Juvenile Arrests for Violent Crimes Reached a Historic Low in 2018

Posted August 10, 2020, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Young person

Youth arrests are generally declining, continuing a decades-long trend, according to newly released juvenile crime data from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the National Institute of Justice. The federal statistics update data through 2018 and reveal long-term shifts in arrests of youth under age 18 based on offense, gender and race.

“Crime has plummeted nationally. Yet in the United States, the odds remain high that a young person charged with a crime will be locked up, especially African American, American Indian and Latino males,” says Nate Balis, director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group.

The latest trends in arrests involving people younger than 18

To properly interpret the data, note that arrest statistics measure entry into the justice system. They do not indicate the number of individual arrests nor the number of crimes committed. A full explanation of the data is available from the Department of Justice.

  • In 2018, U.S. law enforcement agencies made an estimated 728,280 arrests of people younger than age 18, which is the lowest number in nearly four decades — and 73% below its 1996 peak of 2.7 million. In comparison, arrests of adults fell 22% during the same period.
  • In 2018, youth arrests for violent crimes (aggravated assault, robbery and murder) reached the lowest point since at least 1980. Arrests for aggravated assault accounted for 61% of all youth arrests for violent crime in 2018. To maintain accurate comparisons, differences in the definition of rape exclude it from the measure of violent crimes.
  • Youth arrest rates for burglary, theft and arson reached historic lows in 2018. Arson is the criminal act with the largest proportion of youth arrests. In 2018, youths were arrested in 20% of all arson arrests, and 58% of these arrests involved youths younger than 15.
  • Youth arrest rates for weapons and vandalism reached new lows in 2018.
  • Females accounted for 30% of youth arrests in 2018. Although males made up the majority of youth arrests overall, the female share was more than a third for certain offenses, including larceny-theft (39%), liquor law violations (42%), simple assault (37%) and disorderly conduct (36%).
  • Youth arrests disproportionately involved Black youth. While Black youth represented 16% of the youth population ages 10 to 17 in 2018, they were involved in 50% of arrests for violent crimes and 42% of arrests for burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson, which collectively make up the property crime index.
  • In 2018, Black youth were seven times more likely to be arrested for murder than white youth. Black youth were nine times more likely to be arrested for robbery compared to white youth.
  • The overall arrest rate for young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 reached its lowest level since at least 1980.

“All young people deserve the opportunity to realize their potential, even those who have violated the law in serious and harmful ways,” Balis says.

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