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  • Adult Time for Adult Crime: The U.S. Has a Juvenile Crime Problem

    The U.S. Has a Juvenile Crime Problem
    Underlying nearly every argument made by opponents of life without parole for juvenile offenders is the premise that, because many other countries have not authorized or have repealed the sentence, the United States should do the same so that it can be in conformance with the international “consensus” on the matter.

    In fact, this premise is the cornerstone of the litigation strategy to extend the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments” to reach life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. This application of foreign sources of law to determine domestic law, in addition to being legally problematic, too often overlooks the qualitative differences between the United States and other countries.

    This has certainly been the case in the debate over life without parole for juvenile offenders. The leading reports on the issue do not grapple seriously with the facts concerning juvenile crime and how those facts differ between nations. Instead, they play a crude counting game, tallying up nations while ignoring the realities of their circumstances and juvenile justice systems.

    The Facts on Worldwide Crime and Sentencing
    The fact is that the United States faces higher rates of crimes, particularly violent crimes and homicides, than nearly any other country. Adults and juveniles commit crimes in huge numbers, from misdemeanor thefts to premeditated murders. The root causes of this epidemic have been debated, studied, tested, and analyzed for decades, but the fact of its existence is neither controversial nor in doubt.

    After a decade of gains in deterring juvenile crime, the trend has turned the other way in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there was “substantial growth in juvenile violent crime arrests…in the late 1980s [which] peaked in 1994.” Between 1994 and 2004, the arrest rate for juveniles for violent crimes fell 49 percent, only to see a 2 percent uptick in 2005 and then a 4 percent gain in 2006. In 2005 and 2006, arrests of juveniles for murder and robbery also increased.

    Despite the progress made through 2004, juvenile violent crime remains much higher in the United States than in other Western nations. Some statistics:

    • In 1998 alone, 24,537,600 recorded crimes were committed in the United States.
    • Of the 72 countries that reported recorded crimes to the United Nations Seventh Survey of Crime Trends, the United States ranked first in total recorded crimes.
    • Worse still, the United States reported more crimes than the next six countries (Germany, England/Wales, France, South Africa, Russia, and Canada) combined. Their total was 23,111,318.
    • Even more tellingly, the U.S. had a higher crime rate than all of those countries, except for England, which experienced disproportionate rates of property crimes but much lower rates of violent crimes.

    In terms of violent crime rates, the U.S. ranks highly in every category, and the same is true in the realm of juvenile crime. For example:

    • In 1998, teenagers in the United States were suspects in 1,609,303 crimes, and 1,000,279 juveniles were prosecuted.
    • That is as many juvenile prosecutions as the next seven highest countries combined. Those countries are England/Wales, Thailand, Germany, China, Canada, Turkey, and South Korea.
    • According to 2002 World Health Organization statistics, the United States ranks third in murders committed by youths and 14th in murders per capita committed by youths.
    • In terms of rates, the United States is the only non-developing Western nation on the list until number 38 (New Zealand). Countries with similar youth murder rates include Panama, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Paraguay, Cuba, and Belarus. In terms of juvenile killers per capita, the United States is more like Colombia or Mexico than the United Kingdom, which ranks 52 on the list.

    Given this domestic crime problem, it should come as no great surprise that the United States tops the lists of total prisoners and prisoners per capita. The U.S. incarceration rate bests that of the runner-up, Russia, by more than 20 percent.

    Despite this high incarceration rate, convicted persons in the United States actually served less time in prison, on average, than the world average and the European average. Among the 35 countries surveyed on this question in 1998, the average time actually served in prison was 32.62 months. Europeans sentenced to prison served an average of 30.89 months. Those in the United States served an average of only 28 months.

    These crucial statistics are not mentioned by those who urge abolition of life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders. The reason may be that it undercuts their arguments: If the juvenile crime problem in the United States is not comparable to the juvenile crime problems of other Western nations, then combating it may justifiably require different, and stronger, techniques. The fact that some other nations no longer sentence juvenile offenders to life without parole loses a significant degree of its relevance. In addition, the data on sentence length demonstrate that the use of life-without-parole sentences is not a function of excessive sentence lengths in the United States, but rather an anomaly in a criminal justice system that generally imposes shorter sentences than those of other developed nations.

    Charles D. Stimson is Senior Legal Fellow and Andrew M. Grossman is Senior Legal Policy Analyst in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

    Posted in Legal [slideshow_deploy]

    6 Responses to Adult Time for Adult Crime: The U.S. Has a Juvenile Crime Problem

    1. Bobbie Jay says:

      Is the government of America trying to dilute civility? Looking to global consensus? The PAST YEARS government legislated against parental discipline to the point where children threaten their parents. Only to weaken the child's human qualities. One being endurance!

      The government walked in where they don't belong and as usual, leaves the UNACCOUNTABLE to suffer the consequences.

      WE NEED GOVERNMENT REFORM NOW!

    2. Freedom of Speech TX says:

      Every time this subject is debated on what to do with "juveniles" convicted of murder, rape, and maiming I only think of one thing.

      What about the victims and their loved ones?

