Juvenile Crime

views updated

Chapter 9
Juvenile Crime


Howard N. Snyder and Melissa Sickmund of the National Center for Juvenile Justice, in Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report (2006, http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/ojstatbb/nr2006/downloads/NR2006.pdf), observe that "in most states, the juvenile court has original jurisdiction over all youth charged with a law violation who were younger than age eighteen at the time of the offense, arrest, or referral to court."

As of 2004, thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia retained juvenile court jurisdiction over offenders aged seventeen; ten states had an upper age limit of sixteen for juveniles; and three states limited juvenile court jurisdiction to those aged fifteen and younger. (See Table 9.1.) Many states place certain young offenders in the jurisdiction of the criminal court rather than the juvenile court based on the youth's age, offense, or previous court history.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) compiles the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) annually. In Crime in the United States, 2005 (September 2006, http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/05cius/index.html), the UCR notes that in 2005 juveniles accounted for 1.6 million arrests, or 15.3% of all arrests, in the United States. Juveniles under age eighteen accounted for 5,834 (48.6%) of all arson arrests, 76,817 (37.2%) of all vandalism arrests, and 148,795 (29.7%) of all disorderly conduct arrests. (See Table 1.5 in Chapter 1.)

According to the UCR, between 1996 and 2005 the number of juvenile arrests decreased by 24.9%. The number of juveniles arrested for motor vehicle theft dropped by 54% during this period, and 52.1% fewer juveniles were arrested for forgery and counterfeiting. Furthermore, arrests of juveniles for buying, receiving, and possessing stolen property were down 47.8%. However, the number of juveniles arrested for prostitution and commercialized vice increased by 20.3% between 1996 and 2005 and the number arrested for disorderly conduct grew by 3.3%.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) reports in the OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book (September 8, 2006, http://ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/ojstatbb/) that an estimated 2.2 million juveniles were arrested in 2004. This number represents a decrease of 22% from 1995 and a decrease of 2% from 2003. (See Table 9.2.) Most of the juveniles who were arrested were males and were age fifteen or older. The only categories of crime in which juveniles under fifteen accounted for the majority of juvenile arrests were arson (61%) and sex offenses other than forcible rape and prostitution (51%). Juveniles under age fifteen accounted for about four out of ten juvenile arrests for forcible rape, larceny-theft, vandalism, and disorderly conduct. Arrest rates for female juvenile offenders in 2004 were highest for prostitution and commercialized vice (72% of all juvenile arrests for these crimes), running away (59%), larceny-theft (42%), offenses against family and children (38%), and embezzlement (37%).

Handling of Juvenile Arrests

Police have a variety of options when dealing with juvenile offenders. According to the UCR, 20.2% of all juvenile cases in 2005 were handled within the police department, and the offenders were released. (See Table 9.3.) Some 7.4% were referred to criminal or adult court, whereas 70.7% were referred to juvenile court. Rural counties were more likely than metropolitan and suburban counties to refer cases to criminal or adult court (14%), whereas metropolitan counties were more likely than suburban or rural counties to refer cases to juvenile court (73.8%). Cities with populations over 250,000 were more likely than smaller cities to handle cases within the police department (31.5%), whereas cities with populations of 100,000 to 249,000 were more likely to refer juveniles to juvenile courts (73.7%) than larger or smaller cities.

Oldest age for original juvenile court jurisdiction in delinquency matters, 2004
Source: Howard N. Snyder and Melissa Sickmund, "Oldest Age for Original Juvenile Court Jurisdiction in Delinquency Matters, 2004," in Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Justice and Juvenile Delinquency Prevention, 2006, http://ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/ojstatbb/nr2006/downloads/chapter4.pdf (accessed January 25, 2007)
15Connecticut, New York, North Carolina
16Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin
17Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming
Estimated number of juvenile arrests, 2004
Most serious offense2004 estimated number of juvenile arrestsPercent of total juvenile arrestsPercent change
FemaleUnder age 15199504200004200304
Source: "Juvenile Arrests: Estimated Number of Juvenile Arrests, 2004," in OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, September 8, 2006, http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/ojstatbb/crime/qa05101.asp?qaDate=2004 (accessed January 24, 2007)
Violent crime index91,10019%32%31%5%1%
Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter1,1109%12%63%8%0%
Forcible rape4,2103%38%22%10%0%
Aggravated assault60,45024%35%23%6%2%
Property crime index452,30034%36%40%15%3%
Motor vehicle theft39,30017%25%53%21%9%
Other assaults249,90033%43%8%7%1%
Forgery and counterfeiting4,90034%15%47%31%5%
Stolen property (buying, receiving, possessing)23,30017%27%49%18%4%
Weapons (carrying, possessing, etc.)40,50011%35%30%11%6%
Prostitution and commercialized vice1,80072%12%36%44%7%
Sex offenses (except forcible rape and prostitution)18,0009%51%12%3%0%
Drug abuse violations193,90017%17%4%6%2%
Offenses against the family and children5,80038%35%24%30%10%
Driving under the influence19,90021%2%20%10%3%
Liquor law violations130,20035%10%4%22%5%
Disorderly conduct198,80032%42%2%7%2%
All other offenses (except traffic)379,00028%28%13%11%2%
Curfew and loitering137,40031%29%15%12%8%

Arrest Rates by Gender

Even though the majority of juveniles arrested are males, the number of female arrests has decreased less in recent years than the male arrests in most categories. According to Howard N. Snyder of the National Center for Juvenile Justice, in Juvenile Arrests in 2004 (December 2006, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/214563.pdf), between 1980 and 2004 the number of females arrested for aggravated assault grew by 93%, compared to 11% for males. Similarly, the number of juveniles arrested for simple assault increased by 290% for females and 106% for males, and for weapons law violations by 160% for females and 22% for males.

The UCR reports that in 2005, 70% of arrested juveniles were male and 30% were female. The ratio of juvenile male to female arrests was even higher for violent crime: in 2005, 82% were male and 18% were female. Even though more male juveniles were arrested for most types of crimes than female juveniles, more female juveniles were arrested for prostitution and commercialized vice (668 females versus 202 males) and running away (39,809 females versus 28,987 males). About half as many females as males were arrested for fraud (1,714 females versus 3,065 males), offenses against the family and children (1,173 females versus 1,894 males), and curfew and loitering law violations (26,589 females versus 61,069 males).

