Soundings

Rita Kramer
Don’t Drop Your Guard Yet
Summer 1995

New York and other cities are congratulating themselves on declining crime rates, but the celebration may be premature. Princeton criminologist John Dilulio warns that we'll likely see a sharp upsurge in crime over the next few years.

Young males are the most crime-prone segment of the population: longitudinal studies have established that some 6 percent of 14- to 17-year-old boys are chronic offenders, responsible for more than 70 percent of juvenile violent crime-and about a seventh of violent crime overall. Crime rates have gone down largely for demographic reasons: a declining birthrate after the baby boom means there are fewer male teenagers and young adults.

But five years from now there will be 500,000 more teenage males in the country than today—meaning that by the year 2000 as many as 30,000 more hard-core predators will be on the streets. What's more, Dilulio notes, on average today's youngest criminals commit more crimes—and more savage crimes—than young criminals of the past.

A May report from the New York City Board of Education is an early-warning sign that Dilulio's predictions may be on the mark. Violence in the city's schools, the report found, leaped by 28 percent in just one year—almost 2,000 more incidents ranging from harassment to robbery. Even elementary schools are now reporting assaults. Mayor Giuliani's response is a proposal that the Police Department take over supervision of 3,000 uniformed but unarmed school safety officers. More urgent is a thoroughgoing reform of our outmoded juvenile justice system, which is inadequate for the serious crimes young offenders now commit.
 

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