Group has underscored the need for more balanced research policies that will assist the development of more effective program designs and evaluations.
The editors of this book have a history of involvement in developmental studies of delinquent youth that spans two decades—and longer, in the studies by Farrington in England. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention provided support for three developmental studies that generated comparative data as well as data on different issues. The studies undertaken in Rochester, Denver, and Pittsburgh demonstrated the productivity of developmental research designs in advancing knowledge about the onset, growth, and termination of criminal careers. The studies also stimulated the reanalysis of earlier research findings from such studies as those of Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck prior to World War II and the Cambridge-Somerville treatment study by Joan McCord.
The insights gained from such work have greatly enlarged the range of issues addressed in the various chapters in this book. Without the studies conducted over the past two decades, this book could not have been written. The editors' immersion in these developments provided them with an understanding of the range of issues involved and the persons best equipped to assess them in a critical and constructive manner. The editors and chapter authors are to be congratulated for the scope and depth of their assessments of the state of knowledge and their definitions of the need for continuing research on critical issues. By dealing with the course of development and risk factors in criminal careers and juxtaposing the insights gained with the relevance and [Page xv]potential effectiveness of prevention policies and programs, the authors are helping to transcend a division between research and action. Well-designed evaluations of programs and policies of interventions also contribute to the basic fund of knowledge about what works and why. In producing a report that fosters both types of inquiry, the Study Group and its sponsors in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention have created a solid foundation for further growth of research and policy in the years ahead.Lloyd E.Ohlin[Page xvi]
This volume sets out the conclusions of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's (OJJDP) Study Group on Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders. The initial idea for the Study Group was broached with James C. Howell, then Director of Research at OJJDP, who enthusiastically endorsed it. Subsequently, the office issued a request for proposals, and Rolf Loeber and David P. Farrington were the successful applicants and became cochairs of the Study Group. Members of the Study Group, who were selected because of their expert knowledge of different aspects of serious and violent juvenile offenders, were David M. Altschuler, Alfred Blumstein, Richard F. Catalano, Julius Debro, David P. Farrington, Peter Greenwood, Nancy G. Guerra, Darnell Hawkins, J. David Hawkins, James C. Howell, David Huizinga, Barry Krisberg, John H. Laub, Marc Le Blanc, Mark W. Lipsey, Rolf Loeber, Walter Miller, Mark H. Moore, Howard N. Snyder, Terence P. Thornberry, Patrick Tolan, and Gail A. Wasserman.
Starting in November 1995, the Study Group met periodically to discuss the main thrust of the report, and later, the drafts that members (some joined by one or more coauthors) prepared. In the process we received valuable guidance from several staff members of OJJDP, including Shay Bilchik, John Wilson, Betty Chemers, Joan Hurley, and Barbara Allen-Hagen. Furthermore, observers from some other agencies assisted in several meetings, including Christy Visher of the National Institute of Justice, Carol Petrie of the National Academy of Sciences, and Jan Chaiken of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Chapters were reviewed by agency staff members, in addition to the editors and Study Group members, and went through several iterations. OJJDP provided financial support [Page xviii]for the project (Grant 95-JD-FX-0018). Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of OJJDP or the Department of Justice.
In Pittsburgh, we received assistance from David Kupfer, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh. We are particularly grateful to JoAnn Fraser for her thoughtful and effective administrative guidance to the project, and to Daniel Waschbusch for his help in retrieving source material and checking the manuscript chapters. Most of all, we want to thank the members of the Study Group for their splendid collaboration, writing, and secondary data analyses; for their tolerance of our unreasonable requests for revisions of their manuscript chapters at short notice; and for their collegial assistance in advancing knowledge about serious and violent juvenile offenders.
Executive Summary[Page xix]RolfLoeber & David P.Farrington
We draw a number of key conclusions in this volume about serious and/or violent juvenile (SVJ) offending. Serious violent offenses include homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and kidnapping. Serious nonviolent offenses include burglary, motor vehicle theft, theft over $100, arson, and drug trafficking.
The two main aims of this volume are to review knowledge about SVJ offenders and about which types of interventions can reduce their level of offending. This volume was inspired by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's (OJJDP) Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders. This strategy emphasized strengthening the family and core socializing institutions, implementing prevention programs targeting key risk factors, identifying early potential offenders, and employing graduated sanctions based on assessments of risks and needs. The Comprehensive Strategy provides an excellent framework for understanding, preventing, and controlling SVJ offending. The present volume uses the Comprehensive Strategy as a springboard and includes detailed quantitative analyses of risk and protective factors and of the effectiveness of prevention and intervention programs for SVJ offenders. It also aims to integrate the risk/protective factor and prevention/intervention program literature, so that programs are based more on research on influential factors, and conclusions about putative causal effects of factors are drawn from knowledge about the effectiveness of programs.
[Page xx]This volume carries two main themes. First, SVJ offenders tend to start displaying behavior problems and delinquency early in life, warranting early intervention. It is our thesis that prevention is never too early. Second, we also maintain that interventions for SVJ offenders can never be too late; effective interventions exist for known SVJ offenders.
The executive summary centers around the following main conclusions:
- SVJ offenders are a distinct group of offenders who tend to start early and continue late in their offending.
- From childhood to adolescence, SVJ offenders tend to develop behavior problems in several areas, including aggression, dishonesty/property offenses, and conflict with authority figures.
- Many potential SVJ offenders below the age of 12 are not routinely processed in the juvenile court, and services in the community for such offenders appear unnecessarily fragmented, leading to a lack of public accountability for young potential SVJ offenders.
