Two Things You Need to Know About Youth Violence

Youth crime rates are at their lowest in three decades.

Every time we turn on the news, it seems like there’s another awful case of young people engaging in some horrific violent act, such as a school shooting. It’s easy to get the sense that the world is more dangerous now than it’s ever been. Yet, data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention show a very clear picture: Youth violence is decreasing. The rate of violent youth arrest rates has been on a very steady decline since the mid-1990s [1]. It is now at the lowest rate that we’ve seen in three decades [1]. Take for example:

In 2012, youth arrests for violent crime reached its lowest rate in 32 years. [2]

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) includes murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault in their definition of violent crimes [1]. Throughout the 1990s, the rate of youth arrests for violent crime was higher than it had been in the past three decades, leading many to predict that youth violence would continue to rise [3]. And, indeed, by 1994, almost 500 out of every 100,000 youth aged 10 to 17 years were arrested for these types of crimes [1].

Since 1994, however, the rate of youth violent crime has steadily and consistently declined [1]. By the year 2000, the rate of violent crime had fallen to the same level it was in 1988 and then continued to decline into the 2000s [1]. The number of youth arrests for violent crimes in the year 2011 was slightly over 200 arrests for every 100,000 youth. This is almost a 60% decline since 1994! Even more impressive: the violent youth arrest rate dropped by a third just over the course of three years from 2008 and 2011 [2]. By 2012, the rate of youth arrests for violent crimes was the lowest on record in 32 years [2].

Rates of youth arrests for some non-violent crimes have also declined significantly since the mid-1990s. [1]

While rates of some non-violent crimes, such as drug abuse, have declined only slightly since the mid-1990s, rates of other non-violent crimes have fallen significantly [1]. For example, the arrest rate for curfew violations and loitering fell by 60% between 1996 and 2011 [1]. Disorderly conduct, which reached a peak of almost 700 arrests per 100,000 youth in 1996, fell to just over 400 arrests per 100,000 in 2011 [1]. Even more notably, the rate of youth arrests for driving under the influence has fallen 70% since 1980, when slightly over 100 arrests per 100,000 youth were documented [1]. By 2011, youth DUI arrest rates had fallen to 30 arrests per 100,000 youth [1].

The declining rate of arrests may in part be attributed to some juvenile justice reformation efforts.[4]. Indeed, many states have improved their assessment of mental illness as well as increased access to care, which means that the estimated 65-70% of arrested youth who have problems are more likely to get the treatment they need [4]. The state of Washington established a measure requiring its counties to impose a 0.1 cent sales tax for the creation of therapeutic courts [4]. In Idaho, a new legal measure has incorporated mental health courts into existing state courts [4]. In Colorado, juveniles with mental health needs are given a 90-day suspended sentence during which they can receive treatment [4].

Nationwide efforts to address the factors that lead to a disproportionate number of minority youth in the justice system may also have contributed to the reduced crime rates [4]. Several states, such as Iowa and Connecticut, have mandated that impact statements for minority race people accompany any new legislation related to criminal sentencing [4]. Maryland recently mandated a “cultural competency model training for all law enforcement officers assigned to public school buildings and grounds” [4]. Additionally, more states are making greater efforts to collect better and more standardized data and analyses on the racial and ethnic identities of arrested youth [4]. While recent police shootings of unarmed minority race adolescents makes clear that more needs to be done, further improvements in this domain can only have a positive impact.

Whether the decline in youth violence is attributable to prevention programs, changes in the laws, or some other unknown reason, the good news is: Rates are falling. While continued efforts to reduce youth violence and victimization are needed, the persistent decline provides a glimmer of hope for an important milestone for the U.S. justice system.

For an interesting programming effort to reduce violence in youth, check out the film The Interrupters.

To learn more about youth arrest rates, please visit The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Find us on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Emilie Chen for her contributions to this blog.


[1] Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (2014, Feb 25) OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Available:

[2] Butts, J.A. (2013). Violent Youth Crime in U.S. Falls to New 32-Year Low. Available at:

[3] Snyder, H.N. “What’s Behind The Recent Drop in Juvenile Violent Crime?” Available at:

[4] Brown, S.A. (2012) Trends in Juvenile Justice State Legislation: 2001-2011. Available at: