Solving the Juvenile Crime Problem: A Prosecutor’s Perspective By James C. Backstrom Dakota County Attorney Hastings, Minnesota 2005-2006 Powerpoint/SolvingJuvenileCrimeProblem
Juvenile Crime Facts and Realties
It is a scary world out there today for our children and for us all.
The Warning: (1996 Bipartisan Council on Crime in America) By the year 2000, the huge increase in 14-17 year old males will cause violent crime to “spiral out of control”. • These kids, far more dangerous and violent than the generation before, will be “like teenage wolf packs”. -- [or “superpredators” as some have called them].
Juvenile Crime has our Attention • Juvenile crime skyrocketed to unparalleled levels between 1980 and 1994: • 150% increase in arrests for murder • 120% increase in arrests for aggravated assault • 67% increase in arrests for all violent offenses • 93% increase in arrests for weapons offenses • In 1996, 29% of all reported crime was committed by a person under the age of 21.
Juvenile Crime: The Good News • Nationwide arrest rates of violent juvenile crime fell slightly in 1995 and continue to decrease in all levels of juvenile crime in the United States. Resource: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. FBI UCR, 1998-2001.
Fear vs. Reality6%of offenders cause more than 50% of all serious and violent crime. • 8%of juvenile offenders are responsible for more than 50% of the repeat offenses committed (Orange County, California study of chronic juvenile offender recidivism).
Rising Number of Youth • By the year 2005, there were 23% more teenagers in the 14-17 year old violence-prone age group than there was in 1994, the year violent juvenile crime peaked in America. • 1998 Bureau of Census estimates show a 22% growth in juvenile population between 1990 and 2010.
Violence In America’s Schools • Littleton, Colorado; Red Lake, Minnesota; Pearl, Mississippi; Jonesboro, Arkansas; West Paducah, Kentucky; Bethel, Alaska . . . Shootings occurred at 30 schools across America from 1996 to 2005, leaving 53 students, teachers and school officials dead and over 110 wounded. • The suspects ranged in age from 6-18. • Nearly all of these tragedies occurred in rural or suburban communities -- it can happen anywhere.
What Does The Future Hold? • While juvenile crime rates are headed in the right direction -- will these drops offset the projected growth in juvenile population in the next 10 years? • And keep in mind, despite the recent drop, overall juvenile crime rates today are 60% higher than they were in 1980.
Are we heading for a juvenile crime Armageddon? No – but, the problem remains -- and there is no greater problem facing our system of criminal justice in America.
Is the answer more prisons and juvenile detention facilities? No – although we need these in our continuum of sanctions to address both juvenile and adult crime.
Is the answer prosecuting more juveniles as adults? No – although sometimes this is appropriate and necessary. (Less than 1% of juvenile offenders are prosecuted as adults.)
Abolish Juvenile Court? No – but recent changes to juvenile codes across America were appropriate and necessary. • Greater emphasis on protecting public safety and crime victims – not only what is in the best interest of the child. • Some states have adopted “blended sentencing” models.
To find the answer to our problems with juvenile crime, we must recognize and resolve the underlying reasons for why these crimes are occurring.
We are at a critical point today in our efforts to effectively respond to juvenile crime in America. • We are also at a crossroads of widening the gap between poverty and prosperity in America. • Now is the time to act to protect our future.
How can we solve our problems with juvenile crime in America? The answer is not that complex. We need to: • Get back to the basics of life. • Invest in our kids, our greatest asset!