- There are many known predictors of SVJ offending that could be incorporated into screening devices for the early identification of SVJ offenders.
- It is never too early: Preventive interventions for young children at risk for SVJ should be implemented at an early age and are known to be effective.
- It is never too late: Interventions and sanctions for known SVJ offenders can reduce their risk of reoffending.
- Evaluations of interventions often are inadequate and usually do not provide information specifically about changes in the rate of offending by SVJ offenders.
- An integrated and coordinated program of research is needed on the development and the reduction of SVJ offending.
- Several key issues about SVJ offenders are unresolved and remain to be addressed through research.
We will now elaborate on each point.SVJ Offenders are a Distinct Group of Offenders
Development of SVJ Offending
- The majority of the SVJ offenders of any race tend to be multiple-problem youth. They often have school problems (truancy, suspension, and dropout), substance use problems, and mental health problems, and they are disproportionally victims of violence.
- SVJ offenders are also distinguishable from non-SVJ offenders in that the majority of the SVJ offenders start offending early in life and continue offending longer than non-SVJ offenders. In addition, the age of onset of nondelinquent behavior problems is much earlier in SVJ offenders than in non-SVJ offenders.
- Chronic offenders account for more than half of all serious crime committed by juveniles. The vast majority of chronic offenders are SVJ offenders.
- Black (African American) youth have higher rates of SVJ offending, but this may be due to community factors such as living in a socially disorganized neighborhood.
- From childhood to adolescence SVJ offenders tend to develop behavior problems in several areas, including aggression, dishonesty/property offenses, and conflict with authority figures.
- Typically, SVJ offenders tend to advance simultaneously in each of these areas, with minor problem behaviors preceding the onset of moderately serious problem behaviors, which in turn tend to progress to more serious forms of delinquency.
- As offenders progress in these areas to SVJ offending, they tend to continue to commit less serious delinquent acts at high rates.
Comment. The delinquency careers of SVJ offenders are vastly different according to official records of arrest or referral to the juvenile court compared with self-reported delinquency. [Page xxi]Self-reports show that most persisting serious offenders have an onset of serious offending before age 14, with about half of the persisting SVJ offenders starting their delinquent career before age 12.SVJ Offenders, Juvenile Justice, and Public Accountability
- Typically, juvenile courts do not routinely deal with delinquency by youth below the age of 12. However, very young offenders, and particularly serious or persisting young offenders, are the most likely group from which SVJ offenders will develop. Presently, no alternative agency in society is held accountable for the early-onset offenders, and as a result there is a fragmentation of services and lack of resources to deal effectively with early-onset offenders.
- Many SVJ offenders, judging from their self-reports, are never arrested, even at a later age.
- At first appearance before the juvenile court, SVJ offenders are often not readily identifiable, because many of them are arrested for less serious delinquent acts. Screening devices, based on legally permissible predictors, need to be improved to identify potential SVJ offenders at their first arrest or first referral to the juvenile court.
- SVJ offenders tend to be persistent offenders, and many of them will be at risk in the community during their peak offending years even if they were apprehended earlier and incarcerated for a short period of time.
- The majority of violent youth commit only one officially recorded violent crime as a juvenile. Therefore, to prevent violence it is important not to wait to intervene before this officially recorded violent crime occurs.
Comment. In evaluating the roles and functions of the juvenile justice system, the mental health system, and child welfare services in addressing SVJ offenders, it is clear that integration of services is often lacking and that gaps exist in who receives sanctions and/or intervention. Also, because each institution is reactive rather than proactive, none of them serves an efficient role in preventing SVJ offending in the community. Most important, it is not clear which institutions or community groups are held accountable for SVJ offenders as they emerge in each generation of youth. This lack of public accountability stands in the way of the development of effective interventions, particularly at the community level. An important priority is to give resources and mandates to agencies that can focus on the prevention of SVJ offending, and to require coordination and public accountability across the different systems of care.
Screening for SVJ offenders has two purposes: the identification of future SVJ offenders for prevention purposes, and the classification of offenders for juvenile justice programming. Screening is most effective using multiple informants, multiple methods, and multiple types of variables. Variables that might be used in a prevention screening instrument include prior delinquency, antisocial peers or parents, and poor school attitudes or performance. Risk assessment instruments are widely used by juvenile court personnel. However, more technical work, and especially validations, needs to be completed before adequate screening instruments, individualized for particular communities, can be confidently recommended to policymakers and practitioners.Predictors of SVJ Offending
- Persistent precocious behavior problems in children during the elementary school-age years are a warning sign for later SVJ offending. [Page xxii]
- Among the strongest, potentially modifiable predictors of SVJ offending evident between ages 6 and 11 are nonserious delinquent acts, aggression, substance use, low family socioeconomic status, and antisocial parents.
- Among the strongest predictors of SVJ offending evident between ages 12 and 14 are lack of strong social ties, antisocial peers, nonserious delinquent acts, poor school attitude and performance, and psychological conditions such as impulsivity.
- Juveniles to whom the strongest predictor variables apply are 5–20 times more likely to engage in subsequent SVJ offending than those without such predictor variables.
- The risk of juveniles engaging in SVJ offending is greatly enhanced when they join a gang or become a drug dealer.
- The higher the number of risk factors, the greater the likelihood of a youth engaging in SVJ offending.
Comment. In general, violent behavior results from the interaction of individual, contextual (family, school, peers), situational, and community factors. Much is known about the predictors of serious and violent offending.