Police disposition of juvenile offenders taken into custody, 2005
[2005 estimated population]
Population groupTotalaHandled within department and releasedReferred to juvenile court jurisdictionReferred to welfare agencyReferred to other police agencyReferred to criminal or adult courtNumber of agencies2005 estimated population
aIncludes all offenses except traffic and neglect cases.
bBecause of rounding, the percentages may not add to 100.0.
cSuburban area includes law enforcement agencies in cities with less than 50,000 inhabitants and county law enforcement agencies that are within a metropolitan statistical area. Suburban area excludes all metropolitan agencies associated with a principal city. The agencies associated with suburban areas also appear in other groups within this table.
Source: "Table 68. Police Disposition of Juvenile Offenders Taken into Custody, 2005," in Crime in the United States 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, September 2006, http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/05cius/data/table_68.html (accessed January 24, 2007)
    Total agencies:Number660,974133,664467,2882,4618,80848,7535,138120,999,116
    Total citiesNumber553,741116,983389,5131,9036,33039,0123,92685,869,567
Group I (250,000 and over)Number133,47442,04490,2051434536293022,983,307
Group II (100,000 to 249,999)Number75,91814,15255,9471322,0203,6679013,382,824
Group III (50,000 to 99,999)Number101,90120,67572,6436561,4776,45022715,306,602
Group IV (25,000 to 49,999)Number77,52213,61356,1573471,2826,12335612,452,163
Group V (10,000 to 24,999)Number90,27214,59263,23336048211,60579912,789,350
Group VI (under 10,000)Number74,65411,90751,32826561610,5382,4248,955,321
Metropolitan countiesNumber83,41212,92361,5313692,1876,40256626,400,332
Nonmetropolitan countiesNumber23,8213,75816,2441892913,3396468,729,217
Suburban areacNumber286,78750,915200,4941,4993,73730,1423,13659,655,663

Arrests by Race

As with adult arrest rates, minorities are disproportionately represented in juvenile arrests. The UCR reports that even though African-American youths comprise roughly 15% of the total juvenile population, of nearly 1.6 million juvenile arrests in 2005, 469,382 (29.9%) of those arrested were African-American and 1 million (67.5%) were white.

According to Snyder, a majority (78%) of all juveniles arrested in 2004 were white, 17% were African-American, 4% were Asian or Pacific Islander, and 1% were Native American (most Hispanics were classified as white). Of juveniles arrested for violent crimes in 2004, 52% were white and 46% were African-American, and for property crimes, 69% were white and 28% were African-American. Table 9.4 shows the African-American proportion of juveniles arrested in 2004 for a variety of both violent and property offenses. Of all juveniles arrested for murder, for example, half (50%) were African-American. African-Americans made up 63% of juveniles arrested for robbery, 40% for motor vehicle theft, 39% for aggravated assault, and 37% for simple assault.

Arrests of African-American youths as a percentage of all juvenile arrests, 2004
Most serious offenseBlack proportion of juvenile arrests in 2004
Source: Howard N. Snyder, "Juvenile Arrests Disproportionately Involved Minorities," in Juvenile Arrests 2004, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, December 2006, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/214563.pdf (accessed February 19, 2007)
Forcible rape34
Aggravated assault39
Simple assault37
Motor vehicle theft40
Drug abuse violations27
Liquor laws 5

Snyder reports that in 2004 the rate of arrests for African-American juveniles was 746 per 100,000 juveniles, whereas for white juveniles it was 182 per 100,000, for Native American juveniles, 173 per 100,000, and for Asian juveniles, 78 per 100,000. The rate of property crime arrests for African-American juveniles was 2,288 per 100,000, for Native American juveniles, 1,300 per 100,000, for white juveniles, 1,198 per 100,000, and for Asian juveniles, 557 per 100,000.

According to Snyder, between 1980 and 2004 the difference in arrest rates for African-American and white juveniles decreased. In 1980 the violent crime arrest rate for African-Americans was 6.3 times higher than the white rate; this difference had decreased to 4.1 by 2004. The decrease in the arrest rate differences was mostly due to the decline in differences in arrest rates for robbery from 11.5 in 1980 to 8.4 in 2004.

According to the OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, the African-American juvenile arrest rate reached its highest point in 1995 and has since declined. For white, Asian, and Native American juveniles, "the arrest rates peaked in 1996. Between their peak years and 2005, the juvenile arrest rates declined for each racial group: the decline was 35% for black juveniles, 57% for Asians, 34% for whites, and 33% for American Indians."

Percent distribution of juveniles taken into police custody, 19722004
[By method of disposition]
Referred to juvenile court jurisdictionHandled within department and releasedReferred to criminal or adult courtReferred to other police agencyReferred to welfare agency
Note: These data include all offenses except traffic and neglect cases. Because of rounding, percents may not add to 100.
Source: Ann L. Pastore and Kathleen Maguire, editors, "Table 4.26.2004. Percent Distribution of Juveniles Taken into Police Custody, by Method of Disposition, United States, 19722004," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2003, 31st ed., U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005, http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t4262004.pdf (accessed February 19, 2007)

Disposition of Juveniles Arrested

A change in the disposition of juveniles arrested appeared in the 1970s. According to Ann L. Pastore and Kathleen Maguire of the Utilization of Criminal Justice Statistics Project, in the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2003 (2005, http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/), in 1972, 50.8% of those arrested were referred to juvenile courts and 45% were handled within police departments and released; only 1.3% were transferred by referral to criminal or adult courts. (See Table 9.5.) By 2004 cases handled internally (followed by release) had dropped to 20.8%. The majority of cases were referred to juvenile court (69.5%). The cases referred to adult jurisdictions had escalated to 7.9% of all cases.

