Stiff laws against violent juveniles sweeping nation

PHILADELPHIA – Laws relating to juvenile crime, including treating young people as adults, have risen since the mid-1990s because of public outcry, fear, and concern over juvenile violence, according to Temple University criminal justice professor Joan McCord.

Stiffer laws.

School shootings such as the ones in Pennsylvania and California, and numerous threats of violence by youngsters, have led to states stiffening their laws, said McCord, co-chair of the National Research Council’s panel on Juvenile Crime: Prevention, Treatment and Control.

“State and federal legislators have proposed, and most states have passed, laws that make the juvenile system more punitive and allow younger children and adolescents to be transferred to the adult system for a greater variety of offenses and in a greater variety of ways,” said McCord.

“Since the late 1980s, there has been growing concern about crimes committed by young people,” McCord points out.

More violent youth.

News accounts of serious crimes committed by children and adolescents and criminologists’ warnings of a coming tide of vicious juveniles – sometimes referred to as ‘superpredators’ – have encouraged a belief that young people are increasingly violent and uncontrollable and that the response of the juvenile justice system has been inadequate.

She adds, “Policy makers are caught in the crossfire between nurturance of youth and punishment of criminals, between rehabilitation and ‘get tough’ pronouncements.”

Better solutions needed.

Unfortunately, McCord notes, so little credible research has been done to “evaluate effects of treatment or of increased punitiveness that we do not even know whether the policies being enacted will increase or decrease crime among juveniles.”

On the other hand, McCord said researchers are “now able to identify several factors that increase the risk of juvenile crime.

“Some of these, like providing prevention programs to groups of misbehaving young adolescents, may come as a surprise.”

The job of research.

The report on Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice examines a range of issues, including transferring youngsters to the adult judicial system, interventions within the juvenile justice system and elsewhere, the role of the police and of parents, and problems of justice as they impact individuals and society.

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