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Juvenile crime in U.S. down since early 1990s

January 14, 2012|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

Juvenile crime in the United States has followed a generally downward trend since the early 1990s, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

From 2008 to 2009, juvenile arrests for violent crime fell 10 percent and overall arrests were down 9 percent, to the lowest rate in two decades, according to a report released by the Justice Department in December.

"That's been the trend, not just in Maryland, but nationally," said Reginald Garnett, executive director for residential operations for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, which oversees juvenile detention and residential treatment facilities in the state.

Both Garnett and department spokesman Jay Cleary said the reason or reasons for the drop are not clearly understood.

"That's the million-dollar question," Cleary said.

Regardless of why it has fallen, juvenile delinquency remains a mostly male problem, with boys making up 70 percent or more of juvenile arrests, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While females account for a minority of delinquents, the caseload for girls increased 14 percent between 1996 and 2004, while the caseload for boys decreased 13 percent during that period, according to the department's fact sheet.

Still, boys were far more likely to commit violent offenses, representing 83 percent of juveniles arrested for those crimes in 2006, the Health and Human Services fact sheet said. Females are more often arrested for "status offenses," which include running away from home and underage drinking, it said.

The department lists a number of factors that increase a juvenile's risk of becoming an offender. Child abuse, dysfunctional parenting, parent criminality, truancy, exposure to violence and poverty are among the risk factors.

"In some cases, it may be related to an underlying drug or alcohol issue, such as stealing to support a drug habit," Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Steven Kessell said.

Peer pressure is another reason, as is a lack of family supervision and support, he said.

That can take many forms, including parents who are not home to supervise children because of their work schedules, Kessell said. Still other parents, who might "have their own issues to deal with," are disinterested in their children or even absent, he said.

Engaging in delinquent behavior still is an individual decision, Kessell said.

"I feel, in most cases, there is simply a lack of respect" for other people and their property and a lack of sensitivity for the effect that behavior has on victims and the community, Kessell said.

The Health and Human Services fact sheet states that children with a "strong sense of accountability" are less likely to offend.

Other factors listed as decreasing the likelihood of a youngster becoming a juvenile offender include strong family attachments, parental monitoring, participation in positive social activities, academic achievement and living in a neighborhood with a low crime rate.

"Right now, there is a push for community-based treatment, rather than institutional placements" in Maryland, Kessell said. "Unfortunately, as the state has moved to close institutional placements, it is not properly creating or funding the community-based programs it needs to replace them."

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