Violent Crimes

The OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book reports that the rate of juvenile arrests for violent crimes increased dramatically in the late 1980s and early 1990s, peaking in 1994 at 525.4 per 100,000 youths aged ten to seventeen. Between 1994 and 2004 juvenile arrests for Violent Crime Index offenses (murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) declined by 49% to a rate of 269.5 arrests for every 100,000 people aged ten to seventeen. (See Figure 9.1.) For juveniles fifteen to seventeen years of age, the Violent Crime Index arrest rate declined by 43% between 1994 and 2001, compared to a 23% decline for adults eighteen to twenty-four years of age, a 27% drop for arrestees twenty-five to twenty-nine years old, and a 19% decline for adult arrestees thirty to thirty-nine years of age.

Since the 1990s the largest decline in juvenile violent crime arrests is in the murder rate. According to the OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, arrests of juveniles for murder peaked in 1993. Between 1993 and 2004 this rate had dropped by 77% to 1,110 arrests.

The OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book notes that juvenile arrest rates for forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault also declined from their peak levels in the early to mid-1990s. Between 1980 and 1991 the juvenile arrest rate for forcible rape increased by 44%, from 15.9 to 23. By 2004 the rate had fallen to 12.4, a decrease of 22% from its 1980 level. Between 1995 and 2002 the juvenile arrest rate for robbery fell from 198.9 to 75, a decrease of 62%; however, since 2002 this rate has been slowly rising. The juvenile arrest rate for aggravated assault fell by 39% between 1994 and 2004, from 293.2 to 178.1. Regardless, the 2004 rate was still 23% higher than it was in 1980 (144.3).

Property Crimes

The OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book reports that from 1980 to 2004 the juvenile arrest rate for Property Crime Index offenses (burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson) declined by 47% to a twenty-five-year low, from 2,562.2 to 1,345.4. (See Figure 9.2.) Consistent with a twenty-year trend, in 2001 the Property Crime Index arrest rates were higher for sixteen-year-olds than for any other age group. Adults aged thirty to forty-nine comprised the only age group to register a higher arrest rate in 2001 than in 1980.

According to the OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, between 1994 and 2004 the juvenile arrest rate for burglary declined from 479.6 to 239.9, a decrease of nearly 50%. Compared to 1980, when 230,500 juveniles were arrested for burglary, only 81,600 juveniles were arrested for this offense in 2004. After remaining relatively constant between 1980 and 1997, the juvenile arrest rate for larceny-theft had declined from 1,597.2 in 1997 to 967.4 in 2004, a decrease of 39%. In 2004 females accounted for 43% of all juvenile arrests for larceny-theft. Between 1983 and 1990 the juvenile arrest rate for motor vehicle theft rose by 137%, from 146.1 to 347. Between 1990 and 2004 this rate declined to 116.5. After rising by 55%, from 22 in 1987 to 34.1 in 1994, the number of juvenile arson arrests declined by 36% to 21.7 in 2004, its lowest point since 1983.

Drug Abuse Violations

The OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book indicates that the juvenile arrest rate for drug abuse violations increased from 291.6 in 1983 to 745.7 in 1997, a rise of 155%. (See Figure 9.3.) By 2004 the arrest rate declined 23% to 576. However, the 2004 arrest rate was still almost twice the 1990 rate (304.1). The arrest rate for female juveniles increased much more rapidly than for males; between 1990 and 2004 the arrest rate for females increased 194%, from 69.4 to 204.3, compared to 76% for males, from 526.9 to 929.8.


Schools and neighborhoods can be dangerous places for many young Americans. Knives, revolvers, and even shotguns turn up in searches of school lockers. News reports describe incidents of children being shot on playgrounds or of youths firing rifles as they cruise the streets in cars. The use of deadly weapons in violent incidents has increased fear among citizens of all ages.

The OJJDP explains in Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report that murders committed by juveniles increased more than 200% from 1,010 in 1984 to 3,125 in 2002 (http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/ojstatbb/nr2006/downloads/chapter3.pdf). Murders of nonrelatives by juveniles using firearms increased 345% from 566 in 1984 to 2,519 in 1994, accounting for 90% of the overall increase in murders by juveniles during that period. Murders by juveniles declined steadily after 1994 to 1,067 in 2002; 80% of this decrease was due to the drop in murders of nonfamily members by juvenile males with a firearm. In 2002, 698 victims of juvenile murders were killed with a firearm.

Of known juvenile offenders who committed murder between 1993 and 2002, 74% used a firearm. Males were twice as likely to use a firearm as females77% compared with 35%. Those aged seventeen were more likely than younger juveniles to use a firearm when committing murder; 77% of seventeen-year-olds used a gun compared with 74% of sixteen-year-olds and 70% of those younger than age sixteen. African-American youth were more likely to use a gun (80%) than white youth (66%).

According to the 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (June 9, 2006, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/SS/SS5505.pdf), 6.5% of U.S. high school students said in 2005 that they had carried a weapon (such as a gun, knife, or club) on school property in the past thirty days. Males (10.2%) were more likely to say that they carried a weapon at school than females (2.6%). In addition, 18.5% of students said that they had carried a gun (anywhere) in the previous thirty days.


As reported by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2006 (December 2006, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/2007003.pdf), students 12 to 18 years of age were the victims of approximately 1.4 million nonfatal crimes at school during the 200405 school year. Of these crimes, most were thefts (863,000). Of the 583,000 violent crimes, 107,000 included rape, sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated assault.

Among young people aged five to eighteen, there were twenty-one homicides that occurred at school, on the way to or from school, or at a school-related event during the 200405 school year, a considerable increase from the eleven counted in 200001. However, the 200405 number is still lower than the number of homicides of school-aged youth for most years during the 1990s, when the numbers of school-related murders ranged from twenty-eight to thirty-four per year. There were also seven suicides of students at school in 200405. The rate of homicide or suicide of a school-aged youth at school was about one per two million students in 200405.

In 2005, 25% of students in grades 9-12 reported that drugs were readily available on school property, and 8% of students reported that they had been threatened or injured with a weapon while on school property during the previous 12 months. Some 14% of students in grades 9-12 reported that they had been in a fight on school property during the previous 12 months. In addition 4% of high school students had consumed at least one alcoholic drink, and 5% had used marijuana on school property during the past thirty days.

