The social climate American youth grow up in today has changed significantly, compared to their parents or grandparents. More juveniles today live in poverty, are born to unmarried mothers, and live in a nation with greater racial and ethnic diversity.¹ For many of these youth, their parents are still children themselves.¹ Although high school drop out rates have fallen, the rates are still too high, especially in an employment market where unskilled labor is needed less and less.¹
The criminal justice system is faced with the complicated task of protecting the community and holding the youth accountable, while also fostering an atmosphere where youth can learn form their misdoings. It is especially hard to accomplish this when many of the juveniles come from abusive or neglectful families.¹
The juvenile population is growing.¹ About 70 million Americans — or 1 in 4 — are younger than 18, compared to 69 million in 1995.² Social changes caused by moving populations, changing economic conditions, and changing social climate (i.e., education, health care, etc.) will have an impact on delinquency and the juvenile justic system.²
The juvenile population in the U.S. since 1990 has become more racially and ethnically diverse.¹ According to statistics from a national report on juvenile offenders and victims, 80 per cent of juveniles in the United States were white, while 15 per cent were black, 1 per cent Native American, and 3 per cent Asian.¹
In 1992, 22 per cent of all juveniles in the U.S. lived in poverty. Minority juveniles were more likely to live in poverty than were nonminiority juveniles.¹
Many offenders are not arrested, and many arrested are not referred to juvenile court.¹ Black juvenile arrest rates for marijuana and cocaine violations in recent years have been substantially greater than white arrest rates.¹ An interpretation of this statistic would be that black youth abuse these substances more, however a national self-report study finds that black juveniles are no more likely than white juveniles.
In 1991, victims attributed about 1 in 4 personal crimes to juvenile offenders. Victims also reported that half of all juvenile offenders were white, while 41 per cent were black and 8 per cent represented another race.¹ This statistic very much skews the social perception that black juveniles are more likely to be or become delinquents. Also in 1991, juveniles were responsible for about 1 in 5 violent crimes, including rape, personal robbery, and aggravated and simple assault.¹ One in 7 serious violent crimes involved juveniles in groups. Most juveniles have broken the law, fewer have an official record, and very few are responsible for the majority of offending.¹
1. Snyder, H. N., & Sickmund, M. (1996). Juvenile offenders and victims: a national report : preview. Washington: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
2. U.S. Department of Justice. Statistical Briefing Book. Juvenile Population Characteristics. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/population/overview.html