Author’s Note: I started graduate school, so a lot of my writing time is impeded by having to actually write for classes. Once my essays are complete and graded, I’ll post them here so that you all at least have something to read if I do not get to write other pieces for fun for a little bit. Enjoy!
Public perception and concern over the emergence of a new breed of juvenile delinquent, namely the violent predator, fueled Snyder’s analysis of the Maricopa County juvenile population in 1998. This study resulted in some very interesting findings, especially with regards to the effectiveness of the system and the types of offenses committed by youths. In addition, Snyder’s findings help shed light on ways to reevaluate, and potentially improve, the policies and practices of the juvenile justice system.
The Maricopa County study looked at the “graduating classes” of officially recognized juvenile delinquents from 1980 to 1995. These cohorts were identified by using the entire youth population that turned eighteen and aged out of the juvenile system in their respective years. In all, 151,209 youth were identified as officially recognized by the juvenile system during this timeframe, which accounted for a combined 325,259 referrals to the court. Three categories of offenses were used to identify each juvenile career type: nonserious nonviolent offenses, serious nonviolent offenses, and violent offenses.
In order to best understand what Snyder’s findings mean, it is important to note some of the key statistical data that provide the basis for interpreting the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system and the potential ways in which reevaluating policy and practice are affected. The average age at which a youth’s first delinquent offense occurred remained fairly constant across all sixteen cohorts, and ranged between 15.2 and 15.8 years of age. The average number of referrals to the system increased from 1980 to 1995 by approximately 55%. It is important to note that this increase in referrals is greater than the increase in the size of the groups, which means that the 1995 cohort had more referrals per career than the 1980 cohort. Finally, a large majority of youth referred to the system, approximately 60% in fact, were referred only once.
While the preceding data alone does not present a complete understanding of Snyder’s findings, it does provide a baseline from which further analysis yields interesting insights. In examining the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system the rate of recidivism provides the most important data point. In addition to noting that the majority of youth were referred only once, only 1% of the population studied was referred more than once for violent offenses. This indicates that successful intervention by the system early in the career of an offending youth is absolutely critical in preventing further delinquent activities. Snyder also found that each referral to the system increased the likelihood of an offender being referred for a violent offense. This further emphasizes that early, successful intervention is crucial in lowering violent crime among the juvenile population, and provides a clear goal in reevaluating the practices and policies related to intervening in the careers of juvenile offenders as early as possible.
As noted earlier, the number of referrals from 1980 to 1995 increased, with the proportion of chronic offenders averaging 13% in the eighties and 17% in the nineties. The records show that this increase was a result of more chronic offenders, not more active, serious, or violent offenders. This increase could be explained by the expanded reach of the juvenile justice system, as Snyder mentions, but could also indicate a growing trend of unsuccessful intervention the first time a youth is referred to the court. Since chronic offenders of any type (nonserious, serious, and violent) only made up 14.6% of the entire population studied, or 22,112 of the 151,209 cases studied, and the proportion of chronic offenders averaged 17% at its peak, the explanation that a larger number of juveniles involved in repeat referrals as a result of an expanded reach of the system makes the most sense.
These points illustrate that rethinking intervention strategies in an effort to lower the number of referrals among juveniles should be an ongoing process. One flaw easily recognized in understanding the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system, however, is that no clear data is available on how many juveniles are not referred to the courts or who are referred directly to the adult justice system due to changes in policy and law. In order to best understand whether the juvenile justice system is actually largely meeting its goals as Snyder indicates, another study that tracks these same cohorts across the rest of their careers up to the present is necessary. In addition, analysis of intake records for the adult court system over the same time-frame should be studied to ensure additional juveniles were not overlooked in the original study.
Overall, Snyder’s findings indicate positive trends in juvenile justice and delinquency. Continued expansion of programs designed to intervene in the lives of at-risk juveniles, as well as expansion of programs designed to intervene at the point of first contact with the juvenile system, are cornerstones of an effective, proactive approach to lowering both initial referrals and repeat referrals to the courts. It is clear, however, that sufficient data on juvenile delinquency does not exist at present.
Snyder, H.N. (1998). Serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders—an assessment of the extent of and trends in officially recognized serious criminal behavior in a delinquent population. In: Loeber, R., & Farrington, D. (Eds), Serious & violent juvenile offenders: risk factors and successful interventions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.