Juvenille Justice Statistics
Statistical Reporting and Reduction of Juvenile Crime
Strengths and limitations of juvenile delinquency measurements
To deal with the problem of juvenile delinquency, it is essential that the statistics that are kept on this crime are accurately tabulated and reported. “While measurement is not new to juvenile justice, too often data collected by juvenile justice agencies have been unrelated to outcomes, and have seldom allowed the public to assess performance in a meaningful way. This information has not helped juvenile justice systems and organizations determine the impact and cost-effectiveness of their interventions” (Bazemore 2006: v). For example, there has been a tendency to keep track of the number of appointments with probationers or recidivism, without actually asking questions like: were the interventions with the system effective or what specifically prompted the recidivism? “Re-offending may be a result of any number of factors that may or may not be related to the system’s work with the offender. The problem raised by performance measurement is therefore one of determining to what extent juvenile justice agencies and systems can develop indicators that truly gauge the quality and impact of the system’s performance (Bazemore 2006:2).
Ideally, statistics should be quantifiable and objective in nature. However, even so-called ‘objective’ statistics may need to be placed in context. For example, one rehabilitative program for juveniles found that the rate of recidivism was around 25%. However, these findings “were based on a population of higher risk participants (with on average, 10 prior offenses and including a greater number of offenders with prior felonies, 69%) and “and all but three of the 33 recidivists were arrested for lower level felony offenses (33%),” which made the statistics on the program seem far less dire and actually suggested it was beneficial (Bazemore 2006:33).
There can also be great difficulty in amassing enough statistical data to make for a meaningful comparison, particularly given the fact that many juvenile complaints on a lower level may not have a ‘paper trail’ because they are never heard before a judge and the records are expunged. Most cases with a substantial ‘paper trail’ tend to be more serious incidents, which can skew perceptions of the data. Even more so than the adult justice system, the differences on a state-by-state basis between juvenile courts in terms of procedures and the rights allocated to the participants, can make a comparison challenging. Even state-specific studies require relatively large amounts of data to yield useful data such as “an examination of more than 13,000 cases participating in restitution and alternative dispositions in Utah [that] suggests that even relatively small, though statistically significant, differences in re-offending can make large differences in cost savings and public safety in an entire juvenile justice system” (Bazemore 2006:28).
Another problem with crime statistics in general that many crimes which are never processed by the system at all go unreported. “Moreover, the reactions of the juvenile and criminal justice systems often rely on information from victims or witnesses of crime. It does not take an expert on crime to recognize that a substantial amount of crime is not reported and, if reported, is not officially recorded” (Tourangeau & McNeeley 2008: 44). Self-reporting by criminals (in an anonymous format) and victims on surveys is often used as a solution to the problem of non-reported crimes, and while there are questions about the accuracy and reliability of this data (given that it is not corroborated by an outside source, such as law enforcement), self-reporting can be used as an additional statistical tool to gain a more complete portrait of crimes that tend to be committed by juveniles.
Bazemore, Gordon. (2006). Measuring what really matters in juvenile justice. American Prosecutor’s Research Institute. Retrieved: http://www.ndaa.org/pdf/measuring_what_really_matters_06.pdf
Tourangeau, Roger & McNeeley, Madeline E. (2008). Measuring crime and crime victimization: Methodological issues. Measurement Problems in Criminal Justice Research: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved:
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