A new report from D.C.-based research and advocacy nonprofit The Sentencing Project refutes a widespread narrative that youth crime has exploded during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In the report released Tuesday, the group said it found scarce evidence of a new youth-led crime wave.
The report, “Data Reveals Violence Among Youth Under 18 Has Not Spiked in the Pandemic,” found that much of the data suggests that rates of violence among people under 18 have been flat or declining.
“This report comes at an important moment. Throughout the pandemic, many media outlets and policymakers have perpetuated a narrative that youth crime is skyrocketing,” the report’s authors wrote. “Simultaneously, recent mass shootings have shown the heinous damage that a single individual can cause with easy access to guns.”
The authors wrote that scattered anecdotes and talk of out-of-control youth are fueling calls for stricter punishments and harsher treatment, but such methods have consistently proven to be ineffective at preventing crime, and are likely to cause crime to increase.
“It’s crucial to set the record straight. There is no evidence of a significant increase in youth crime or violence,” said Richard Mendel, senior research fellow at the Sentencing Project and author of the report. “Of course, we must do everything we can to steer young people away from delinquency, and we must block young people’s access to deadly assault weapons. But the evidence is overwhelming that imposing more extreme punishments on youth doesn’t work.
“Instead, we need to implement strategies that actually reduce crime — like minimizing youth confinement and improving social, emotional and mental health support for young people within their schools and communities,” Mendel said.
The report stated that the share of crimes in the United States committed by youth has fallen by more than half over the past two decades and continued to fall for all major offense categories in 2020 — the most recent year for which data is available.
Additionally, the overall number of offenses categorized by the FBI as violent — murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — committed by youth declined in 2020.
Authors also tackled youth-led carjackings, which have received blanket media coverage based on a spike in youth arrests in some jurisdictions.
They noted that no national data on carjackings is available, and that evidence about the share of carjackings committed by young people is inconclusive.
Data does show that total robberies by youth — of which carjackings are a subcategory — declined in 2020.
Further, the authors cited “conclusive evidence that punitive policies in the youth justice system don’t deter crime or improve community safety.”
“Indeed, transfer to adult court, heavy reliance on detention and confinement, and criminalization of routine adolescent misbehavior in school all tend to heighten delinquency, worsen youth outcomes, and undermine public safety,” they wrote.
Fortunately, the authors observed, there are plenty of strategies proven to improve youth outcomes and steer young people away from crime — like hiring counselors rather than police officers in public schools, diverting young people accused of less serious offenses into restorative justice and other community-led alternatives to court, and reducing overreliance on detention, incarceration, and transfers to the adult justice system.
The full report is available here.
Also, The Sentencing Project has also developed a media guide with 10 Crime Coverage Dos and Don’ts to help media outlets better inform the public and policymakers about crime issues.
See the media guide here.