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Speaking too soon on youth violence?

Oops! It now appears that earlier predictions that the nation will be awash in a juvenile crime wave over the next decade may have been a bit premature.

Attorney General Janet Reno said this month that an analysis of FBI crime statistics for 1995 shows a 7-percent decline in the number of arrests of juveniles 10 to 14, as well as a 4-percent decline in the number of violent crimes committed by juveniles last year.

The figures are heartening, Reno said, suggesting that a surge in violent crime by juveniles that has long been forecast by crime-trend analysts may not be as drastic as predicted. “These numbers offer us…a very good lesson,” she said on Dec. 12. “We do not have to face an explosion in violent crime as some have suggested.”

The figures quickly prompted some of the nation’s leading criminologists to reassess their dire predictions, which they based on the expected bulge in the population of juveniles in the United States from 27 million now to 39 million in 2010. “I get a reputation for being negative, a doomsayer,” James Alan Fox, the dean of Northeastern University’s School of Criminal Justice, told USA Today. “I never meant there would be a blood bath. Some of it was part of getting people’s attention.”

Jack Levin, who is director of the Northeastern’s Center for the Study of Violence and Societal Conflict and who also has warned of the coming juvenile crime wave, said simply: “I was wrong.”

Levin added that there is credible evidence that steps being taken now in all sectors of society, including law enforcement and criminal justice, might help to avert disaster down the road. “I really believe there is a cultural revolution going on. It isn’t any particular program or policy that works. It’s the fact that we’re all addressing this issue,” he said.

No increases in youth arrests have occurred in Tampa, Fla., for three years, confounding the experts, noted University of South Florida criminologist Richard Dembo, who is studying youth arrest rates in that city. Dembo said his analysis shows that “this massive wave of violence people have been talking about may not be an accurate projection. The numbers are not fluctuating dramatically. The majority of kids we see come in for property offenses.”

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Published in Law Enforcement News
Dec. 31, 1996.
© 1996, LEN Inc.  [ Subscribe.]