Juvenile arrests and incarcerations decreased by 78% - but it's not because they're being "good kids"

There are endless media reports throughout the United States of juvenile offenders engaging in multiple and repeated violent crimes.

Juvenile justice advocates insist that juveniles not be prosecuted in adult courts and that the focus of justice system interactions must not be accountability for the crime but doing what’s in the best interest of the child.

Yet in cities throughout the country, beleaguered citizens applaud holding violent juvenile offenders accountable for their acts.

Washington Post

Smith (Editor’s Note-the new chief of police for Washington, D.C.) was speaking to a group of pastors and concerned residents at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Southeast Washington. They were eager to hear about her approach to crime fighting, hoping that she could find a way to stem a rise in the most terrifying crimes — including armed carjackings and homicides. The city is on track to surpass 200 homicides for the third year in a row and may even experience its deadliest year in decades.

“Let me tell you what happened last night while you were sleeping,” Smith said, trying to reassure residents that she and her police force were on the case 24/7. “We arrested four juveniles that were associated with every one of those BMW carjackings.”

The audience erupted into applause.

The suspects were aged 14, 15 and 16, Smith said. When she noted that one of them had been kept in juvenile detention instead of being sent home, applause gave way to cheers, Washington Post.

Juvenile Arrests Are Down By 78 Percent

With the perceived uptick in juveniles involved in violent crimes per media reports, the estimated number of youth arrests for violent crime, which includes murder, robbery, and aggravated assault, continued to decline in 2020 and was down 78% from its peak in 1994.

Juveniles Incarcerated in U.S. Adult Jails and Prisons

The Bureau of Justice Statistics, a division of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, released Juveniles Incarcerated in U.S. Adult Jails and Prisons, 2002–2021. This brief report presents data on juveniles (persons age 17 or younger) who are held in adult correctional facilities.

“These data show that the number of juveniles incarcerated in adult jails and prisons decreased by 78% between 2008 and 2021, reaching their lowest number in over a decade at 2,250,” said BJS Director Dr. Alexis Piquero.


My first interaction (I was 16) with the justice system was police officers bringing me home to my parents instead of arresting me for driving without a license and theft (a friend’s car ran out of gas and we “borrowed” someone’s spare gas can). My 50 years in the justice system may have been over that night if the officers choose to arrest me.

What confuses many is that the juvenile justice system is predicated on doing what’s in the best interest of the child, not accountability for most criminal acts. Because of this, police officers can be reluctant to arrest juveniles because there is little to no accountability.

The age of offenders has always been a point of concern with police officers often taking misbehaving teenagers to their homes rather than making arrests for nonviolent crimes. There’s always been a justifiable effort to keep first-time (or infrequent) juveniles out of the justice system.  Prosecutors are wary of bringing juveniles into the adult system unless the crime involves extreme violence.

But there’s a juxtaposition between the cheers of residents in Washington, D.C. over the arrests of juveniles in their community, and the plummeting number of juvenile arrests and incarcerations. Advocates demand the least amount of justice system involvement for juveniles while urban residents cheer arrests and detention.

See More

See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.

Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.

US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.

National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.

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