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Creating the appropriate public policy for a period of semiautonomy is no small task Zimring, To best answer the questions of how to deal with young offenders requires knowledge of factors in the individual, family, social settings, and community that influence the development of delinquent behavior; of the types of offenses committed by young people; and of the types of interventions that can most efficiently and effectively prevent offending in the first place or prevent its recurrence.

This study reviews literature in all of these areas to provide an objective view of juvenile crime and the juvenile justice system in the United States.

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What is often missing from discussions of juvenile crime today is recognition that children and adolescents are not just little adults, nor is the world in which they live the world of adults. Physical, emotional, and cognitive development continue throughout adolescence. Although young people can approach decisions in a manner similar to adults under some circumstances, many decisions that children and adolescents make are under precisely the conditions that are hardest for adults—unfamiliar tasks, choices with uncertain outcomes, and ambiguous situations see, for example, Beyth-Marom and Fischhoff, ; Cohn et al.

Further complicating the matter for children and adolescents is that they often face deciding whether or not to engage in a risky behavior, such as taking drugs, shoplifting, or getting into a fight, in situations involving emotions, stress, peer pressure, and little time for reflection. Young people are liable to overestimate their own understanding of a situation, underestimate the probability of negative outcomes, and make judgments based on incorrect or incomplete information Quadrel et al.

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Although adults are also prone to the same misperceptions, children's and adolescents' lack of experience increases their vulnerability. Quadrel et al.

Emotions can affect decision making for both adolescents and adults. When people are experiencing positive emotions, such as excitement, happiness, love as adolescents often do when with groups of their peers , they tend to underestimate the possibility of negative consequences to their actions.

When experiencing negative emotions, such as anger, jealousy, sadness, people tend to focus on the near term and lose sight of. This is particularly relevant for adolescents, who have been found to experience wider and more rapid mood swings than adults Larson et al. Studies of young people's understanding of legal processing and the consequences of various legal choices, such as forfeiting the right to remain silent or to have an attorney, show differences between those younger and older than about 15 years Grisso, Those under age 15 often misunderstand the concept of a right, in general, and of Miranda rights, in particular.

They foresee fewer alternative courses of action in legal proceedings and tend to concentrate on short-term rather than long-term consequences Grisso, ; For example, younger youth often misconstrue the right to remain silent, believing it means they should be quiet until they are told to talk. Nor do they completely understand the right to have an attorney present, without charge, before they talk Abramovitch et al. These misunderstandings raise concerns about children's and young adolescents' competence to stand trial in adult court.

Children and adolescents from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds and those with low IQs fare worse in understanding the legal process and their rights than do other children and adolescents of comparable ages Grisso, Furthermore, experience with the justice system does not ensure that young people fully understand the process, their rights, or the implications of the decisions they make.


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Both Grisso and Lawrence have found that adolescent delinquents had much poorer understanding of their rights than did adult defendants. Emerging research using magnetic resonance imaging of the brain demonstrates the cognitive and emotional differences between adolescents and adults.

Children and adolescents process emotionally charged information in the part of the brain responsible for instinct and gut reactions. Children and adolescents may be physiologically less capable than adults of reasoning logically in the face of particularly strong emotions.

Adolescents, Crime, and the Media: A Critical Analysis

In a recent study, Thompson et al. These new insights on brain development may have implications for holding children and adolescents criminally responsible in the same way as adults and raise concerns about initiatives to transfer younger and younger defendants to adult courts. Looking at the policies of other countries provides some perspective on criminal justice in the United States. An international study of 15 countries—Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, England and Wales, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden, and Switzerland—notes that all have special provisions for young criminals in their justice systems, although some such as Denmark, Russia, and Sweden have no special courts for juveniles.

Table depicts some of the differences among countries, showing the range in variability for the minimum age of criminal responsibility, the age at which full responsibility as an adult can be assumed, the type of court that handles young people committing crimes, whether such young people can be tried in courts that also try adults, the maximum length of sentencing for a juvenile, and policies regarding incarcerating juveniles with adults.

The United States was not alone in seeing a dramatic increase in violent crime by juveniles in the s and early s.

Many European countries and Canada experienced increases in their rates of violent crime, particularly among juveniles Hagan and Foster, ; Pfeiffer, It is difficult to compare rates across countries, because legal definitions of crime vary from country to country. For example, in Germany, assault is counted as a violent crime only if a weapon is used during the commission of the crime, whereas in England and Wales, the degree of injury to the victim determines whether or not an assault counts as a violent crime.

Crime is also measured differently in each country. For example, the United States commonly relies on numbers of arrests to measure crime. In Germany, Austria, and Italy, among other countries, crime is measured by the number of cases solved by police even if the offender has been apprehended Pfeiffer, Nevertheless, trends in juvenile violent crime appeared similar in many developed countries in the s and early s, 2 although the rates were different.

The United States has a high violent crime rate—particularly for homicide—in comparison to other countries, although property crime rates, particularly burglary, are higher than U. In , the violent crime arrest rate includes homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, and rape for to year-olds in the United. Data from other countries after were not available to the panel at the time this report was written, so no comparisons for the latter half of the s were possible.

Children's courts, which are part of the criminal justice system and deal with juveniles charged with a crime. States was nearly per , Federal Bureau of Investigation, In England and Wales, about per , to year-olds were convicted or cautioned by the police for violent crimes homicide, assault, robbery, and rape in In Germany, per , to year-olds and in The Netherlands per , to year-olds were suspects of violent crime in Pfeiffer, Comparing how different countries deal with juvenile offenders is equally challenging.

Countries differ in the ages of young people considered legal juveniles, in how juvenile courts are organized, and in the types of institution used to sanction juvenile offenders. As Table shows, the minimum age for being considered criminally responsible varies from 7 years in Switzerland and the Australian state of Tasmania to 16 in Belgium and Russia. The age of full criminal responsibility i. In the United States, both minimum and maximum ages of juvenile court jurisdiction vary by state, with most states having no minimum age although in practice, children younger than 10 are seldom seen in juvenile courts.

The maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction is younger in many U. At the same time that states and the federal government in the United States have been moving toward treating juvenile offenders more like adult criminals, many other countries retain a strong rehabilitative stance. The Youth Court Law of Austria, for example, describes juvenile offending as a normal step in development for which restorative justice, not punishment, is the appropriate response. The Belgium Youth Court Protection Act specifies that the only measures that can be imposed on a juvenile are for his or her care, protection, and education.

In New Zealand, since , Family Group Conferences have been used to replace or supplement youth courts for most of the serious criminal cases. In the early s, England and Wales moved toward community-based sanctions for young offenders and away from institutional placements. This trend was reversed in the s, however, when England and Wales reacted to the upswing in juvenile violence in a manner similar to the United States, focusing on the offense, rather than the offender. The U. Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of made it easier to place offenders younger than 15 years in juvenile correctional facilities and extended the maximum length of allowable sentences.

Crime and Disorder Act of moved the English juvenile justice system even further toward a punitive, offense-based model. Neither Sweden nor Denmark uses a separate juvenile court, but youthful immaturity is considered a mitigating factor in deciding their criminal responsibility. In Denmark, maximum punishments well below those available for adults are specified in law for juveniles 15 and older; juveniles under the age of 15 may not be punished, but may be referred to a social welfare agency.

In Sweden, imprisonment may only be imposed on juveniles under exceptional circumstances, and even then, the sentences imposed are shorter than for adults. The United States has a very high overall rate of incarceration. At per ,, the U. Although adequate juvenile incarceration figures do not exist in the United States, the incarceration rate for homicides committed by juveniles is illustrative of the difference in incarceration rates.

In , Comparable numbers in other countries are 2.

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Some of the differences in juvenile homicide incarceration rates are likely to be due to differences in homicide commission rates. In none of the 15 countries surveyed by Weitekamp et al. The Panel on Juvenile Crime: Prevention, Treatment, and Control was asked to identify and analyze the full range of research studies and datasets that bear on the nature of juvenile crime, highlighting key issues and data sources that can provide evidence of prevalence and seriousness; race, gender, and class bias; and impacts of deterrence, punishment, and prevention strategies.

The panel was further asked to analyze the factors that contribute to delinquent behavior, including a review of the knowledge on child and adolescent development and its implications for prevention and control; to assess the current practices of the juvenile justice system, including the implementation of constitutional safeguards; to examine adjudication, detention and waiver practices; to explore the role of community and institutional settings; to assess the quality of data sources on the clients of both public and private juvenile justice facilities; and to assess the impact of the deinstitutionalization mandates of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of on delinquency and community safety.

To meet this charge, the study panel and staff gathered information in a number of ways. Relevant research studies were identified through. The panel met six times between June and October to discuss data availability and research findings, identify critical issues, analyze the data and issues, seek additional information on specific concerns, formulate conclusions and recommendations, and develop this report. Four of these meetings were preceded by workshops at which experts presented information on selected topics and engaged in discussions with panel members.

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Workshops were held on education and delinquency, juvenile justice system issues, developmental issues relevant to delinquency, and racial disparity in the juvenile justice system. See Appendix E for workshop agendas. In addition to the workshops, Howard Snyder, research director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice, spent part of one meeting discussing relevant datasets with the panel members. Several members of the panel made site visits to juvenile detention and correctional facilities in Texas and New York.

Study panel members and staff also consulted informally with various experts between meetings. The charge to the panel was extremely broad, covering many topics that merit books unto themselves, and indeed some of the areas have been the subject of more than one recent book. The panel chose to provide a broad overview of juvenile crime and the juvenile justice system, touching on all the topics in its charge, but going into various levels of depth depending on the amount and quality of data available.

In organizing its plan for the study, the panel focused on answering several questions:. What have been the major trends in juvenile crime over the past 20 to 30 years, and what can be predicted about future trends? What is the role of developmental factors in delinquent behavior and how do families, peers, communities, and social influences contribute to or inhibit that behavior? What responses are in place to deal with juvenile crime today, are they developmentally appropriate, and do they work? This report reviews the data and research available to answer these questions, suggests areas that require additional research, and makes recommendations about policies for dealing with child and adolescent offenders.

The terms juvenile and delinquency or delinquent have specific legal meanings in state and federal law. In this report, however, the panel uses the term juvenile 3 in its general sense, referring to anyone under the age of 18, unless otherwise specified. The terms young person, youngster, youth, and child and adolescent are used synonymously with juvenile.