Hartford Courant (Sunday)
Proof that reforms work: Juvenile crime is down
There has been much said recently about juvenile crime trends, and to be diplomatic, much of it is inaccurate. There is plenty of data available on the topic, fortunately, and policy makers, law enforcement professionals and citizens would benefit from a brief summary.
We know that arrests for juveniles are down significantly in recent years. During the state fiscal year ending on June 30, 2013, the first year that arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds were handled in juvenile court, 12,320 new delinquency cases (arrests of juveniles for criminal behavior) were added to the docket. Five years later, in fiscal year 2018, only 8,670 new cases were added, a 30 percent drop.
Interestingly, in fiscal year
2008, when only those arrested while aged 15 and younger went to juvenile court, 12,240 new cases were added. Put another way, last year’s total juvenile arrests were 30 percent lower than 10 years earlier, even though the 2018 numbers include 16- and 17-yearolds and the 2008 numbers do not.
Second, we know the crimes for which juveniles are being arrested. Each year, the Connecticut State Police release their “Crime in Connecticut” publication on all reported crimes and arrests statewide. In 2008, there were 21,976 arrests of persons under the age of 18, including both juvenile and adult arrests. In 2012, they reported 11,824 such arrests, and in 2017, 8,192 arrests.
These arrests are further broken down by charge. For example, in 2008 there were 380 robbery arrests, 921 aggravated assault arrests, 1,828 larceny arrests and 376 weapons arrests. By 2012, all of those categories showed a significant decline in number of arrests, and in 2017 all of those had further declined. By 2017, robbery arrests of those under 18 were down 49 percent; aggravated assault arrests down 76 percent; larceny arrests, down 64 percent and weapons arrests, down 51 percent.
Recently the focus has been on auto theft by juveniles. In 2008, a total of 330 persons under the age of 18 were arrested for this crime statewide. In 2012, that number had dropped to 130. In 2017, however, 241 juveniles were arrested for auto theft, an increase of 80 percent over five years. However, the 2017 number is still 25 percent lower than 2008.
There are those who argue that recent changes in the procedures governing juvenile cases have “emboldened” young offenders, leading them to commit more crimes. However, the data clearly show that the only type of offense that has increased is auto theft.
All other categories of major crime are down, and down significantly, compared to both 2012, the year before the recent reforms were enacted, and 2008, the year before the “raise the age” reforms began to take effect.
And, in the case of auto theft, arrests of those 18 and older has increased more than arrests of juveniles in Connecticut. This is a national trend regardless of juvenile laws or procedures in an individual state. Most experts agree this is due to unlocked cars with key fobs left inside. A simple Google search for “auto thefts increase” will prove this point.
Finally, some observers ask whether recent population changes account for the downturn in juvenile crime. In other words, has the number of young people in Connecticut actually dropped enough to account for the drop in the number of arrests? The data tell us this is definitely not the case.
According to state census figures, the number of young people age 15-19 in our state dropped 4 percent between 2012 and 2017. If you consider race and ethnicity within that age cohort, you see a more complex development: The number of white males aged 15-19 dropped 10 percent over that five-year period while the number of African Americans in that cohort held constant. The total number of Hispanic 15-19 year olds, however, grew by 9 percent. When you consider that historically youth of color are much more likely to be justice-involved, then you might have predicted this population trend would result in more, not fewer, arrests of 15- to 19-year-olds.
The bottom line is this: All the available evidence proves that Connecticut’s juvenile justice reforms enacted over the last 10 years are having their intended effect: fewer juveniles and young adults committing crimes, getting arrested and ending up incarcerated.
Mike Lawlor is an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven. He is the former state undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning and was a state legislator.