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?We need to: • Re-establish the sense of neighborhood that we once took pride in, but which no longer seems to exist in most of our country. (There has been a lessening of community involvement in ensuring the well-being of our children over the past thirty years. This needs to end.) Assets # 4-13
We need to: • Re-establish community involvement in the well-being of our youth: • It takes a whole community to raise a child. • The “me” generation needs to change its focus. Assets # 4-13, 18
We need to: • Ensure that there are proper levels of supervision for young people in their homes, in their schools, and on the streets of our cities. Lack of adequate supervision is a source of problems for many youth today. Assets # 1-3, 11
We need to: • Ensure that young people have a source of consistent and appropriate discipline, and proper supervision, starting in the home. -- We can help by providing guidelines and assistance to parents if needed, i.e. curfew ordinances. Assets # 1-3, 11, 16
We need to: • Ensure that children develop a proper sense of morality. Youth who are raised with proper moral values in the home and in our faith communities will be much less likely to become involved in criminal activity. Assets # 26-31
We need to: • Ensure that every child, particularly those in single parent families, has access to positive adult role models. • There has been a breakdown in American families. • 7 out of 10 kids in some major urban cities have never lived with their natural father. • This gap must be filled. Assets # 3, 14
We need to: • Ensure that our youth have access to positive peer influence. • Without positive adult role models and peers, many kids will look to gangs for thesupport they need or begin to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Asset #15
We need to: • Do all we can to discourage teenage and illegitimate pregnancies. The evidence shows that children born and raised by a young single mother are more likely than those raised by two parents to have difficulty in school, get in trouble with the law, and experience emotional and physical problems. Assets # 35, 37
We need to: • Ensure that kids develop proper social skills necessary to get by in today’s world. (These include assertiveness skills, decision-making skills, friendship-making skills, planning skills, the development of positive self esteem and good judgment.) Assets # 32, 35-39
We need to: • Aggressively pursue truancy from school and insure that all children receive the quality education they require to succeed in today’s complex world. Assets # 5, 12, 21-24, 38-40
We need to: • Recognize and deal with the increased levels of stress that young people have in their lives today. • Youth need to know we care. • Youth need access to advice from parents and adults they can trust. • Increased support mechanisms for kids are needed. Assets # 1-7, 14, 16
We need to: • Ensure that our young people grow up with respect for our laws, for their parents, for their elders, for our public officials, and for each other. Assets # 27-31, 35, 36
We need to: • Ensure that juveniles are held accountable and responsible for their own actions. • With freedom, comes responsibility. • With responsibility, comes accountability. • With accountability, comes understanding. • Without accountability, there can be no justice. Assets # 26, 31
Accountability and responsibility must start at an early age. The most critical years of a child’s life (the years in which he/she will develop their positive or antisocial behaviors) are ages 1-10, the earlier years being the most important. • Bullying prevention is needed in elementary schools. • 160,000 kids are afraid to go to school each day. • 60% of bullies will have a criminal record by age 24. • 49% of parents see bullying as no big deal.
We need to: • Continue to make it a priority to ensure that our young people remain drug and chemical free. Assets # 1-3, 31, 37, 40
Drug Issues: • Kids today get too many mixed messages about drugs. (Illicit drugs are bad; prescription drugs are good; alcohol is all right, but only if you’re over 21.) • We have a cultural infatuationwith perfection and drugs (especially legal ones) are seen as tools to this goal.
How can we get across the right message about the dangers of drug use? • The key is helping kids develop a sense of passion and purpose. • Kids need to believe they can make a difference in the world. Assets # 1-40
We need to: • Ensure that every child who is born out of wedlock or who is part of a family unit which ceases to exist as a result of divorce, receives the child support to which they are legally entitled. • Ensure that all infants and preschool children have access to quality educational childcare programs.
We need to: • Ensure that school-age children, especially teens,have access to after-school, weekend and summer youth development programs. • Help teens find jobs where they can learn the importance and value of developing a good work ethic and earning a living. • Parents do not do their kids a favor by giving them too much.
We need to: • Help schools identify troubled and disruptive children at an early age and provide these children and their parents with the counseling and training necessary to help these kids get back on track.
We need to: • Improve deficient parenting and protect children by offering in-home parental coaching and counseling services when appropriate. • Make sure every at-risk child in this country has access to the mentoring and counseling and educational programs that they so desperately require.
We need to: • Identify the mental health problems and needs of youth and provide effective treatment. • 30–90 % of juvenile offenders (depending on the definition used) suffer from mental health problems. • Juvenile detention facilities and adult prisons are not adequately equipped to respond to mental health needs of offenders.
We need to: • Do all we can to identify and protect abused and neglected children. • Raise awareness of mandatory and voluntary reporting of these incidents. • Recognize that children are also victims in domestic violence situations. • Break the cycle of violence.
We need to: • Continue efforts to address the widespread portrayals of violence in the media and entertainment industries. • We have become desensitized to violence in America. • Parents must monitor the TV shows and movies their kids watch, the video games they play, and the music they listen to. • The professional wrestling mentality to solving disputes must be dispelled.
We need to: • Encourage businesses, especially the technology, entertainment and pharmaceutical industries of our nation, to reinvest some of their profits in our nation’s youth. • Ensure that police, prosecutors and child protection workers are sufficiently funded and trained to quickly and effectively intervene to help and protect children who have been abused or neglected.
We need to: • Ensure that Congress and the state legislatures of America make funding for early intervention and prevention initiatives a priority.
Solving the Juvenile Crime Problem: • Getting Back to the Basics of Life • Family Values • Moral Principles • Responsibility • Accountability • Respect • Investing In Kids
This is a non-profit national organization comprised of police, prosecutors and crime victims whose goal is to raise awareness of the importance of early intervention and prevention efforts to reduce juvenile crime. Fight Crime: Invest In Kids has endorsed a Four-Point School and Youth Violence Prevention Plan which includes:
School and Youth Violence Prevention Plan • Ensuring that preschool children with working parents have access to quality preschool and child care programs. • Ensuring that youth have access to after school, weekend, and summer youth development programs. • Helping schools identify troubled and disruptive children at an early age. • Preventing child abuse and neglect.
can be reached in Washington, D.C. at: Toll Free: 800-245-6476 Telephone: 202-776-0027 www.fightcrime.org