Law enforcement experts are warning that crimes involving juveniles are on the rise, pointing to failures in the criminal justice system, broken families, police staffing shortages and social media as key drivers of the trend.
Some experts also blame the defunding movement, progressive criminal justice policies and light consequences for teen violence.
“Unfortunately, the penalties aren’t scary for these kids,” Joseph Giacalone, an adjunct professor and the former commanding officer of the NYPD’s Bronx Cold Case Squad, told Fox News.
Giacalone adds that lax parenting styles and lack of discipline in schools are also major factors. “The parents aren’t taking care of things,” he said. “The schools aren’t taking care of things, and then the police have to deal with them … and meanwhile they had no [child] rearing at home, no discipline at home and at school, and they want to know why kids are acting out.”
In major cities, such as Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York, juvenile crime is a near-daily occurrence.
Experts noted that the majority of teens committing crimes in Philadelphia had prior arrests for carjacking and gun crimes, but were released back onto the streets without consequences.
In Philadelphia, youths recently opened fire near a high school. In Los Angeles, a teenager shot and killed a rapper during a robbery with his father. In New York, a 17-year-old gunman fatally shot a teenage girl while aiming at a man across the street.
Jody Kent Lavy, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, was herself a victim of an armed robbery in Washington, D.C. However, she believes that being tougher on crimes isn’t the solution.
“Harmed people harm people. We know that,” she said. “When we recognize that they’re still developing, still maturing, and we intervene with approaches that will take that into account as far as where they came from, what they’ve endured, what circumstances might have led to their behavior and to their crimes, and we address those things, that’s when we see a toughness on crime.”
David Kennedy, a criminal justice professor at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that it’s hard to determine whether there is a juvenile crime epidemic, given how little experts say is known about juvenile crime.
“You have to know what’s happening in order to be rational about this,” he said. “For the most part we don’t, but there’s absolutely no reason to believe that the violence increases of the last few years are being driven by juveniles.”
The Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) recently analyzed arrest data for juveniles in 2020 — the most recent year that data is available — and found that total juvenile arrests were down 78% from their peak in 1994.
Law enforcement agencies tallied 424,300 child arrests that year, 8% of which were for violent crimes. There were 1,780 minors who were murder victims in 2020, marking a 30% increase from the year before.
The OJJDP said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, youth violent crime arrests involving underage offenders decreased by 56%.
However, post 2020, juvenile crime appears to be on the rise, boosted by policies that ban kids from being tried in an adult court and that refuse to punish minors.
For instance, in California, more than 19,300 juveniles have been arrested for crimes. Of those 15 to 17 years of age, felonies were more frequent than misdemeanors. In total, 9,132 underage offenders were arrested for felonies.
Officials like L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón have been widely criticized for their “soft on crime” policies.
Experts say such policies enable juveniles to openly commit crimes, such as carjackings, which are on the uptick nationwide.
National Insurance Crime Bureau President and CEO David Glawe told a Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., that most of the carjacking offenses committed last year were by teens, stating, “Of the 149 individuals arrested in 2021 for carjackings, 100 were juveniles.”
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said the Chicago P.D. is doing its part to crack down on juvenile violent crime.
“Juveniles are either victims and are offenders of gun violence, and we take it very seriously. And we are continuing to make progress in this area,” he said.
According to data from the FBI, there were 656 underage offenders arrested in connection with murder and non-negligent manslaughter in 2021, down from 683 in 2020.