Adolescents who join delinquent gangs are more frequently involved in SVJ offending than non-gang members. Gang members, although representing a minority of the juvenile population, are responsible for the vast majority of serious delinquent acts. Rates of SVJ offending increase after joining a gang and decrease after leaving a gang. Hence, it is important to target gangs to reduce SVJ offending.Prevention of SVJ Offending
- Early intervention in childhood and early adolescence can reduce the likelihood of young at-risk juveniles becoming SVJ offenders.
- Preventive interventions should be based on public health approaches and should target known risk factors within a comprehensive community-based program in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
- The best preventive interventions are based on an integration of different services, including services provided by the juvenile justice system, schools, mental health, medical health, and child protection agencies.
- Early prevention is important, including home visitation of pregnant women, teenage parents, parent training, preschool intellectual enrichment programs, and interpersonal skills training.
- Important targets for later prevention are reductions in gangs, victimization, gun availability, and drug markets.
Comment. Because SVJ offending is multiply determined, it is unlikely that interventions directed only toward a single source of influence (e.g., individual, family, school, or peers) will be very successful. Multiple-component prevention programs are needed. Therefore, priority should be given to preventive actions that reduce risk factors in multiple domains. Few programs have been evaluated specifically in relation to SVJ offenders. The most successful early prevention programs involve interventions simultaneously in the home and the school. Many of the same risk factors that predict adolescent delinquency and violence also predict substance abuse, dropping out of school, early sexual involvement, and teen pregnancy.
The primary methods of preventing the development of SVJ offenders are through family, school, and community interventions. Public health approaches to offending are desirable that target risk or protective factors and immediate situational influences. For that reason, better routine data collection methods are needed that specify when, where, and how offenses occur and offenders develop. Wide-ranging community-based programs are required in which risk and protective factors are measured and intervention techniques targeting these factors are implemented and their impact measured.
[Page xxiii]Many preventive actions can best take place in communities. Community mobilization, community policing, and intensive policing strategies can be effective. School-based strategies are also useful, especially those targeted on school organization or on classroom-based curricula emphasizing the reinforcement of prosocial and academic skills. Other targets for community interventions include reducing the availability of firearms and drugs, and enhancing laws and norms favorable to prosocial behaviors. Most of these approaches have been incorporated in the comprehensive Communities That Care preventive strategy, which still remains to be evaluated.Interventions and Sanctions for Identified SKI Offenders
- SVJ offenders constitute only a minority of identified offenders in the juvenile court system.
- The reoffending of SVJ offenders can be reduced by appropriate intervention, especially interpersonal skills training and cognitive-behavioral treatment.
- Programs to prevent youth gang violence can be successfully implemented.
- In selecting treatment and sanctions in the juvenile justice system, account should be taken of (a) the severity of the presenting offense; (b) the risk of recidivism for serious offenses; and (c) the individual needs of the juvenile offender, such as academic needs and family support.
- Interventions for SVJ offenders often have to be multimodal to address multiple problems, including law breaking, substance use and abuse, and academic and family problems.
- The administration of multimodal programs requires integration of services of the juvenile justice system, mental health, schools, and child welfare agencies.
- Aftercare programs are essential to reduce the likelihood of reoffending by SVJ offenders.
Comment. A meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental intervention programs for reducing the recidivism of SVJ offenders showed that the most effective programs with noninstitutionalized offenders involved interpersonal skills training, behavioral contracting, or individual counseling. The most effective programs with institutional offenders involved interpersonal skills training, cognitive-behavioral treatment, or teaching family homes programs. Intervention effects were greater where there was a longer duration of treatment.
Three promising programs were identified to prevent youth gang violence. The comprehensive community approach developed by Spergel involves the design and mobilization of community efforts by police, prosecutors, judges, probation and parole officers, corrections officers, schools, employers, community agencies, and grassroots organizations. OJJDP's Comprehensive Strategy also targets youth gang violence through risk-focused prevention and graduated sanctions. Youth gang homicides can be addressed by a multiple-component program combined with restricting access to firearms, enhanced prosecution of gang crimes, with multiagency sanctioning and hospital emergency room intervention.
Most SVJ offenders slow down their rate of offending after correctional interventions. However, alternatives to secure confinement for SVJ offenders are at least as effective as incarceration in suppressing recidivism and are far less costly. Juveniles who are transferred to the adult court are more likely to be incarcerated but also more likely to reoffend. Because of the inadequacy of research designs, the relative effectiveness of juvenile and adult court disposals is unclear.
Intermediate sanctions, including electronic monitoring, house arrest, home detention, drug and alcohol testing, community tracking, intensive supervision, boot camps, [Page xxiv]day treatment/reporting centers, and community service and restitution, are increasingly being used as alternatives to institutionalization, probation, parole, and aftercare. These sanctions are being used by varying degrees with SVJ offenders. Existing research on intermediate sanctions suggests that treatment availability and participation in treatment are associated with lower recidivism. Unfortunately, many offenders are left untreated. Risk-based treatment services should play a prominent role in the philosophy, design, and implementation of intermediate sanctions.Evaluation of Interventions
- Better designed evaluations of the effectiveness of programs are needed (e.g., randomized experiments), and studies of the cost-effectiveness of one program compared with others.
- More evaluations need to study the impact of prevention and intervention programs specifically on SVJ offending.
- The effectiveness of transfer to adult court for SVJ offenders compared with the effect of sanctions administered by the juvenile court needs to be evaluated in terms of the risk of reoffending.
- Community-wide programs, such as Communities That Care, need to be evaluated for their efficacy in reducing both community levels of delinquency and SVJ offending.
Comment. Evaluation of intervention programs is essential to identify more effective versus less effective programs. Evaluations are also essential to make cost comparisons between programs and implement programs with the highest yields at lowest cost. However, the evaluation of community-based programs poses many challenges.Research Priorities
- More studies are needed focusing specifically on risk factors for SVJ offenders and aiming to identify protective factors in disadvantaged neighborhoods where SVJ offenders are especially found.
- Because SVJ offenders commit less serious delinquent acts at a high rate, screening devices need to be developed that can identify potential SVJ offenders on their first arrest or referral to the juvenile court.
- A key research priority is to assess the effects of interventions specifically on SVJ offenders.
- The course of development of SVJ offenders needs to be investigated, not only in inner cities but also in rural communities and for female offenders.
- Annual or biannual surveys are needed, especially in large metropolitan areas, to measure (a) the prevalence of SVJ offenders, and (b) the prevalence of youth at risk for SVJ offending. These surveys can assist in the evaluation of prevention and intervention programs for SVJ offenders.
- Longitudinal studies are needed, in which multiple cohorts are followed up, to draw conclusions about development from birth to the teenage years and into early adulthood.
Comment. Research on risk factors for SVJ offending needs to have a more developmental focus, documenting how they emerge and change in different contexts, and how risk and protective factors affect onset, persistence, escalation, and desistance of offending. There is a need to develop theories that apply not just to juvenile delinquents in general, but also to SVJ offenders. New longitudinal studies should measure a wide range of risk and protective factors. They should be based on high-risk samples incorporating screening methods to maximize the yield of SVJ offenders. Experimental studies are also [Page xxv]needed in which multiple-component interventions are used and SVJ offending is measured. The different components should be targeted on different age ranges, and the interventions should be applied to high-risk youth or high-risk communities. In some cases, it is desirable to include interventions in a longitudinal study or to follow up cohorts in an intervention study. Such a coordinated program could dramatically advance knowledge about SVJ offending and ultimately lead to a significant reduction in this troubling social problem in the next decade.
An integrated and coordinated program of data collection, intervention, and research specifically on SVJ offenders should be developed and administered by an appropriate federal agency, advised by scholars from the juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice communities.[Page xxvi]
Appendix: Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders—An Assessment of the Extent of and Trends in Officially Recognized Serious Criminal Behavior in a Delinquent Population[Page 428]Howard N.Snyder
The nationwide growth in the juvenile violent crime arrest rate between 1986 and 1994, after more than a decade of relative stability, has fueled the public's concerns over the viability of the juvenile justice system. To respond to these concerns, most state legislatures have recently made substantial changes in their state's juvenile justice systems. Some legislation has even removed serious and violent offenders from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and placed these youth under the jurisdiction of the criminal court. Clearly, the future of America's juvenile justice system is being molded by the public's perception of serious and violent juvenile offenders. Therefore, it is important for juvenile justice policymakers, practitioners, and the public to understand the volume of, and growth in, this segment of the juvenile offending population.
This research was designed to place the serious and violent offender in context of the general population handled by the juvenile justice system. Unlike other recent studies that have focused on self-reported delinquent behavior, this work focuses on youth with official [Page 429]records of delinquency. Although information about self-reported law-violating behavior is essential to understand the development of law-violating careers, the juvenile justice system can respond only to officially recognized delinquent behavior. Therefore, a clear picture of serious and violent juvenile behavior from the perspective of the juvenile justice practitioner is necessary to support the development of policies that guide the justice system's response to juvenile offenders.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This research was supported in part by grants to the National Center for Juvenile Justice from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Grants 95-JN-FX-K008 and 95-JN-FX-0008).
This descriptive study was designed to answer a set of basic questions often raised in the debates over juvenile justice policies and procedures:
- What are the proportions of serious and violent offenders in the officially recognized delinquent population?
- Are these proportions increasing?
- Are serious and violent juvenile offenders in recent years being referred for more serious and violent crimes?
- Are chronic offenders also serious and violent offenders?
- Is the onset of officially recognized juvenile violence and serious offending occurring at younger ages?
To explore officially recognized serious and violent juvenile offending, this study analyzes the juvenile court careers of all persons born between 1962 and 1977 who were referred to the juvenile court in Maricopa County, Arizona, for a delinquency offense prior to their 18th birthday.1 Another way of classifying this population is to identify each cohort not by its birth year but by the year its members turned 18 years of age and aged out of the original jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system. From this perspective, this study investigates the officially recognized offending patterns of the juvenile justice “graduating classes” of 1980 through 1995.2
Maricopa County population in 1995 was 2.4 million persons, making it the sixth largest county in the United States. In 1995 the violent crime rate in Maricopa County was 12% greater than the national average, and its property crime rate was 75% above the national average. Maricopa County contains a populous central city (Phoenix) and a rapidly growing and ethnically varied population, and it faces the range of problems found in most large metropolitan areas in the United States. In many ways, it is typical of urban America.
When a youth is arrested in this jurisdiction, the youth (or paper on the incident) is sent to the juvenile court's intake screening office for processing. By policy, law enforcement does not screen the case before sending it to juvenile court intake. Therefore, in this jurisdiction, the juvenile court referral population is comparable to the juvenile arrest population in most other jurisdictions.
To characterize the nature of a juvenile court career, this study counted each of a youth's referrals to juvenile court intake and classified each referral by the most serious charge in the set of charges presented at intake. The most serious offense in each case was classified into one of three general offense categories:
- Violent offenses include the offenses of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, kidnapping, violent sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault.
- Serious nonviolent offenses include burglary, serious larceny, motor vehicle theft, arson, weapons offenses, and drug trafficking.
- Nonserious delinquent offenses include such crimes as simple assault, possession of a controlled substance, disorderly conduct, vandalism, nonviolent sex offenses, minor larceny, liquor law offenses, and all other delinquent offenses.
[Page 430]If a referral contained only status offenses (e.g., running away from home, truancy, curfew, underage drinking) or traffic offenses, the referral was excluded from the analyses. All the remaining delinquency referral records were sorted by referral date (earliest referral first), and a rap sheet detailing the youth's juvenile court delinquent career was prepared.ResultsSize of the Graduating Classes
A total of 151,209 youth from the juvenile justice graduating classes of 1980 through 1995 had at least one referral to juvenile court intake in Maricopa County for a delinquent offense prior to their 18th birthday (Table A1.a). Thirty percent (or 46,108) of these youth were female (Table A1.b). The number of youth in each class generally increased over time; however, the increases were not consistent from year to year. Overall, there were 35% more youth (28% more males and 54% more females) in the juvenile justice graduating class of 1995 than in the class of 1980. The sizes of the classes were rather constant between 1980 and 1985. Following a transition year in 1986, the 1987 graduating class was nearly 25% larger than the class of 1985. This class size was roughly maintained from 1987 through 1994. Once again, in 1995, the size of the graduating class abruptly changed, moving out of the range observed in the prior 8 years to a level about 10% above the average class size of the prior 8 years. Although these changes are somewhat related to the growth in the juvenile population within the county during this period, the consistent growth in the general juvenile population within the county cannot explain the abrupt changes in the sizes of the juvenile justice graduating classes between 1985 and 1987 and between 1994 and 1995.TABLE A1.a Trends in Number of Delinquent Careers and ReferralsTABLE A1.b Trends in Number of Delinquent Careers and Referrals by Sex
Between 1980 and 1990, the membership in each birth cohort in Maricopa County increased substantially. For example, the decennial census in 1980 found that there were 22,100 seven-year-olds in the county; by 1990 this same birth cohort (who were now age 17) had 27,900 members—a 26% growth over the 10-year period. These figures indicate a substantial net in-migration (and relatively little out-migration) of young persons with this birth year in the county over the time period when these youth were at risk of juvenile court referral. Certainly, a large proportion of each juvenile justice graduating class lived in the county throughout their juvenile years, whereas others moved into the jurisdiction during their juvenile years (ages 7 through 17) and stayed until they aged out of juvenile court jurisdiction. With an unstable population base, the proportion of youth in a birth cohort that were referred to a juvenile court cannot be developed from these [Page 431]data with any precision. However, rough estimates (i.e., assuming the birth cohort was equal to the number of 18-year-olds in the county in the graduation year) indicate over the set of 16 birth cohorts that about one of every three youth had a juvenile court referral for a delinquent offense. Roughly 45% of males and 20% of females had at least one referral to the juvenile court for a delinquency offense prior to their 18th birthday. These estimates also show that the proportion of the birth cohort with a juvenile court referral increased somewhat over the 16-year period.Age at Onset
It is often heard in many juvenile justice policy debates that juveniles are beginning their court careers at younger ages. Over the graduating classes, was there any evidence that members were referred to juvenile court at earlier ages for their first delinquency referral, their first serious nonviolent referral, or their first violent referral? On average, across all 16 cohorts, the first delinquency referral occurred at age 15.2 years, the first serious nonviolent referral occurred at 15.2 years, and the first violent referral occurred at age 15.8 years. There is no evidence that any of these average entry ages changed from the class of 1980 through the class of 1995.
In addition, there is no evidence from court records that the proportion of the graduating class that began their court careers below age 14 has risen to extraordinary levels in recent years. Across the 16 graduating classes, 26.1 % of all youth began their officially recognized delinquent careers below age 14. The class of 1988 had the smallest proportion of delinquent careers beginning below age 14 (21.9%), whereas the proportions in the graduating classes in the early 1980s and mid-1990s average about 28%.
Over the 16 graduating classes, 7.1% of referred youth (and 23.9% of those youth ever referred for a serious nonviolent offense) had their first referral for a serious nonviolent offense below age 14 (Figure A1). Over the graduating classes, these proportions fell and [Page 432]then increased, staying within a limited range and giving little support for the notion that juveniles in recent years are entering the juvenile justice system at younger ages for serious nonviolent offenses. Over the 16 graduating classes, 1.1% of referred youth (and 13.5% of those youth ever referred for a violent offense) had their first referral for a violent offense below age 14. As with the serious nonviolent referrals, these proportions fluctuated within a limited range over the 16 graduating classes, giving no indication of earlier onset of violent referrals in recent years.Figure A1. Proportion of Careers With First Serious Referral Prior to Age 14Number of Referrals
The 151,209 youth from the juvenile justice graduating classes of 1980 through 1995 were involved in a total of 325,259 delinquency referrals. Twenty-one percent of referrals involved females. The class of 1995 had 55% more delinquency referrals than the class of 1980. Between the class of 1980 and the class of 1995, the increase in court referrals was greater for females (97%) than for males (46%); however, the male and female increases between the classes of 1986 and 1995 were more consistent, with male referrals increasing 39% and female referrals increasing 49%.
