In 1992, Congress directed the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to conduct a study of the incidence of violence committed by or against juveniles in urban and rural areas in the United States. The four major objectives of the study were:
In response to this legislation, OJJDP funded four new violence studies and continued funding for three existing research projects examining the causes and correlates of serious and violent juvenile offending. The four new studies funded by OJJDP include (1) Studies of Violence Committed By or Against Juveniles in Washington, DC; (2) Juvenile Violence in Los Angeles; (3) Violence Among Rural Youth; and (4) The Milwaukee Homicide Study. The existing studies OJJDP continued funding include three coordinated longitudinal projects, known collectively as the Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency. This program, initiated in 1986, includes the following individual projects:
This summary provides a brief overview of the findings from all the juvenile violence studies. Specific results can be found in the body of this report.
Characteristics and Patterns of At-Risk Juveniles and Factors That Contribute to Violence Committed By or Against Juveniles
The risk that an adolescent will become involved in violent offending and/or be a victim of violence varies based on a number of different factors, including individual characteristics, family characteristics, peer and school factors, neighborhood environment, and daily activities. The focus of most of the juvenile violence studies was on individual characteristics and neighborhood factors associated with an increased risk of involvement in juvenile violence, either as offenders or victims.
Overall, the results from the juvenile violence studies show that violent offenses are overwhelmingly committed by males and that the majority of juvenile victims of violence are male. However, females appear to be getting more involved in violent behavior, with one study finding that, at age 13, females reported slightly higher rates of violent behavior than males. Results from these studies indicate that many juveniles who become involved in violent behavior begin doing so by age 15. The studies also found that African-American males were disproportionately involved as offenders and as victims of violence.
An examination of neighborhood factors indicates that many violent juvenile offenders live in impoverished neighborhoods. However, the majority of youth who live in such environments are not involved in serious delinquency. In surveys of adolescent males living in high-risk neighborhoods in the District of Columbia and Los Angeles, the studies found that there is a small group of offenders responsible for a large percentage of violent crime but that the majority of youth in these neighborhoods are not involved in violent offending.
Accessibility of Firearms and the Use of Firearms By or Against Juveniles
The studies in this report overwhelmingly confirm that firearms play a large role in juvenile violence that is serious enough to come to police attention. Firearms were involved in 80% or more of the violent incidents in each of the studies reporting on this topic. More specifically, firearms were used in 85% of juvenile homicide victimizations in the DC juvenile violence study and 91% of the homicide incidents involving a juvenile in the Los Angeles homicide study. Further, 83% of the juvenile homicide offenders in the Milwaukee homicide study used a firearm to murder their victim.
The survey of adolescent males living in high-risk neighborhoods in Los Angeles found that 40% either had, at some point, possessed a gun or had a close friend who owned a gun, indicating that guns are fairly accessible to these youth. Accessibility in rural areas appears to be somewhat comparable. However, it appears that not all juvenile gun owners are equally dangerous. Two of the studies identified high-risk and low-risk gun owners and found an association between high-risk gun ownership and antisocial behavior.
Conditions Associated With an Increase in Violence Committed By or Against Juveniles
Certain situational conditions appear to be associated with an increase in juvenile violent offending, such as location, time of day, and the presence of gangs. Several studies examined these situational conditions and found that patterns of juvenile violence are not consistent across cities. In Washington, DC, much of the violence occurred either on or near school premises and frequently in the afterschool hours. In 1993, almost half of all juvenile homicide victimizations in DC occurred between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. However, the DC juvenile violence study found that juvenile victimization patterns for all violent crimes during the school year were different from victimization patterns during the summer. During the school year, victimizations peaked at 3 p.m., whereas during the summer, victimizations were highest at 10 p.m. and peaked again at 1 a.m. In contrast to the findings on juvenile homicide victimizations in DC, homicides involving juveniles as victims or perpetrators in Los Angeles occurred more often late at night, in public places, and frequently involved gang members. It is not known why such different patterns exist. Two possible factors may be the difference in weather patterns between the two cities and the existence of year-round schools in Los Angeles, which means that some unsupervised youth are out of school year-round.
Consistent with prior research, the juvenile violence studies found that gang members had higher rates of delinquency than nongang members. Although the majority of youth in high-risk neighborhoods are not involved in gangs, the Los Angeles survey of adolescent males in high-risk areas found that the majority of these youth are very aware of gang activity in their neighborhoods. In fact, 36% reported that there was pressure on neighborhood youth to join gangs. Those youth who had been a gang member at some time reported that they first hung out with gang members, on average, at age 12, and became a full member at age 13.
Overall, these findings suggest that juvenile violence frequently occurs in the context of unsupervised groups of adolescents. The DC survey of adolescent males living in high-risk neighborhoods found that almost half (48%) were in settings where the absence of an adult prevailed every day after school. The relatively few youth who were in a supervised setting after every school day tended to be less delinquent than those with fewer afterschool hours supervised by adults. A more important factor than actual adult supervision may be the knowledge by a primary caretaker of where his/her children are after school. Less than 10% of nondelinquent youth in the DC survey reported that their primary caretaker rarely or never knew where they were after school; in comparison, 15% to 33% of youth involved in serious delinquent behavior reported their caretakers rarely or never knew where they were. Further compounding the lack of parental supervision of youth in the DC survey is the fact that many of the youth, including nondelinquent youth, have been suspended from school at least once. This indicates that teachers and schools are experiencing difficulties providing constructive guidance to these youth. Although suspensions and expulsions may be justified from the school authorities' point of view, simply releasing adolescents into the community, unsupervised by adults during school hours, only compounds the problems.
