Juvenile cases plummeted during the past decade
The number of cases filed in juvenile courts dropped by a whopping 41 percent – from about two million to about 1.25 million – from 2009 to 2018, according to a recently released study by two NCSC researchers.
The decline, which came at a time when the nation’s juvenile population was flat, was inconsistent by case types and from state to state, but the researchers said it is largely due to a nationwide shift in philosophy in working with juveniles.
“There is much greater understanding about brain maturation in adolescents,” said Diane Robinson, a senior court research associate. “The shift has occurred across the board, with fewer adolescents being arrested and fewer with minor offenses being brought before the courts.”
In the study, Robinson and co-author Sarah Gibson, a NCSC court research analyst, noted that the decline in cases, particularly related to property and drug offenses, “does not mean that courts are not interacting with these youth.” The courts have continued to help juveniles through diversion and community-based services. The study is part of NCSC’s Court Statistics Project, which collects and publishes state court caseload data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories.
The results in the NCSC study correspond with the decline in juvenile crime rates, which have dropped sharply since 1996, the year they reached the highest rate ever recorded, according to the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. That year there were 8,476 juveniles arrested per 100,000 people nationwide, compared with 2,553 in 2016 – a 70-percent decline.
The NCSC study shows that some case types increased in volume/filings. For example, the number of child abuse and neglect cases rose annually between 2014 and 2017. There isn’t one single reason for this, but there is a correlation between hospitalizations and deaths due to substance abuse and the number of children entering foster care, Robinson and Gibson said.
Go here to read the entire NCSC study, including the history of juvenile courts, key rulings and laws, and the three main categories of juvenile court cases: delinquency, dependency and status offenses.
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