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
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
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
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.
Drug Policy Advisor to the Governor