Approximately 6% of students aged twelve to eighteen reported in 2005 that they were afraid of being attacked or harmed at school, and 5% were afraid of being attacked or harmed elsewhere. The percentage of students who said that they were afraid of being attacked at school (including on the way to or from school) dropped from 12% to 6% between 1995 and 2001 and has remained steady since that time. African-American (9%) and Hispanic (10%) students were more likely than white (4%) students to be afraid of being attacked or harmed. Some 6% of students aged twelve to eighteen said fear of attack had led them to avoid a school activity or some part of their school during the previous six months; 2% avoided a school activity and 4% avoided certain places in school. Students in urban areas were more likely (6%) to avoid places in school than suburban (4%) and rural (4%) students.

School Shootings

Despite the relative safety of schools, several school shootings have received national media attention in the past several years.

  • April 16, 2007: Cho Seung-Hui, a twenty-three-year-old student at Virginia Tech, opened fire at the school and killed thirty-two people before shooting himself. Some of those killed were still in their teens. Considered the worst school shooting in U.S. history, the incident was followed by bomb threats and other threats of violence at various schools across the country, prompting school administrators, politicians, parents, and students to once again review safety procedures and new ways to keep the learning environment safe.
  • October 3, 2006: Thirty-two-year-old Charles Roberts IV shot ten schoolgirls aged six to thirteen years old at the one-room West Nickel Mines Amish School in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, before shooting himself. Five of the girls and Roberts died.
  • March 21, 2005: A sixteen-year-old killed his grandfather and companion. He then went to Red Lake High School in Red Lake, Minnesota, and killed five students, a security guard, a teacher, and finally himself.
  • April 14, 2003: One fifteen-year-old student was killed and three were wounded at John McDonogh High School in New Orleans, Louisiana, by gunfire from four teenagers (none was a student at the school).
  • March 5, 2001: Two were killed and thirteen wounded at Santee High School in Santana, California, when a student opened fire from a school bathroom.
  • February 29, 2000: A six-year-old student was killed at Theo J. Buell Elementary School near Flint, Michigan, by a fellow student (also six years old) who brought a handgun to school.
  • April 20, 1999: Twelve students and a teacher were fatally shot at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, by students Eric Harris, eighteen, and Dylan Klebold, seventeen, who eventually killed themselves after an hour-long rampage.

Nonfatal School Crimes

According to Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2006, between 1992 and 2004 the victimization rates for students aged twelve to eighteen declined both at school and away from school. This decrease applied to total crime rates, as well as rates of theft, violent crime, and serious violent crime. The total crime and theft victimization rates for students at school were lower in 2004 than 2003. Specifically, the victimization rate for students aged twelve to eighteen at school decreased from 73 per 1,000 students in 2003 to 45 per 1,000 in 2004, and theft victimization rates declined from 45 per 1,000 students in 2003 to 33 per 1,000 in 2004.

Older students (aged fifteen to eighteen) were less likely to be victims of crime at school than younger students (aged twelve to fourteen). Female students were less likely to be crime victims or victims of serious violent crimes at school than male students. Also, in 2005, no measurable differences were detected in the percentages of white, African-American, or Hispanic students who reported being victims of any crime, or of theft or violent crime. However, students in urban schools were more likely (5%) to report being a crime victim or a victim of theft (4%) than students in rural schools (3% for crime victimization, 2% for theft victimization).

Crimes against Teachers

Teachers are also subject to violence in the schools, either committed by students or by people from outside the school. Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2006 observes that a smaller percentage of teachers reported that they had been threatened with injury or physically attacked by a student during the previous twelve months in 200304 (7%) than in 199394 (12%) or 19992000 (9%).

Some 10% of teachers in central city schools were threatened with injury by students in 200304, compared with 6% of teachers in urban fringe schools and 5% in rural schools. In addition, 5% of teachers in central city schools were attacked by students, compared with 3% in urban fringe and 2% in rural schools. Female teachers were more likely (9%) than male teachers (6%) to have been threatened with injury by a student; they were also more likely than male teachers to have been physically attacked (4% versus 3%).


Although gangs have been a part of American life since the early eighteenth century, modern street gangs pose a greater threat to public safety and order than ever before. Many gangs originated as social clubs. In the early twentieth century, most were small groups who engaged in delinquent acts or minor crimes, such as fighting with other gangs. By the late twentieth century, however, they were frequently involved in violence, intimidation, and the illegal trafficking of drugs and weapons. An increasing number supported themselves by the sale of crack cocaine, heroin, and other illegal drugs, and had easy access to high-powered guns and rifles.

In "Highlights of the 2004 National Youth Gang Survey" (April 2006, http://www.iir.com/nygc/publications/fs200601.pdf), Arlen Egley Jr. and Christina E. Ritz of the National Youth Gang Survey (NYGS) note that by 2004 there were an estimated 24,000 active gangs in the United States with approximately 760,000 participating gang members. Although this represented an overall decline of 2% from 2000 levels, a higher percentage of cities reported gang problems in the 200204 period than they did in the 19992001 period. Approximately 85% of the estimated gang members lived in larger cities and suburban counties in 2004. Almost four out of five (79.8%) larger cities (population 50,000 or more), 40% of suburban counties, 28.4% of smaller cities (population 2,500 to 49,999), and 12.3% of rural counties reported gang problems in the 200204 period.

According to data from the NYGS, an overwhelming majority of gang members are male. In the National Youth Gang Survey, 19992001 (July 2006, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/209392.pdf), Egley, James C. Howell, and Aline K. Major estimate that only 10% of gang members are female. Law enforcement agencies reported in the 2001 NYGS that approximately half of all gang members were Hispanic, whereas about one-third were African-American and one out of ten gang members was non-Hispanic white. Another 5% were Asian. Minorities are overrepresented among gang members because gangs typically arise and persist in economically disadvantaged and socially disorganized areas, and minority populations are overrepresented in these communities.