The 55% increase in referrals between the classes of 1980 and 1995 is greater than the 35% increase in the sizes of the graduating cohorts. Thus, youth in the class of 1995 had a higher average number of referrals per career than did members of the class of 1980. Across all cohorts, the average career contained [Page 433]2.15 delinquent referrals, with 60% having only one referral in their court careers. Over the 16 birth cohorts, males averaged more delinquency referrals per career than females (2.43 vs. 1.51), and males had a smaller percentage of careers with only one referral (54% vs. 73%).
The average number of referrals per career increased significantly across the graduating classes. For the graduating classes in the 1980s, the average number of referrals per career was 2.06 (2.32 for males and 1.44 for females), whereas in the 1990s the average increased to 2.28 (2.60 for males and 1.58 for females). In addition, the proportion of each cohort with only one referral in their careers declined relatively consistently from 62% in the 1980 cohort to 56% in the 1995 cohort. Declines in the proportion of single-referral careers were observed in both the male (55% to 51%) and the female (79% to 68%) cohorts. Therefore, along with the growth in the number of youth in each birth cohort referred to juvenile court intake, recent graduating classes also averaged more referrals per court career than did previous graduating classes.Offense Characteristics of Graduating Classes
Compared to the class of 1980, the class of 1995 generated more referrals in each of the general offense categories (Table A2). The increases in the number of referrals for violent and for nonserious offenses were greater than the growth in the size of the juvenile justice graduating classes, whereas the increase in serious nonviolent referrals paralleled the growth in the size of the referral cohort (Table A3). As a result of these differential increases, the offense profile of the juvenile justice graduating classes changed in the recent years. Compared to the class of 1980, the class of 1995 not only had more referrals per [Page 434]career (2.36 vs. 2.06), it also had more nonserious (1.76 vs. 1.47) and more violent (0.124 vs. 0.095) referrals per career. In contrast, the average number of serious nonviolent referrals per career changed relatively little between the classes of 1980 and 1995 (0.493 vs. 0.476). Compared to earlier cohorts, the cohorts aging out of the juvenile court's jurisdiction most recently were, on average, brought to court more often for both violent and nonserious delinquent offenses; however, there was no difference in the average frequency with which cohort members were referred for a serious nonviolent (largely serious property) offense.TABLE A2 Trends in the Offense Characteristics of Delinquency Referrals
TABLE A3 Changes Between the Classes of 1980 and 1995 (in percentages) Size of graduating class 35 Delinquency referrals 55 Nonserious referrals 62 Serious referrals 38 Serious nonviolent referrals 31 Violent referrals 76Delinquent Career Types
Serious nonviolent careers. Although graduating class averages may be useful in some discussions, the assessments of change may be most useful when focusing on individual careers. An individual career may have many attributes; for example, a youth may be a violent offender (with one or more violent referrals in his or her career) while also being a serious nonviolent offender and a chronic offender. One way to address questions concerning the changes in the character of individual juvenile careers is to study each of several career attributes independently.
Over all graduating classes, 29.5% of youth referred had at least one serious nonviolent referral in their careers (Table A4). The proportion of serious nonviolent offenders in each cohort (i.e., the percentage of the cohort with at least one serious nonviolent referral in their career) showed no consistent trend over the classes of 1980 through 1995 (Figure A2). Has the level of serious nonviolent offending changed within individual careers? That is, [Page 435]were those youth involved in serious nonviolent behavior referred for more of these acts in the later cohorts? To address this point, the career referral rate for serious nonviolent offenses (i.e., the average number of serious nonviolent referrals in careers that had at least one serious nonviolent referral) was developed for each cohort (Figure A3). Overall, youth referred for a serious nonviolent offense were referred an average of 1.69 times for such behaviors in their juvenile court careers. This rate did not change over the 16 cohorts. Therefore, the growth in serious nonviolent referrals observed from the class of 1980 through the class of 1995 was the result of more youth becoming involved in these behaviors and was not caused by an increase in the individual level of youth involvement in serious nonviolent crimes.TABLE A4 Trends in the Offense Attributes of Juvenile Court Delinquent CareersFigure A2. Career Types Within Juvenile Justice Graduating ClassesFigure A3. Rate of Offense-Specific Referrals Within Career Type
Violent careers. The court records show that over all graduating classes between 1980 and 1995, 8.1% of all youth referred had at least one referral for a violent offense in their career (Table A4). The data show, however, that the classes that graduated in the 1990s had a greater proportion of their members charged with a violent offense (Figure A2). A violent offense referral was found in 6% to 8% of the court careers of the classes of 1980 through 1990. After a transitional class in 1991, the proportion of violent offenders in the classes of 1992 through 1995 increased to the 10%–11% level. Therefore, from the juvenile court's perspective, a greater proportion of youth in the recent graduating classes were involved in violent crime.
Were the increases in violent offense referrals in the later graduating classes the result [Page 436]of increases in the number of referred youth with a violent act in their careers, or had the frequency of violent referrals within an individual career increased? Turning once again to the career referral rates, the average number of violent offense referrals in the careers of youth with a violent offense referral remained constant over the 16 graduating classes, averaging 1.24 violent referrals per career (Figure A3). Across all cohorts, 83% of violent careers (i.e., careers with at least one violent referral) had only one violent referral in the career. That is, 17% of all violent careers over all graduating classes (or 1.4% of all referred youth) had two or more referrals for a violent offense. Over the graduating classes of 1980 through 1995, the proportion of repeat violent offenders fluctuated, reaching a low point of 11% in the class of 1988 and high points of 20% in 1982 and 1992 (Figure A4). Therefore, the substantial increases in violent crime referrals between the classes of the 1980s and those of the 1990s were primarily the result of a greater number of youth being referred for a single violent offense and not the result of an increase in the level of repeat violent offending by members of the more recent graduating classes.Figure A4. Violent Careers With More Than One Violent Referral
Very few of the individuals in the 16 cohorts could be characterized as chronically violent offenders. Of the 151,209 youth in these 16 cohorts, 168 had four or more violent referrals in their court records. This was 0.1% of all referred youth and 1.4% of those youth ever referred for a violent offense. Even those with three or more violent referrals in their careers represent just 0.4% of all referred juveniles and 4.8% of violent juvenile offenders.