Recommendations for Prevention and Control of Juvenile Violence
As a whole, the recommendations from the juvenile violence studies suggest that interventions should target four general areas: gangs, guns, high-risk juveniles, and locations and times of highest risk for juvenile violence. It is important to consider that the recommendations from this group of studies focus on issues that arose from their particular findings. Thus, this Report is not intended to present a comprehensive set of recommendations for the prevention and control of juvenile violence in all communities.
The findings of the juvenile violence studies illustrate the importance of establishing effective intervention programs for gang-involved youth. A number of antigang prevention, intervention, and/or suppression programs have had positive results in terms of reducing youth involvement in gangs and in reducing the harm inflicted on society by gang members. The most promising and cost-effective antigang strategy appears to be preventing youth from joining gangs. The Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program, implemented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, is an example of a school-based gang prevention curriculum that has shown positive preliminary results. One evaluation found that students who completed the G.R.E.A.T. program reported lower levels of gang affiliation and self-reported delinquency. At the community level, a number of national youth organizations are engaged in gang outreach and in providing adolescents with alternatives to gang involvement.
There is general recognition by gang experts that the most effective strategies are likely to be comprehensive, multipronged approaches that incorporate prevention, intervention, and suppression activities. An example of this approach is the Comprehensive Community-Wide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression Program, an OJJDP demonstration initiative currently being implemented and evaluated in five jurisdictions. The strategies in this model consist of a combination of community mobilization, social intervention and outreach, provision of social and economic opportunities for youth, suppression, and organizational change and development.
Results from the violence studies indicate that guns play a major role in juvenile violence. In light of this, the studies emphasized the need to find ways to reduce the accessibility of guns to juveniles by closing down the main suppliers of guns to youth. There is a need for impact evaluations of promising programs for closing down sources supplying youth with guns and for further experiments on techniques for discouraging youth from carrying guns. An example of a promising program is Operation Ceasefire, a component program of the well-known Boston Gun Project, which engages multiple law enforcement and criminal justice agencies in targeted deterrence activities.
The juvenile violence studies confirm that there is a small group of youth who are responsible for a large proportion of serious and violent delinquency. These youth need to be identified and sanctioned immediately when they commit violent acts. Teachers, police, and others who are mandated to control the youths' behavior are likely to know who these youth are. It is possible that a concerted juvenile and criminal justice system response, working closely with the community, could effectively focus on and control the behavior of these youth.
Locations and Times Associated With Highest Risk of Juvenile Violent Offending
Juvenile violence prevention activities should be implemented where and when youth violence is most likely to occur. Although exact patterns may vary in different regions, a great deal of juvenile violence takes place in the afterschool hours and occurs in and around schools. Thus, schools are prime targets for proactive police problem-solving, truancy and dropout prevention, and other activities designed to reduce youth violence. One promising approach for reducing violence in the schools is bullying prevention. In addition, school- and community-based programs are needed to address juvenile violence occurring in the late afternoon and early evening hours and in high-risk neighborhoods.
The findings from these studies provide additional evidence that violence is taking an alarming toll on minority communities, particularly urban African-American and Hispanic communities. Recent research indicates that the disproportionate level of violence many urban areas are experiencing stems from a combination of macro-level risk factors, such as poverty and joblessness, and individual-level risk factors, particularly family disruption (Hawkins et al., 1998). Consequently, there is a need for concentrated prevention efforts in those inner-city neighborhoods that experience the highest levels of juvenile violence. In addition to some of the programs and strategies suggested in this report, it is important to consider strategies that work with families and impact neighborhood disorder whenever possible.
A recent OJJDP Bulletin, Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders (1998), identifies a number of early intervention programs that have been found to be effective in mediating risk factors associated with serious and violent juvenile offenders. The Bulletin suggests that the most successful early intervention programs involve simultaneous interventions in multiple domains -- home, school, and community. However, there is a continuing need for further research to determine the effectiveness of these programs on a widespread basis and the combinations of programs that work best.
The overriding message from these studies is that there is a need for a balanced and comprehensive approach in addressing the problem of juvenile violence. Communities must work with the juvenile justice system to prevent the development of violent behavior and to intervene with violent youth in effective ways. OJJDP's Guide for Implementing the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders (1995) provides a framework for strategic responses at the community, city, State, and national levels designed to target the problem of juvenile violence. In 1996, the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention released Combating Violence and Delinquency: The National Juvenile Justice Action Plan (Action Plan), an eight-point statement of objectives and strategies designed to strengthen State and local initiatives to address juvenile violence and delinquency. The Action Plan provides model program examples that communities can draw from to address several of the problem areas identified by the Juvenile Violence Research Studies.