Curfews for young people have existed off and on since the 1890s, when curfews were enacted to curb crime among immigrant youths. States and cities tend to pass curfew ordinances when citizens perceive a need to maintain more control over juveniles. Because of the rising juvenile crime rates in the late 1980s and early 1990s, more than 1,000 jurisdictions across the United States imposed youth curfews. Most curfew laws restrict juveniles to their homes or property between the hours of 11 P.M. and 6 A.M. weekdays, allowing them to stay out later on weekends. The laws allow exceptions for young people going to and from school, church events, or work and for those who have a family emergency or are accompanied by their parents.

Critics of curfew ordinances argue that they violate the constitutional rights of children and parents. First, Fourth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, they argue, are endangered by curfew lawsespecially the rights of free speech and association, privacy, and equal protection. The critics also argue that no studies have proven the effectiveness of curfew laws.

Are Curfews Successful in Reducing Crime?

To be successful, curfews need sustained enforcement and community support and involvement. Other factors for success include creating recreational, educational, and job opportunities for juveniles; building antidrug and anti-gang programs; and providing hotlines for community questions or problems.

The National League of Cities surveyed officials from 436 cities about youth curfews in 2005 (http://www.nlc.org/Newsroom/press_room/7831.cfm). More than half of these cities had implemented a daytime or nighttime curfew at the time of the survey. Almost all (96%) of the officials regarded their curfew laws as very or somewhat effective in fighting juvenile crime in their communities, and 93% said that curfew enforcement is a good use of police officers' time. Nine out of ten surveyed officials (89%) thought that youth curfews were somewhat or very effective in limiting gang violence, and 95% reported no increase in police costs associated with curfews.

In 78% of communities police were trained to recognize signs of troubled youth and refer them as needed to such services as teen shelters, mental health institutions, recreation programs, and local nonprofit agencies.


The OJJDP publishes statistics on juvenile court cases and on juvenile cases sent for trial in adult criminal court. The OJJDP uses two categories of juvenile crime:

  • Delinquency offensesacts that are illegal regardless of the age of the perpetrator
  • Status offensesacts that are illegal only for minors, such as truancy, running away, or curfew violations

Juvenile courts handled 1.6 million delinquency cases in 2003, 2% less than in 1999 but 42% more than in 1985. (See Table 9.6.) A case can include more than one charge. For example, a youth brought on three different robbery charges at the same time is counted as one case. According to the OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, between 1985 and 1996 the total delinquency case rate increased by 43%, from 43.7 to 62.7. By 2003 this rate had declined to 52.2, a 17% decrease from 1996. Despite this recent decline, delinquency case rates were higher in 2003 than in 1985.

According to the OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, juvenile courts take delinquency cases referred by law enforcement agencies, social service agencies, schools, parents, probation officers, or victims. In 2003 law enforcement agencies referred 81% of delinquency cases to juvenile court. Figure 9.4 shows juvenile court processing for a typical one thousand delinquency cases in 2003.

Estimated number of delinquency cases, 2003
Number of casesPercent change
1985 to 20031994 to 20031999 to 20032002 to 2003
aIncludes criminal homicide, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
bIncludes burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.
Note: Detail may not add to totals because of rounding. Percent-change calculations are based on unrounded numbers.
Source: "Juvenile Court Cases: Estimated Number of Delinquency Cases, 2003," in OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, September 8, 2006, http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/ojstatbb/court/qa06201.asp?qaDate=2003 (accessed January 24, 2007)
    Total delinquency1,628,80042%2%2%0%
Person offenses396,200118%10%5%2%
Criminal homicide2,00068%32%2%12%
Forcible rape5,10022%16%23%9%
Aggravated assault44,20024%42%9%5%
Simple assault280,300184%37%9%2%
Other violent sex offenses16,300144%44%41%1%
Other person offenses25,000143%16%18%3%
Property offenses615,50012%29%11%2%
Motor vehicle theft37,1004%40%4%0%
Stolen property offenses21,70022%39%19%0%
Other property offenses23,50031%17%10%10%
Drug law violations189,500153%46%1%1%
Public order offenses427,600121%40%6%2%
Obstruction of justice208,500213%87%11%7%
Disorderly conduct102,700133%25%13%4%
Weapons offenses37,80094%26%1%8%
Liquor law violations27,10047%72%15%3%
Nonviolent sex offenses15,00010%43%14%2%
Other public order offenses36,40017%8%26%7%
Violent crime indexa74,50013%39%7%6%
Property crime indexb425,60017%30%10%2%

Out of 1.6 million cases in 2003, there were 615,500 (38%) property offense cases, with the most frequent charge being larceny-theft, which accounted for 278,000 (or 17%) delinquency cases. (See Table 9.6.) About 396,200 (24%) of delinquency cases involved an offense against people. Public order offenses, such as disorderly conduct, weapons offenses, and liquor law violations, amounted to 427,600 (26%) cases. Drug law violations made up 189,500 (or 12%) of total cases, a 46% increase since 1994.

The OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book reports that even though the number of delinquency cases rose by 42% from 1985 to 2003, the increases varied by offense. The number of cases involving obstruction of justice increased by 213%, followed by simple assault (184% increase), disorderly conduct (133%), and weapons offenses (94%). The number of delinquency cases for some crimes decreased between 1985 and 2003; for example, the number of burglary cases decreased by 27%, stolen property offenses by 22%, and larceny-thefts by 15%.


In 2003 delinquency case rates increased with age across all offense categories. (See Figure 9.5.) The steepest increase in case rates between ages thirteen and seventeen was for drug offenses. The case rate for all categories of crime (person, property, drugs, and public order) was higher at age seventeen than at younger ages.


No nationwide uniform procedure exists for processing juvenile cases, but cases do follow similar paths. An intake department first screens cases. The intake department can be the court itself, a state department of social services, or a prosecutor's office. The intake officer may decide that the case will be dismissed for lack of evidence, handled formally (petitioned), or resolved informally (nonpetitioned). Formal processing can include placement outside the home, probation, a trial in juvenile court, or transfer to an adult court. Informal processing may consist of referral to a social services agency, a fine, some form of restitution, or informal probation. Both formal and informal processing can result in dismissal of the charges and release of the juvenile.

According to the OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, in 2003, 39% of delinquency cases were either adjudicated or waived to criminal court, up from 29% in 1985. During this period the number of adjudicated delinquency cases that resulted in formal probation doubled from 1985 to 2003. The number of adjudicated delinquency cases receiving other court-ordered sanctions (such as community service and restitution) increased by 124% between 1985 and 2003. (See Figure 9.6.)


Juvenile courts may place youths in a detention facility during court processing. Detention may be needed to protect the community from the juvenile, to protect the juvenile, or both. In addition, detention is sometimes necessary to ensure a youth's appearance at scheduled hearings or evaluations.

According to the OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, youths were held in detention facilities at some point between referral to court intake and case disposition (final outcome of court processing) in 20% of all delinquency cases handled in 2003. A higher percentage of cases involving public order offenses (30%) included detention than people (29%), drug offenses (23%), or property offenses (19%).

There were 257,900 white youths detained in 2003, compared to 141,888 African-Americans, 6,300 Asians, and 5,100 Native Americans. The percent of juveniles who were detained at one point or another between referral to court and case disposition was 26% of delinquency cases involving Asians, 25% for African-Americans, 19% for Native Americans, and 18% for whites.


Juvenile courts date to the late nineteenth century, when Cook County, Illinois, established the first juvenile court under the Juvenile Court Act of 1899. The underlying concept was that if parents failed to provide children with proper care and supervision, the state had the right to intervene benevolently. Other states followed Illinois's initiative. Juvenile courts were in operation in most states by 1925. Juvenile courts favored a rehabilitative rather than a punitive approach and evolved less formal approaches than those in place in adult courts. They had exclusive jurisdiction over juveniles. Adult courts could try a juvenile only if the juvenile court waived its jurisdiction.

This approach began to change in the 1950s and 1960s because rehabilitation techniques were judged to be ineffective. A growing number of juveniles were being institutionalized until they reached adulthood because "treatment" did not seem to modify their behavior. Under the impetus of a number of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, juvenile courts became more formal to protect juveniles' rights in waiver situations or if they were to be confined. Congress passed the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act in 1968. The act suggested that so-called "status offenders" (noncriminal offenders such as runaways) no longer be handled inside the court system. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 mandated that juvenile offenders be separated from adult offenders. The act was amended in 1980; part of the amendment required that juveniles be removed from adult jails. In the 1970s the national policy became community-based management of juvenile delinquents.

Prosecuting Juveniles as Adults

Public perception changed again during the 1980s. Juvenile crime was growing, and the systems in place were perceived as being too lenient in dealing with delinquents. According to the OJJDP in Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, public opinion was based on a "substantial misperception regarding increases in juvenile crime." Nonetheless, state legislatures responded in various ways:

Some laws removed certain classes of offenders from the juvenile justice system and handled them as adult criminals in criminal court. Others required the juvenile justice system to be more like the criminal justice system and to treat certain classes of juvenile offenders as criminals but in juvenile court.

As a result, offenders charged with certain offenses now are excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction or face mandatory or automatic waiver to criminal court. In several states, concurrent jurisdiction provisions give prosecutors the discretion to file certain juvenile cases directly in criminal court rather than juvenile court. In some states, certain adjudicated juvenile offenders face mandatory sentences.

Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, Chapter 4, p. 96

The National Center for Juvenile Justice reports that as of 2006, all states allow juveniles to be tried in criminal court under some circumstances (http://www.ncjj.org/stateprofiles/overviews/transfer_state_overview.asp). These circumstances include the use of firearms or other weapons and a history of criminality, indicating that the individual has not benefited from previous participation in juvenile justice programs. Forty-five states allow juvenile court judges to determine whether individual suspects are prosecuted in juvenile or adult criminal court. States without discretionary waiver provisions are Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, and New York. Fifteen states allow prosecutors to determine whether to file cases in juvenile or adult criminal court. Twenty-nine states have laws that determine which court holds jurisdiction over cases, depending on the age of the suspect and the crime committed.

Cases can also be transferred from criminal court to juvenile court under certain circumstances. States that allow prosecutors to file charges directly in criminal court often have provisions for a judicial review hearing once the case is underway in adult court. In some cases the laws require certain types of cases to be waived to criminal court, but juveniles are given an opportunity to appeal the transfer if they can show extraordinary circumstances. According to the National Juvenile Justice Network (2005, http://www.njjn.org/fastfacts.html), thirty-four states have laws requiring that once a youthful offender has been tried as an adult for any offense, he or she must be prosecuted in criminal court for any future offenses.

Discretionary judicial waiver was the most common mechanism for transferring juvenile offenders from juvenile court to criminal court until the 1960s. Beginning in the 1970s, however, states began amending their laws to establish standards for juvenile transfers based on the age of the offender and the seriousness of the offense rather than on the opinion of a juvenile court judge. The OJJDP reports in Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report that since 1992 all states except Nebraska have changed their transfer statutes to make it easier for juveniles to be tried in criminal court.

According to the OJJDP, the number of delinquency cases waived to criminal courts increased by 83% between 1985 and 1994, from 7,200 to 13,200 (http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/ojstatbb/nr2006/downloads/chapter6.pdf). However, the number of waived cases began to decrease in 1994 and was 6,300 in 2001. In most years between 1993 and 2002, the number of person offense cases waived to criminal courts was higher than the number of property offense cases. The number of waived person offense cases increased 130% between 1985 and 1994. It then declined by 47% to 2002; the overall increase between 1985 and 2002 was therefore 23%. During this period, the number of waived property offense cases decreased by 33% and public order offenses by 2%.


Status offenses are acts that are against the law only because the people who commit them are juveniles. The four major status offense categories used by the OJJDP are running away, truancy, alcohol possession, and ungovernability (also known as incorrigibility or being beyond parental control). Between 1985 and 2002, according to the OJJDP publication Juvenile Court Statistics 20012002 (December 2005, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/216251.pdf), liquor law violations accounted for 42% of status offense cases for 17-year-olds, followed by running away (9%), and ungovernability (8%).

