Juvenile Felony Arrests

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Learn More About Juvenile Arrests

Measures of Juvenile Arrests on Kidsdata.org
This topic describes felony arrests for children and youth under age 18. Felony arrests, which are more serious than misdemeanors, tend to involve injury or substantial property loss. Felony crimes include violent offenses (homicide, rape, robbery, assault, and kidnapping), property offenses (burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, forgery, and arson), drug and alcohol offenses (narcotics, marijuana, other drugs, and driving under the influence), sex offenses, and other offenses (such as weapons offenses, hit-and-run, and vehicular manslaughter). Indicators on kidsdata.org include:
Note: Juvenile felony arrests data do not provide a full picture of youth criminal activity. These data do not include misdemeanor arrests, and the number of arrests can shift as a result of changes in the number of police on the streets, legislative or judicial action to increase or reduce penalties, or trends in prosecutors’ charging decisions. Many felony charges also are reduced to misdemeanors or are dismissed in later phases of the court process.
Juvenile Arrests
Bullying and Harassment at School
Children's Emotional Health
Community Connectedness
Intimate Partner Violence
Disconnected Youth
School Connectedness
School Safety
Gang Involvement
Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions
Youth Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Use
Why This Topic Is Important
Youth who have contact with the juvenile justice system are at increased risk for a number of negative long-term outcomes—such as injury, substance use and dependency, dropping out of school, and early pregnancy—when compared with the general youth population (1, 2). Youth who have been detained also may face difficulty gaining the educational credentials they need to obtain sustained employment, and may be more likely to engage in criminal behavior as adults (3). Conditions that increase the likelihood of involvement with the juvenile justice system include family poverty, separation from family members including parental incarceration, a history of maltreatment, and exposure to violence in the home and community (2).

Additional risk factors for juvenile criminal activity are substance use or dependency, significant educational challenges, and mental illness (2, 4). Of the youth who enter California’s juvenile justice system, an estimated 30% have mental health issues (5). Youth who have been held in detention have higher rates of attempted suicide and psychiatric disorders than youth who have not been detained (3, 4, 6).
For more information on juvenile arrests, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  PolicyforResults.org. (n.d.). Prevent juvenile delinquency. Retrieved from: http://www.policyforresults.org/youth/prevent-juvenile-delinquency

2.  Nellis, A. (2012). The lives of juvenile lifers: Findings from a national survey. The Sentencing Project. Retrieved from: http://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/the-lives-of-juvenile-lifers-findings-from-a-national-survey

3.  PolicyforResults.org. (n.d.). Reduce juvenile detention. Retrieved from: http://www.policyforresults.org/youth/reduce-juvenile-detention

4.  Schubert, C. A., & Mulvey, E. P. (2014). Behavioral health problems, treatment, and outcomes in serious youthful offenders. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Retrieved from: http://www.ojjdp.gov/publications/PubAbstract.asp?pubi=264515

5.  Legislative Analyst's Office. (2012). The 2012-2013 budget: Completing juvenile justice realignment. Retrieved from: http://www.lao.ca.gov/Publications/Detail/2562

6.  Abram, K. M., et al. (2014). Suicidal thoughts and behaviors among detained youth. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Retrieved from: http://www.ojjdp.gov/publications/PubAbstract.asp?pubi=265968
How Children Are Faring
California’s juvenile felony arrest rate declined by 73% between 1998 and 2015, from 19.6 arrests per 1,000 youth ages 10-17 to 5.3. Although all counties with data saw declines during this period, county-level rates vary widely; these ranged from 2.9 to 11.7 per 1,000 in 2015.

In 2015, 34% of juvenile felony arrests in California were for violent offenses, 31% for property offenses, 24% for other offenses (e.g., weapons, hit-and-run), 7% for drug and alcohol offenses, and 3% for sex offenses. Statewide, boys account for the vast majority of juvenile felony arrests—84% in 2015.

Among racial/ethnic groups with data, African American/black youth are arrested for felony offenses at higher rates than their peers in other groups—24 arrests per 1,000 youth in 2015, compared to 5 arrests per 1,000 Hispanic/Latino youth and 3 arrests per 1,000 white youth. In 2015, more than three-quarters of all juvenile felony arrests in California involved youth of color.
Policy Implications
The juvenile justice system is responsible for protecting communities from crime and delinquency, holding youth offenders accountable, and rehabilitating them. Policymakers within the justice, education, and social services systems can play a role in improving the way society addresses juvenile crime. The process for adjudicating youth offenders often does not have the intended effect on crime control, and it does not consistently take into account the relative public safety risk or circumstances of individual youth (1).

Policy options that could reduce juvenile felonies include:
  • Improving systems of care to address the mental health needs of juvenile offenders, from initial screening or assessment at first contact with the juvenile justice system to provision of appropriate treatment to incarcerated youth (1)
  • Addressing recidivism by reforming policies that increase the likelihood to re-offend, and providing services that decrease it, such as mentoring, behavioral programs, group counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and assistance in graduating high school (2, 3)
  • Examining and improving existing policies for processing youth offenders through the juvenile justice system; policies should allow for case-specific assessment of an individual's circumstances, the severity of the offense, the public safety risk posed by the youth, and the potential effects of system processing (4)
For more policy ideas on juvenile justice, visit the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. Also see Policy Implications on kidsdata.org under these topics: Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions, High School Graduation, School Connectedness, and Gang Involvement.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Petrosino, A., et al. (2013). Formal system processing of juveniles: Effects on delinquency (Crime Prevention Research Review No. 9). U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Retrieved from: http://ric-zai-inc.com/ric.php?page=detail&id=COPS-P265

2.  Redding, R. E. (2010). Juvenile transfer laws: An effective deterrent to delinquency? Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Retrieved from: http://www.ojjdp.gov/publications/PubAbstract.asp?pubi=242419

3.  Seigle, E., et al. (2014). Core principles for reducing recidivism and improving other outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system. Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from: https://csgjusticecenter.org/youth/publications/juvenile-justice-white-paper

4.  Legislative Analyst's Office. (2012). The 2012-2013 budget: Completing juvenile justice realignment. Retrieved from: http://www.lao.ca.gov/Publications/Detail/2562
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Juvenile Arrests