Hardly a week or a month goes by without...
arrest she /he is typically well into their criminal career and is a high frequency of
offenders, involved in a wide range...
youthful lawbreakers. And second, the policy making machinery, particularly those
in the public arena must be aggressively...
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Violent Juvenile Crime by Meredith Nielsen


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Article by Meredith Nielsen, Drug Policy Advisor to the Governor (Governor de Jongh); head of the Law Enforcement Planning Commission-LEPC

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Violent Juvenile Crime by Meredith Nielsen

  1. 1. VIOLENT JUVENILE CRIME WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT IT: WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT: Hardly a week or a month goes by without something appearing in the media about violent crime committed by juveniles. More often than not, programs and policy initiatives intended to combat youth crime initiated by law makers and policy makers have been based on myth rather than reality and conceived in an atmosphere characterized by rhetoric and fear rather than on data and solid facts. There is traditional contemporary limited statistic about youth crime in the Virgin Islands. Based on what is available, there should be no debate that violent crime exists and it includes homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The problem begins when we look at statistic to examine crime based on age of offenders. This is where we get struck in the difficulties in making comparisons in age category. Some may view juvenile violent crime among persons age 18 and under. Some may use age groups differently. For augment sake we will use the FBI’s commonly used age of 21 and under. This is a significant distinction. Another complication factor in analyzing juvenile crime, and the share of juvenile in various kinds of crime, is the considerable group offending character of juvenile crime. What we are knowledgeable about through data collection is that a high proportion of juvenile crime is committed in groups of two, three or more. What our data also has shown us is that the younger the offender, the higher the proportion of offense will be committed in groups. Robbery probably is the highest multiply- offender crime and a significant number of robbery offenses attributed to juvenile is committed in groups of three or more. In addition, data has shown that the vast majority of young people who are involved in a wide range of offenses and serious violent offenses account for a relatively small proportion of their total offending. There is thus little support for any specialization in violence. Attaching arrest offenses labels to offenders, e.g., burglars, serious violent offenders or robbery, probably has little value or significance for understanding their underlying offending patterns. We can say with some degree of seriousness that age 15 to 19 is thus the most critical period of risk for the onset of serious violent behavior among males. By the time one is involved in serious offenses at a rate sufficient to produce a significant risk of
  2. 2. arrest she /he is typically well into their criminal career and is a high frequency of offenders, involved in a wide range of serious and non serious crime. It is unlikely that an individual with an arrest and conviction for an offense has committed only one such arrest. This begs the question of prevention and controlling violent youth crime. Is it an art or a science? Our deficiency in progression toward a quick recovery to minimize youth criminal activities is not the result of a lack of effort. Because we have seen a steady stream of innovative programs designed to combat youth crime with or without statistics. Unfortunately, these programs and policy initiatives have not been guided by solid empirical evidence. Mover over, the legacy of effort to combat violent youth crime have not provided systematic data upon which to chart new policy options. Yet, there are hopeful signs that current thinking and policy experimentation in the areas will be given more attention. One of the solutions is to get the community involved in offering major new insights that can better inform programs and policy development. The key issue is whether current and future political leadership will support new approaches to violent youth crime based upon facts and rational program development. In other words, is it time to get tough with youths that commit violent crime? Should we demand from our prosecutors and judges stiffer penalties for serious juvenile crime? I firmly believe that the system, i.e. criminal justice system should establish a comprehensive system of sentencing guideline. Underlying this approach is the assumption whether incarceration and specific deterrence can be more effective at controlling youth crime than treatment, counseling, and meaning-full educational programs. These options may very will be at odds with traditional philosophy of the court of jurisdiction dealing with youths. My position is that punishment must be grafted onto the rehabilitation ideal in order to restore public confidence in the juvenile justice system. The problem with this position is that there is no existing rigorous juvenile justice research that tests the relationship of length of incarceration to future recidivism. To assess the relations of the above, a succession of factors must be brought into the equation. First, the community must be involved. As a community we must examine carefully what options are available to us and will give us a greater return for
  3. 3. youthful lawbreakers. And second, the policy making machinery, particularly those in the public arena must be aggressively advocating treatment, counseling, and other coherent solutions to the problem of violent juvenile crime. Perhaps the answers rest with both of the above. What we do know is that the present policies and programs are ineffective in controlling youth crime. For example, research has indicated that the getting tough approach that ignores subsequent correctional intervention is expensive and counter productive. The future rest when we begin to rethink the value of neighborhood level of participation and put in place, preventive measures. The community must recognize that violent youth crime is an issue that is too pressing to leave to haphazard unsystematic program development. We can ill afford to pursue policies that are politically popular but unsupported by hard data and resources. What is needed is a paradigm shift; changes that would produce results in combating juvenile crime and juvenile delinquency. But change can be difficult for many of us. It is like riding a horse. It is easy to get on, but hard to stay on. The minute you get specific, you create enemies. Meridith Nielsen Drug Policy Advisor to the Governor