In many communities, social service agencies rather than juvenile courts are responsible for accused status offenders. National estimates of informally handled status offense cases are not calculated because of differences in screening procedures. The statistics presented here, therefore, report only on status offense cases handled through the juvenile justice system.

Age, Sex, and Race

Juvenile Court Statistics 20012002 reports that youths aged sixteen and seventeen accounted for three-fourths of all liquor law violations among juveniles between 1985 and 2002. Children aged fifteen and younger made up two-thirds of all the runaway cases during the same period. Truancy was most common among fifteen-year-olds (30% of juvenile cases). Running away (29% of all juvenile cases) and ungovernability (26%) were also more common among fifteen-year-old juveniles than those who were younger or older.

Between 1985 and 2002 females accounted for a larger proportion of petitioned status offense cases than delinquency cases. The offense profiles of male and female status offense cases show the relatively high male involvement in liquor law violations (70%) and the higher female involvement in runaway cases (61%). Males accounted for 54% of all ungovernability cases and 54% of all truancy cases.

Between 1985 and 2002 white youths were held in 73% of runaway, 73% of truancy, 71% of ungovernability, and 90% of all status liquor law violation cases. Compared with their representation in the general population, white youths were overrepresented in liquor law violation cases and underrepresented in the other three categories. African-Americans accounted for 24% of runaway, 24% of truancy, and 27% of ungovernability cases. (Nearly all Hispanic youth are included in the white racial category.)

Detention and Case Processing

The handling of status crimes has changed considerably since the mid-1980s. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-415) offered substantial federal funds to states that tried to reduce the detention of status offenders. The primary responsibility for status offenders was often transferred from the juvenile courts to child welfare agencies. As a result, the character of the juvenile courts' activities changed.

Prior to this change many juvenile detention centers held a substantial number of young people whose only offense was that their parents could no longer control them. By not routinely institutionalizing these adolescents, the courts demonstrated that children deserved the same rights as adults. A logical extension of this has been that juveniles accused of violent crimes are also now being treated legally as if they were adults.

Those involved in petitioned status offense cases are rarely held in detention. From 1985 to 2002, according to Juvenile Court Statistics 20012002, only 16% of runaway cases, 4% of truancy cases, 10% of ungovernability cases, and 8% of liquor law cases were detained. Males accounted for a majority of detentions for liquor violation (77%), truancy (56%), and ungovernability (54%) cases. However, 58% of juveniles detained for running away were female.

According to OJJDP, except for runaway cases, most petitioned status offense cases from 1985 to 2002 resulted in adjudication (ruling in a court). For whites 46% of runaway, 63% of truancy, 64% of ungovernability, and 63% of liquor law cases were adjudicated. For African-Americans the numbers were slightly lower: 44% of runaway, 63% of truancy, 57% of ungovernability, and 52% of liquor law cases. In general, males and females were equally likely to have their cases adjudicated. Of the cases that were adjudicated, 61% of runaway cases, 78% of truancy cases, 66% of ungovernability cases, and 57% of liquor law cases received probation. Other dispositions include placement outside of the home, such as in a detention home or boot camp, and other sanctions, such as restitution or community service.


For many decades, civil liability laws held parents at least partly responsible for damages caused by their children. Also, child welfare law included actions against those who contributed to the delinquency of a minor. Most researchers recognize that parental involvement is key to juvenile rehabilitation, yet that involvement has been problematic because many parents are seen as contributing to their children's problems rather than helping to resolve them. In addition, some parents assumed an adversarial role with the juvenile justice system, hoping to protect their children from prosecution. By the 1990s, in response to rising juvenile crime rates, communities and states passed stronger laws about parental responsibility. Several states enacted laws making parents criminally responsible for their children's crimes.

In "From Columbine to Kazaa: Parental Liability in a New World" (University of Illinois Law Review, 2005 ), Amy L. Tomaszewski reports that advocates of parental liability believe that the laws motivate adults to become better parents to avoid serious penalties, including jail terms. According to Tomaszewski, although parental liability laws are not new, states have established a broader range of civil and criminal penalties for parents who do not control their children. However, research shows that juvenile crime rates started declining before most parental liability laws were enacted. For example, between 1994 and 2001, the arrest rates for juvenile murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault dropped 44%.

Furthermore, legislators find it very difficult to determine the age when parents are no longer responsible for their children's actions. Parents might be legitimately responsible for a small child's behavior but teenagers are more independent, so it is more difficult to decide whether teenage crimes are really the result of poor parenting.

Although some research has shown a relationship between lax parenting and juvenile crime, the research also shows that punishing parents is not an effective way to prevent juvenile crime. In many cases, the parents need support and assistance, not punishment, to handle their children's behavior problems. For example, many of these parents do not know how to discipline their children effectively.


Children who are found guilty of crimes in courts belonging to the juvenile justice system may be sentenced to a residential placement facility. These institutions may be under the administration of the state or operated by private nonprofit or for-profit corporations or organizations and staffed by employees of the corporation or organization. Private facilities are usually smaller than public facilities. As a result although there are more private facilities than public facilities in the country, most juvenile offenders are held in public facilities. According to OJJDP in Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, the United States had 2,861 juvenile residential placement facilities in 2003. Of these, 1,170 were public (501 state and 669 local), 1,682 were private, and 9 were tribal.

The Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics reports that 96,655 juveniles aged ten and up were held in public and private residential custody facilities in 2003 (http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t692003.pdf). In 2003, 66,210 juveniles in residential placement were in public facilities, and 30,321 were in private facilities. These totals translate to a rate of 307 juveniles in placement per 100,000 in the population. Both the number and rate of juveniles in residential placement have declined since 1997, when 105,055 juveniles were in residential facilities and the rate was 356 per 100,000.

California (16,782) and Florida (8,208) had the highest number of children in residential placement in 2003, but rates were highest in the District of Columbia (625 per 100,000 youths), Wyoming (606 per 100,000), and South Dakota (564 per 100,000). Vermont and Hawaii experienced both the lowest numbers and the lowest rates of juveniles in residential placement in 2003. Vermont held 51 juvenile offenders for a rate of 72 per 100,000, and Hawaii held 129 juvenile offenders for a rate of 97 per 100,000.

Of juveniles in public facilities, 98% were held for delinquency offenses, and only 2% were held for status offenses such as running away or truancy, according to Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report. A higher proportion of private facility inmates (11%) were held for status offenses. The largest percentage of youths in residential placement in 2003 were held for crimes against persons (34%), followed by property crimes (28%), public order offenses (10%), drug offenses (8%), and status offenses (5%). The number of juveniles in residential placement for sexual assault increased by 68% between 1997 and 2003. Other large increases were for public order offenses other than weapons violations (29%), drug offenses other than trafficking (28%), and simple assault (25%). During this period, the number of juveniles in residential facilities for running away decreased by 43%. Other major decreases were for truancy (32%), drug trafficking (24%), weapons violations (24%), and robbery (22%).


Boot camps are specialized residential facilities for "midrange" offendersthose who have failed with lesser sanctions like probation but are not yet considered hardened criminals. First proposed in the 1980s, juvenile boot camps typically share the 90-120-day duration of military boot camps. They employ military customs and have correctional officers acting as uniformed drill instructors who use intense verbal tactics designed to break down inmates' resistance. Boot camps emphasize vigorous physical activity, drill and ceremony, and manual labor. The offenders have little free time and strictly enforced rules govern all aspects of conduct and appearance. Because of state-mandated education rules, programs spend a minimum of three hours daily on academic education. Most programs also include some vocational education, work-skills training, or job preparation. As of 2003, according to the OJJDP, 7% of juvenile offenders who were in a residential placement facility were in a boot camp.

The first boot camp for juvenile offenders in the United States was established in Orleans Parish, Louisiana, in 1985. Within a decade similar facilities were operated in about thirty states. Juvenile boot camp programs typically exclude some types of offenders, such as sex offenders, armed robbers, and youths with a record of serious violence. Definitions of terms like "nonviolent" vary from program to program. Boot camps operate under the assumption that making a marked, positive change in the life of young offenders can benefit society in the long run by reducing recidivism, reducing prison populations, and reducing costs.

Are Juvenile Boot Camps Effective?

Several factors seem to have a direct bearing on the success or failure rates for boot camp participants, including the length of the sessions and the amount of postrelease supervision. In a study of many boot camps across the country (Correctional Boot Camps: Lessons from a Decade of Research, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, June 2003), it was reported that:

[P]articipants reported positive short-term changes in attitudes and behaviors and had better problem solving and coping skills. With few exceptions, however, these positive changes did not lead to reduced recidivism. The boot camps that did produce lower recidivism rates offered more treatment services, had longer sessions, and included more intensive post-release supervision. However, not all programs with these features had successful results. Results suggest that under a narrow set of conditions, boot camps can lead to small relative reductions in prison population and correctional costs.

According to the National Mental Health Association in Mental Health Treatment for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System: A Compendium of Promising Practices (2004, http://www1.nmha.org/children/JJCompendiumofBestPractices.pdf), juvenile boot camps do not prevent offenders from committing new offenses. Several studies of adult and juvenile boot camps show that graduates of these programs are just as likely to commit new offenses as offenders who were placed in prison or jail and, in some cases, as those sentenced to regular probation supervision.

However, the National Mental Health Association states that many juveniles sentenced to boot camps say that these programs helped them and that they feel more positive about their futures. What is not clear is whether these attitudes last once the youths leave the boot camp. It is also not clear if changes in attitude translate into behavioral changes once the juveniles return to their communities.


In 2005, 9,025 juveniles were in adult jails or prisons, according to the BJS in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005 (May 2006, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/pjim05.pdf). These youths had been transferred to the jurisdiction of adult courts, usually by waiver or under statutorily mandated rules. Of these juveniles, 6,759 were in jail (5,900 held as adults) and 2,266 were in state prisons. (See Table 9.5 and Table 9.7.) Juvenile males (2,175) far outnumbered females (91) in state prisons.

According to the BJS, the number of juveniles in jail increased steadily between 1990, when 2,301 juveniles were in local jails, and 1999, when there were 9,458 juvenile jail inmates. Since then, the number of juvenile jail inmates has dropped steadily.

Number of inmates under age 18 held in state prisons, by gender, selected years 19952005
YearInmates under age 18
Not available.
Source: Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, "Table 5. Number of Inmates under Age 18 Held in State Prisons, by Gender, June 30, 1995, and 200005," in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, May 2006, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/pjim05.pdf (accessed January 17, 2007)

According to the OJJDP in Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, juveniles accounted for 4.3% of all new prisoners sentenced to state prisons for robbery in 2002. They accounted for a smaller proportion of new prisoners in other offense categories: 2.5% of new homicide inmates, 1.6% of those committed for assault, and 1% of new inmates serving time for weapons offenses. Juveniles committed to state prison in 2002 were more likely than young adults aged eighteen to twenty-four to have committed violent offenses (primarily robbery and assault) and less likely to have committed drug offenses (especially drug trafficking). Most juveniles admitted to prison in 2002 were seventeen years old. Most new admissions were African-American (59%), followed by whites (28%), Hispanics (11%), and youth of other races or ethnicities (2%).


In Roper v. Simmons (543 U.S. 551, 2005), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty for juveniles. The Court found that state laws authorizing capital punishment for those under age eighteen who commit murder violate the Eighth Amendment's provision against cruel and unusual punishment and are therefore unconstitutional. Since that decision, juveniles who commit serious crimes can be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison. The ruling changed the law in twenty-one states that had authorized the death penalty for juvenile offenders and took seventy-three prisoners off of death row.

Historically, it was rare for a juvenile to be sentenced to death. According to the BJS, in sixteen states allowing the death penalty in 2003, the minimum age authorized for capital punishment was eighteen years. Those states included California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington. The federal system observed eighteen years as well. However, five statesFlorida, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Texashad authorized the death penalty at seventeen years. The minimum age for capital punishment was sixteen years or less in thirteen other states. Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Wyoming set sixteen years as the minimum, whereas Arkansas, Utah, and Virginia used fourteen years. States without specific age limits were Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and South Dakota. Twelve states do not authorize capital punishment at any age: Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin.