Youth Violence: Still An Epidemic

Juvenile crime graphic. Youth crime. Teen violence.
Fewer teenagers are being arrested for murder, but the proportion of juveniles who admit to being involved in violent crimes is holding steady, the surgeon general reported Wednesday.

The study, ordered by Congress and the Clinton administration after the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, relies on several previous youth surveys to conclude that near record high numbers of juveniles commit violent acts.

The report says 10 to 15 percent of high school seniors say they have committed an act of serious violence in recent years.

Homicides and injuries are more likely to occur in a home or a neighborhood than in a school.

The study also says that schools nationwide are relatively safe and in 1999, had a drop in the number of gangs, for the first time since 1994.

The report also relies upon research from several sources, including the Justice Department, to conclude that juvenile arrest rates for robbery and homicide are dropping.

"We have made a lot of progress but the youth epidemic is not over," said Surgeon General David Satcher. "When we look at surveys we see that there is still a problem, there is also the issue of the role guns play in youth violence. We need to continue our efforts to address the problems of easy access."

Violence in the media had little long-term impact on youth behavior, the report said.

"We clearly associate media violence to aggressive behavior," Satcher said. "But the impact was very small compared to other things."

"Some may not be happy with that, but that's where the science is," he said, citing expectations that some people had about the report's findings.

The report also says the drop in arrests follows a drop in the number of firearms available to teen-agers.

John Dussel, a spokesman for the Gun Owner's Action League, was suspicious of the findings.

"This is the Clinton administration taking a parting shot, suggesting more gun control would lead to less youth violence," Dussel said after reviewing a summary of the report. "It is clear that the decreasing number of shootings is related to the increasing enforcement of laws already on the books."

Satcher said the report bears good news for communities struggling with youth violence, showing that some youth programs aimed at curbing violence are effective.

But he also notes that "relatively little is known about the effectiveness of hundreds of youth violence programs currently in use in schools."

The report also debunks a number of what it says are misconceptions about youth crime:

  • Myth: Most future offenders can be identified in early childhood. Fact: Exhibiting uncontrolled behavior or being diagnosed with a conduct disorder as a young child does not predetermine violence in adolescence.
  • Myth: African American and Hispani youths are more likely to become involved in violence than other racial or ethnic groups. Fact: While there are racial and ethnic differences in homicide arrest rates, statistics suggest that race and ethnicity have little bearing on the overall proportion of non-fatal violent behavior.
  • Myth: A new, violent breed of young "super-predators" threatens the United States. Fact: There is no evidence that young people involved in violence during the peak years of the early 1990s were more frequent or more vicious offenders than youths in earlier years.
  • Myth: Getting tough with juvenile offenders by trying them in adult criminal courts reduces the likelihood that they will commit more crimes. Fact: Juveniles transferred to adult criminal court have significantly higher rates of re-offending and a greater likelihood of committing subsequent felonies than youths who remain in the juvenile justice system.
  • Myth: Most violent youths will end up being arrested for a violent crime. Fact: Most youths involved in violent behavior will never be arrested for a violent crime.

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