Report that blaming young people for the COVID crime wave is wrong / Public News Service


Data from the Sentencing Project showed that the share of crime in the United States committed by young people has more than halved over the past two decades.

The findings contrast with what the youth advocacy group calls “false narratives”, suggesting that a movement of youth violence has swept the country since the start of the pandemic.

Sierra Ludington, communications manager for the New Mexico Child Advocacy Network, said the state’s focus on intervention programs has limited the number of minors going to correctional facilities.

“Keeping children with their families and communities, placing them in restorative justice programs, really indicates that even young people who make a mistake can truly become successful adults who contribute to our communities,” Ludington said.

After most states adopted a “hardening” approach to young offenders in the 1980s, an estimated quarter of a million juveniles were being charged as adults each year by the early 2000s, according to the National Pittsburgh Center for Juvenile Justice. The center said the number fell to around 53,000 in 2019.

Richard Mendel, senior researcher for The Sentencing Project and author of the report, said the stress of the past two years could affect future data and possibly show an increase in youth crime in the pandemic era. But he argued that returning to outdated correctional methods would be counterproductive.

“Now is not the time to panic about youth crime,” Mendel said. “Especially if this panic is going to cause us to embrace solutions that we know the evidence shows don’t work.”

Last month, the Child Advocacy Network launched a series of videos explaining New Mexico’s juvenile justice legal process and how youth and families can navigate the system.

Ludington pointed out that the videos emphasize that the state’s juvenile code is designed to provide a program of supervision, care and rehabilitation.

“Preventing children from dealing with the adult consequences of typical adolescent behavior is critical, as well as giving them the opportunity to rehabilitate,” Ludington stressed. “I can’t say it enough, that positive youth development is key.”

The new report suggests that greater investments in social and mental health supports in schools and communities could help maintain the downward trend in youth crime.

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