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 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, dangerous drugs, and driving under the influence); sex offenses; and other offenses (such as those involving weapons, hit-and-run, and bookmaking). Indicators on kidsdata.org include:
Note: Juvenile felony arrest 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 the later phases of the court process.
Juvenile Arrests
Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs
Bullying and Harassment at School
Community Connectedness
Dating and Domestic Violence
Disconnected Youth
Emotional/Mental Health
Gang Involvement
School Safety
School Connectedness
Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions
Why This Topic Is Important
Youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system tend to have higher rates of substance use, dropping out of school, injury, and early pregnancy (1). Juvenile arrest and detention also are associated with higher rates of attempted suicide and psychiatric disorders, and these youth are more likely to engage in adult criminal behavior than those who have not been detained (2, 3). In addition, youth who are arrested or detained may face difficulty gaining the educational credentials they need to succeed as adults and to obtain sustained employment.

Research has identified a number of risk factors for juvenile crime. Negative peer influences (including gang membership), a history of maltreatment, mental illness, substance abuse, and significant family dysfunction each can contribute to increased likelihood of involvement with the juvenile justice system. This is especially true for males (1, 4). Being engaged and successful in school is associated with lower risk of delinquency and incarceration. Further, for every year that a youth stays in school, the likelihood that he or she will commit a crime decreases (2). Conversely, students who drop out of high school are three times more likely to be arrested than high school graduates and eight times more likely to be incarcerated.

Juvenile crime also results in significant societal costs. Most adult criminals begin as juveniles, and the costs of arresting, prosecuting, detaining, and treating youth and adult offenders are estimated to be billions of dollars per year (1).

For more information on juvenile arrests, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Juvenile justice. (2008). The Future of Children, 18(2), 3-14. Retrieved from: http://www.futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/journals/journal_details/index.xml?journalid=31

2.  Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. (2008). School or the streets: Crime and California’s dropout crisis. Retrieved from: http://www.fightcrime.org/state/usa/reports/school-or-streets-crime-and-americas-dropout-crisis-2008

3.  PolicyforResults.Org. Reduce juvenile detention. Retrieved May 2012 from: http://www.policyforresults.org/topics/policy-areas/youth-prepared-to-succeed/reduce-juvenile-detention/juvenile-detention/executive-summary

4.  Thornberry, T. P., Huizinga, D., & Loeber, R. (2004). The causes and correlates studies: Findings and policy implications. Journal of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 9(1), 3-19. Retrieved from: https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/publications/Abstract.aspx?id=206870

How Children Are Faring
California’s juvenile felony arrest rate declined by 55% between 1998 and 2012, from 19.6 per 1,000 youth ages 10-17 to 8.8. Most counties also saw declines during this period. County-level juvenile felony arrest rates vary widely, ranging from 5.7 per 1,000 to 17.5 in 2012.

In 2012, 39.5% of juvenile felony arrests in California were for property offenses, 25.9% for violent offenses, 21.9% for other offenses (e.g., weapons, hit-and-run), 10% for drug and alcohol offenses, and 2.7% for sex offenses. Statewide, boys account for the vast majority of juvenile felony arrests.

Among racial/ethnic groups, African American youth are arrested at higher rates than their peers in other groups. In 2012, African American and Latino youth together comprised 75% of all juvenile felony arrests in California. Youth of color have been disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system for many years, statewide and nationally. For more information, see The Future of Children’s journal issue, Juvenile Justice.

Keep in mind that arrests and arrest rates can be influenced by multiple factors, and are an imperfect measure of juvenile criminal activity.
Policy Implications
The juvenile justice system is responsible for protecting society from crime and delinquency, holding youth offenders accountable, and rehabilitating them. Policymakers within the justice, social services, and education systems can play a role in improving the way society addresses juvenile crime. Of the youth who enter California’s juvenile justice system, an estimated 40-70% have mental health issues (2). The process for adjudicating youth offenders often does not have the intended effect on crime control (1), and it does not always take into account the relative public safety risk or circumstances of individual youth. The vast majority of youth offenders are re-arrested within two years of release, and a sizable percentage are re-incarcerated (3).

According to research and subject experts, 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 (2).
  • Addressing recidivism by reforming policies that increase the likelihood to re-offend, and providing services that decrease it (4), such as interpersonal skills training, behavioral programs, counseling, and community-based, family-style group homes tailored to the needs of the offenders (5). Creating community capacities to provide a safety net and structure for youth at risk of delinquency also can be effective (6).
  • Examining and improving existing policies for processing youth offenders through the juvenile justice system; policies should allow for case-specific assessment of the individual, the severity of the offense, the public safety risk posed by the youth, and the potential effects of system processing (1).

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 the topics Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions, High School Dropouts, School Connectedness, and Gang Involvement.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Guckenberg, S., & Petrosino, A. (n.d.). Formal system processing of juveniles: Effects on delinquency. Retrieved from: http://www.wested.org/cs/we/view/rstudy/64

2.  Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice. (2010). Juvenile justice policy brief series: Mental health issues in California’s juvenile justice system. Retrieved from: http://www.law.berkeley.edu/img/BCCJ_Mental_Health_Policy_Brief_May_2010.pdf

3.  California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. (2010). Juvenile justice outcomes evaluation report: Youth released from the division of juvenile justice in fiscal year 2004-05. Retrieved from: http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Reports_Research/docs/Recidivism%20Report.FY0405.%20FINAL.DJJ.pdf

4.  Redding, R. E. (2010). Juvenile transfer laws: An effective deterrent to delinquency? Juvenile Justice Bulletin, U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/220595.pdf

5.  Lipsey, M. W., Wilson, D. B., & Cothern, L. (2010). Effective interventions for serious juvenile offenders. Juvenile Justice Bulletin, U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/181201.pdf

6.  Kubrin, C. E., & Stewart, E. A. (2006). Predicting who reoffends: The neglected role of neighborhood context in recidivism studies. Criminology, 44(1), 165-197. Retrieved from: http://www.gwu.edu/~soc/docs/Kubrin_predicting.pdf

Websites with Related Information
Key Reports
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Juvenile Arrests