National Trends in Juvenile Violence

By Chinn, Karen Leah | Corrections Today, July 1996 | Go to article overview

National Trends in Juvenile Violence


Chinn, Karen Leah, Corrections Today


During the past decade, violent crime committed by juveniles has increased throughout the United States, but the number of teenagers and young adults ages 15 to 24 has declined. Thus, the juvenile and young adult population has grown disproportionately more violent.

Since 1985, the homicide rate increased by 65 percent among youths ages 18 to 24. Among those between 14 and 17 years-old, the group of juveniles at the focus of this article, the homicide rate has more than doubled in the past eight years. By 2005, this youth population will have increased by 23 percent. An epidemic of teenage crime is predicted as the number of homicides increases drastically and the proportion of juveniles committing violent crimes grows disproportionately larger.

How States Are Responding

The increase in youth violence is being felt in every criminal and juvenile justice system in the country. Responses include a growth in the number of juvenile arrests, an increase in court caseloads and transfers to adult courts, a rise in admissions and populations in juvenile detention and corrections facilities, and the placement of juveniles in crowded adult prisons.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has developed a comprehensive strategy to deal with the growing number of violent young offenders. Many states are following the principles identified in OJJDP's national strategy, which are:

1. strengthening families;

2. supporting core social institutions;

3. promoting prevention strategies;

4. intervening with youth immediately when delinquent behavior first occurs;

5. establishing a broad spectrum of graduated sanctions; and

6. identifying and controlling the small segment of serious, violent and chronic juvenile offenders.

States are responding to the sixth principle by constructing secure institutions for housing youths who have been adjudicated delinquent for violent offenses or who have been convicted in adult court. Although the proportion of youths that fall into this category in each state varies, data reveal that this is a small segment of the youthful offender population. There also is consensus that juvenile training schools and adult correctional facilities are not appropriate environments for incarcerating these youths.

Planning a Facility For Violent Youths

As states address the facility needs for housing violent juvenile offenders, they will need to develop detailed operational and architectural programs.

Two essential steps in the facility planning and programming process must be emphasized. To plan and program a high-security facility for juvenile offenders, the mission of the facility should be identified before any facility concepts can be established. A facility with a mission to rehabilitate youths will be vastly different from a facility with a mission to punish. Simply stating the need for high security does not address the facility's mission and goals for dealing with young offenders.

Key operational information such as offender profile data and a method of behavior management also must be defined before the facility can be planned. Profile information - including age, sex, offense and, most important, length of stay - must be examined. A facility that houses youths for two years as opposed to seven will have different operational needs and, therefore, varying facility responses. In addition, a behavior management model that includes group dynamic and corrective strategies will have different housing unit size requirements than a facility that manages behavior primarily through security techniques and hardware.

Youths in Secure Confinement

Young offenders requiring high security confinement have a lot in common with those currently housed in juvenile training schools. Common characteristics include a high incidence of drug-related criminal behavior, poor self-esteem, weak anger management skills, poor impulse control, diminished parental involvement and a history of physical and sexual abuse. …

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