The Conversation

A weekly discussion of a topic important to Californians

August 27, 2008
Juvenile crime in California -- less than meets the eye?
I have been corresponding with Mike Males of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, who believes the public is probably unaware of the general trend toward a reduction in juvenile crime over the past couple of decades. Here is his latest email to me with some new numbers that are pretty startling:

The state Department of Justice just sent me the new, 2007 crime statistics, and here is what they show:
--235 juveniles were arrested for murder, 5.0 per 100,000 population age 10-17, the same rate as in 1958 (and lower than any year in between).
--241 juveniles were arrested for rape, the lowest level since that offense was first tabulated in 1957 (when 331 juveniles were arrested for rape in a population less than one-third today's).
--6,880 juveniles were arrested for robbery, the lowest rate since 1968.
--10,607 juveniles were arrested for aggravated assault, about the same rate as in 1973, when assault was defined much more narrowly.
--66,191 juveniles were arrested for felonies, the lowest rate since the first statewide crime report in 1954.
--200,820 juveniles were arrested for all criminal offenses, the lowest rate since 1966, when many fewer juvenile offenses were subject to criminal arrest (most were then defined as "status" offenses)
Are readers and viewers of California's news media aware that juvenile crime, especially serious crime, is at an historic low? You can ask around, but I'm betting that the answer is "no." In fact, I'd bet that far more think juvenile crime, violence, and murder are rising to record peaks. Isn't that the impression many interest groups and the news media constantly present?
Suppose the news media were to present these facts, easily documented and checked, to citizens. Imagine the impact of the statements: "Youths today are no more likely to commit murder and other serious crime than youths of the 1950s...In fact, middle-aged crime rates have skyrocketed to the point that 40-agers actually present a bigger crime problem now than juveniles do..."
If believed--a big if--California's entire crime debate would be turned upside down. Which, if I may be cynical, is exactly why the truth about crime trends will not be presented in the media. There are too many interest groups invested in lending the opposite impression, and the news media simply goes along.
best regards,
Mike Males
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

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