Did Changes in Juvenile Sanctions Reduce Juvenile Crime Rates? A Natural Experiment
14 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2013 Last revised: 16 Sep 2015
Date Written: October 29, 2013
This essay examines whether state statutory changes to the juvenile justice system during the 1990s contributed to the subsequent decline in juvenile homicide rates. Between 1985 and 1993, juvenile crime rates soared in the United States. Many prominent scholars and politicians argued that this uptick in youth crime was just the beginning of a forthcoming wave of juvenile violence. In response, between 1992 and 1997, forty-seven states enacted statutory changes that made the juvenile justice system more punitive. Between 1993 and 2010, juvenile crime declined markedly, leading some to conclude that that the punitive statutory changes caused the decline in youth violence. But, we show that the same downward thrust in homicide occurred for young adults (ages eighteen to twenty-four) who were not covered by the punitive changes in juvenile legislation. The correlation between juvenile and young adult homicide trends was .94 in the period when homicide rates increased and .97 during the era of decline. Whatever was pushing juvenile homicide rates down was pushing young adult rates down at the same time. That should not have been the proliferation of juvenile court transfer changes, which had no impact on the older group.
Keywords: juvenile justice, juvenile delinquency, transfer, waiver, crime
JEL Classification: K14, K1, K00, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation