Prevention works better and is cheaper than treatment. The sobering reality is that improving to the optimum extent how juvenile criminals are treated once they are apprehended will only reduce recidivism by at most 10 percent. While keeping 10 percent from continually recycling through the juvenile justice systemand ultimately, the adult systemwould free significant resources, the fact is that prevention and early intervention hold far more promise than good rehabilitation programs for actually reducing crime.
Children are much harder to “fix” once they have become criminals than they are when they first show signs of deviant or anti-social behavior. 5 Personal accountability for actions and decisions is the cornerstone of a civilized society. Children should be taughtboth at home and in schoolsinformed decision-making processes. And they should learn that, in theory and in practice, there are swift consequences for poor decisions and both tangible and intangible rewards for good decisions.
To reinforce these lessons, all of the actors within the juvenile justice system, from the policeman on the beat to the judge in juvenile court, must strive to make the system work more effectively in providing consequences at all levels of criminal severity. The juvenile justice system is a complex web of people and agencies that processes about a quarter of a million youths annually at a cost exceeding $1 billion. To understand the system requires a baseline knowledge of the statistical trends during the past decade that have shaped the system’s ability to function and the roles played by the various components of the system.
Academic experts have long recognized that crime is a young man’s game. The typical criminal is a male who begins his career at 14 or 15, continues thorough his mid-20s and then tapers off into retirement. Three statistics demonstrate the disproportionate impact of those under the age of 18 on criminal activity; while comprising roughly one-sixth of the nation’s population, they make up a full one-quarter of all people arrested and account for nearly one-third of the arrests for the seven crimes in the uniform crime index(homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, vehicle theft and larceny).
Statistics show that somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of all boys growing up in an urbanized area in the United States will be arrested before their 18th birthday…although juveniles account for only a small proportion of the total population, older juveniles have the highest arrest rates of any age group. Furthermore, studies of criminal careers have demonstrated that one of the best predictors of sustained and serious adult criminality is the age of initiation and seriousness of the delinquent career.
6 Risk factorsResearch shows a small number of juveniles commit crime. Furthermore, of those juveniles who do commit one or two offenses. For these individuals, the experience of the juvenile justice systembeing arrested by a law enforcement officer, facing their parents, having to spend a night in juvenile hall, interacting with a probation officer or a judgeis enough to keep them from offending again. Failure in schoolthis factor manifests itself at an early age.
Failure at school includes poor academic performance, poor attendance, or more likely, explusion or dropping out of school. This is an important factor for predicting future criminal behavior. Leaving school early reduces the chance that juveniles will develop the “social” skills that are gained in school, such as learning to meet deadlines, following instructions, and being able to deal constructively with their peers.
Social Factors — Changes in the American social structure may indirectly affect juvenile crime rates. For example, changes in the economy that lead to fewer job opportunities for youth and rising unemployment in general. This factor includes a history of criminal activity in the family. It also includes juveniles who have been subject to sexual or physical abuse, neglect, or abandonment. It is also manifested by a lack of parental control over the child.