    3. alawyer says:

      The United States has the lowest age of criminal responsibility — 7 in most states, and even below that in places like Florida. Some states set the bar at 10, but allow "dependency" proceedings based on purported criminal activities. If a child commits a purported criminal act in the Netherlands, he is not charged with a crime unless he has reached age 14. Most EU nations set the bar of criminal responsibility at 12 or 14. Britian sets the bar at 10 and has been roundly critisized for this brutality by an EU Watchdog group. So go back to the statistics. First, other nations do not consider acts of 9 year olds to be crimes, but the US does. Second, other nations do not consider acts of 12 year olds to be crimes but the US permits children that age to be sentenced to life in prison. See the difference? Also, the US is so overly litigous that we charge small children with assault for hitting other children – something that police laugh off in other nations. We also permit zero tolerance policies to inflate our juvenile crime statistics, and unlike other nations, we permit "over-charging" – for instance, if a child of 12 steals a checkbook and it has 20 checks, he is charged with 20 felonies. Not so in other nations. Then there is the issue of guns. Face reality, EU nations don't have half the problems that we do because children do not have access to guns. Any 12 year old can kill – and they have done so since antiquity. But in EU countries, it's darned hard to get ahold of a weapon that could make a 12 year old a killer — even if the country recognized that the child could commit a criminal offense. Our juvenile system has polluted the meaning of crime – any child who commits an act is deemed guilty, without regard to intent, understanding, or capacity. I'm all for abolishing juvenile courts and bringing back the capcity defense — and also applying equal protection standards to kids – which would mean that any adult who strikes a child is guilty of assault and battery. A child would not be automatically deemed guilty of assault for striking a parent if it involved mutual combat or the parent struck first. And most importantly, prosecutors could not us the "discipline" concept as motive when a child kills an adult — if an adult is in the process of striking a child, the offense automatically drops to manslaughter and self defense would be considered. Cases like Christopher Pitmann, who killed his grandparents after they locked him in a room, denied him water, and beat him with a wooden board. As justice goes for children, who are denied basic equal protection rights, the prosecutor claimed that this "discipline" was the 12 year old's motive for murder — he didn't like being beaten. Imagine if a mentally disabled adult, with the mental capacity of a 12 year old, about 5 feet tall, was beaten by another adult, locked in a room, denied water and involuntarily drugged. Wouldn't we have said — tough to the dead folks — they had no right to treat another human being that way? Kids are kids in America only when it suits the political aspiration of prosecutors and judges.

    4. Nickolai Alleyne, Fl says:

      Here's a thought. In the U.S., an 18 or 20 yr old person is considered mature and discerning enough to get married, vote, and die for their country driving a $20 million dollar tank. This same person year old though isn't "mature" enough to buy a beer or rent a car. If a 20 yr old isn't mature enough to buy beer, how is a 12 yr old suddenly and fully mentally capable of analyzing the outcome of criminal actions?

    5. Carol from Roswell says:

      Has anyone really addressed the issue; the boys who commit these crimes – what is their family life like? If they did an honest study, would they find that most of these boys are a product of being born to a teenage mother, who neither wanted them or was hoping that it would keep the father near. Has the ministers, community leaders and politicians addressed the correlation of crime and homelessness to children born out of wedlock. I think they know the answer, but for some reason don't address it. Wouldn't an HONEST discussion about this help solve the problem and also save another generation of kids being born with no guidance, love, help, morals, integrity, spiritual guidance, hope. We can throw all the money at social programs and hope and pray, but the answer is simple. Divide the middle and high schools into a boys school and a girls school; uniforms; curfew at 9:00 p.m.; sex education to protect from disease, guidance to reduce pregnancies; build self-esteem in these young girls starting at seven and eight. Let them know that they can make a decision without the boy telling them what to do; that they can be safe or have some where to go if they are threatened by a boy (Rhianna and Chris Brown – they set the wrong example). That an education can lead to a good life. Perhaps offer an incentive; have the girls across the country sign a pledge that if they do not get pregnant before they graduate from high school that the state will give them a two year community college education. We are not talking about abstaining from sex, but to practice safe sex. Would this not be a lot cheaper than the government supporting these babies from infancy to adulthood; all the things the government (our tax dollar pays for to raise these children); free hospitalization when they are born and the majority of time drug related births, premature births, free childcare, free lunch programs, free breakfast, free schooling, clothing if they need it, subsidized housing, holiday gifts, school outings, community field trips. Does this work, yes maybe in some cases, but most of the kids fall through the cracks, have no way out and repeat the same vicious cycle that their mother went through. It is generational poverty. The government run "Raise me Up" program states 270,000 children will be in forster care. Is this right, is this fair, can this not be stopped. Toddlers are left to fend for themselves by the time they are three or four – television as a babysitter or with a grandmother for supervision, or perhaps the boyfriend and we know where that leads; we read about that everyday. Abuse, verbal and physical and then that is repeated when the child grows up, because they do not know any differently. Why do the activists and the leaders not say enough is enough. Address the real issue and speak the truth and perhaps save the next generation of young people. Have your babies, but have them after you get the education and the job and can support them on your own, not on someone else's dollar. A young girl having one baby might be a mistake, but when she has two and three, maybe four – I think the reason why has to be addressed. Let's speak the truth. Save the girls, save the babies and raise a generation of people who will contribute to society.

    6. Ms. B, Fort Laud FL says:

      This is such a touchy subject, I am currently working on my Masters degree in criminal justice and this subject is the topic of discussion in all the classes I take. Sad to say we are hearing more stories and reports of kids being charged with serious crimes. Where do we draw the line of rehabilitation and punishment?

      When a 13 year old feels comfortable and a blatant disregard of another human being, by dousing his friend with alcohol, so that another juvenile can sit him or fire, then I truly feel that punishment is the appropriate action-no matter the age.

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