Chronic offenders. Juvenile policymakers have been actively concerned since the mid-1970s with the chronic offender. Popularized by Wolfgang, Figlio, and Sellin (1972), their [Page 437]study of police contacts in Philadelphia defined chronic offenders as that small portion of a birth cohort who are responsible for the majority of serious crimes committed by the cohort. In the Philadelphia cohort, for example, 18% of all the males with police contacts were responsible for 52% of all delinquent acts committed by the cohort. In the Philadelphia study, chronic offenders were those youth with five or more police contacts in their juvenile careers. A corresponding definition can be developed using juvenile court referrals. A study of the referral patterns of the complete set of 16 graduating classes finds that 14.6% of youth (those with four or more delinquency referrals before their 18th birthdays) were responsible for a disproportionate number of the cohort's serious referrals. More specifically, these chronic offenders were involved in 44.6% of all referrals, 39.3% of all nonserious referrals, 58.2% of serious nonviolent referrals, and 60.0% of violent referrals (Table A5).TABLE A5 Proportion of Referrals Involving Chronic Offenders (in percentages)
The later graduating classes contained greater proportions of chronic offenders (Table A6). The court records show that the proportion of each graduating cohort that were chronic offenders (those with four or more referrals) remained constant throughout the classes of the 1980s, averaging 13% of all cohort members (Figure A2). The classes of the early 1990s, however, displayed an abrupt increase in their chronic offender proportions, averaging 17% of the careers in the 1992 through 1995 graduating classes. As a result, chronic offenders in the graduating classes of the 1990s were involved in a greater proportion of referrals in all offense categories.TABLE A6 Trends in the Proportion of Chronic Careers
However, although the number and proportion of chronic careers grew over the cohorts, it is important to realize that the nature of the individual chronic career remained the [Page 438]same. Over the 16 graduating classes, chronic offenders averaged 6.56 referrals in their juvenile court career, were referred for 4.17 nonserious offenses, 1.98 serious nonviolent offenses, and 0.41 violent offenses (Table A7). These offense-specific referral rates for chronic offenders did not vary in any consistent manner across the classes, although the number of nonserious offense referrals in these careers did increase somewhat in the classes of 1993 through 1995. In all, the court records show that the later classes contained more (not more active, or more serious, or more violent) chronic offenders and that chronic offenders were generally responsible for a greater proportion of all types of referrals in the classes of 1992 through 1995 compared to previous classes.TABLE A7 Average Offense Profile of Chronic CareersCareer Attributes of Serious Juvenile Offenders
So far, we have largely been considering selected attributes of delinquent careers without considering their interrelationships. To help visualize the overlapping attributes of delinquent careers, it is useful to divide members of the referral cohorts into eight career categories, which can be labeled using a three-character career index. The first character [Page 439]of the career index is either a C or an X, indicating that the career has either four or more referrals (chronic, or C) or fewer than four referrals (not chronic, or X). The second character of the career index is either an S or an X, indicating whether the career contains a serious nonviolent offense (S) or not (X). The third character of the career index is either a V or an X, indicating whether the career contains a violent offense (V) or not (X). The career indexes are as follows:
- XXX: Nonchronic careers with no serious offenses
- XSX: Nonchronic careers with at least one serious nonviolent offense
- XXV: Nonchronic careers with at least one violent offense
- XSV: Nonchronic careers with at least one serious nonviolent and one violent offense
- CXX: Chronic careers with no serious offenses
- CSX: Chronic careers with at least one serious nonviolent offense
- CXV: Chronic careers with at least one violent offense
- CSV: Chronic careers with at least one serious nonviolent and one violent offense.
It should be noted that the entire chronic violent offender population is the combination of two groups: CXV and CSV.
Most youth referred to court were never charged with a serious offense (Table A8 and Figure A5). Nearly two thirds (63.9%) of juvenile court careers had fewer than four referrals and had no referrals for a serious offense (XXX). Another 2.5% of careers were chronic offenders with no serious offenses in their careers (CXX). In all, two thirds (66.4%) of all youth referred to juvenile court intake were never charged with a serious offense.TABLE A8 Frequency of Career TypesFigure A5. Anatomy of Delinquent Careers Highlighting the Joint Attributes of Chronicity, Serious Nonviolent, and Violent Referrals
Chronic and violent offenders (CXV and CSV) were 4.2% of the graduating classes. Although 83.0% of chronic offenders had at least one serious (i.e., violent or serious nonviolent) referral, the large majority of chronic offenders did not have a violent referral. More than three fourths (76.7%) of all chronic offenders (i.e., CXV, CSV, CSX, and CXX) had at least one serious nonviolent referral in their careers, and 29.0% had at least one violent referral. More than half (52.6%) of all violent offenders were also chronic offenders, and this proportion changed little over the 16 graduating [Page 440][Page 441]classes (Figure A6). Most (78.3%) of the chronic and violent offenders also had at least one serious nonviolent referral in their careers (CSV). In fact, the most common career type containing a violent offense referral was CSV chronic offenders with both a violent and a serious nonviolent referral in their careers. Nearly 3 of every 5 careers containing a serious nonviolent offense were not chronic (59.8%), and almost 7 of every 8 serious nonviolent careers did not contain a violent offense (86.5%).Figure A6. Proportion of Violent Careers That Were Also Chronic Careers
The existence of at least one serious nonviolent referral in a career was very common, even in relatively short careers (Figure A7). The court records show that 62% of careers with four referrals to juvenile court intake had at least one referral for a serious nonviolent offense. The likelihood of juveniles having a serious nonviolent offense in their careers was over 90% once the career reached nine referrals. In fact, over half of careers with nine referrals contain at least three separate referrals for a serious nonviolent offense.Figure A7. Proportion of Careers With Serious Nonviolent Referrals
The existence of a violent referral in a juvenile court career was directly related to the length of a career. As Figure A8 shows, the relation is almost linear, and the slope is far more gradual than that between serious nonviolent referrals and career length. It is as if each new referral to court increases a juvenile's likelihood of having a violent offense in his or her career. Youth with three referrals have a 5% greater likelihood of having a violent offense in their career than those with two referrals. Similarly, those with four referrals have a 5% greater likelihood than those with three referrals, as do careers with 12 referrals compared to those with 11 referrals. A similar linear relationship holds for the second violent referral.Figure A8. Proportion of Careers With Violent Referrals[Page 442]Conclusions
If this study's community and its juvenile justice system are typical of other jurisdictions in this country, practitioners and policymakers can take some comfort in the fact that the juvenile justice system is largely achieving its goal of successfully intervening in the lives of delinquent youth. First, the large majority of youth referred to the juvenile justice system were referred only once. Although many of these youth may have desisted from delinquent behavior on their own and some may have committed additional delinquent acts that were not detected by law enforcement, the fact is that 60% of those youth referred to juvenile court intake never returned for a new offense. Even the 8% of all referred youth who were charged with a violent offense rarely returned to court charged with a second violent act. In this community, five of every six of youth charged with a violent offense never returned on a new violent charge. If the public's concern is for repetitive violent youth, this study should help to put that concern in perspective—only 1% of all court-involved youth in the last 16 juvenile justice graduating classes were charged with two or more violent acts.
Practitioners and policymakers should also consider that the world may not be changing as rapidly as they believe. A larger proportion of youth are becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. However, it is not true that a new type of juvenile offender (e.g., a generation of violent predators) is emerging in our communities. Compared to the juvenile justice graduating classes of the early 1980s, those of the early 1990s had a somewhat greater proportion of referred youth charged with a violent offense, but the increase [Page 443]was not dramatic. In this study the juvenile justice graduating classes in the first half of the 1980s had about 8% of their members charged with a violent offense, compared to 10% in the first half of the 1990s. This is not evidence of a new type of violent offender, especially when it is remembered that the vast majority of violent offenders in the more recent classes (as in previous classes) were charged with only a single violent act.
If there were a new breed of serious juvenile offenders, the court's workload in serious nonviolent crime should also have increased; however, the proportion of a graduating class charged with a serious but nonviolent offense did not change over the 16 classes studied. In fact, much of the growth in referrals for the more recent graduating classes was a growth in referrals for nonserious offenses, an indication that the juvenile justice system may be spreading its net wider, bringing in more juveniles, not more serious juvenile offenders.
If our society were facing a new type of delinquent offender, this type of offender should be most apparent in the large urban areas in this country, such as the one studied in this research. Based on this study, the empirical evidence for a new type of offender is not there. Too often, changes in policy and practice are based on exceptions and rare events (e.g., the Willie Bosket case in New York or the 6-year-old charged with attempted murder in Richmond, California)—high-profile, unique cases that create the perceptions that drive change. With a growing population and the laws of probability, more of these outlandish events will occur. We must defend against having our understanding of juvenile crime and our evaluations of the juvenile justice system molded by these aberrations.
[Page 444]What we should remember is captured best in this study's finding of the relationship between career length and the existence of a violent crime referral in the career. From this study, it appears that each time a youth returns to court on a new charge there is a greater risk that it will be for a violent crime. To reduce juvenile violence, therefore, we must work to reduce the recidivism of juvenile offenders regardless of the act that has brought them to the attention of the juvenile justice system. And the earlier we successfully intervene in the career, the more effective the intervention will be in reducing the overall level of violence caused by the members of a juvenile justice graduating class. Waiting to intervene until the youth is officially labeled a violent offender will have little effect on the overall level of officially recognized violent crime because the large majority of this violence is tied to a youth who will commit only one officially recognized violent crime. By the time the label can be applied, the youth's officially recognized violence is over.Notes
1. The data used in this chapter were housed in and made available by the National Juvenile Court Data Archive, which is maintained by the National Center for Juvenile Justice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and supported by grants from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice. The data were originally collected by the Maricopa County Juvenile Court. The Maricopa County Juvenile Court bears no responsibility for the analyses or the interpretations presented herein, although the court has reviewed a draft of the chapter and has given its permission for the author to identify the source of the data.
2. Much of the significant research on the nature of juvenile law-violating careers describes the behavior of youth who passed through their juvenile law-violating years in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Many policymakers believe that children today are much different than children 20 years ago. This graduating class terminology emphasizes the timeliness of the information in this chapter.
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