In the past few days, Nebraska’s media has been full of stories of children and youth committing crimes. While the papers are busy covering individual incidents, they’ve been missing a more significant story when it comes to the behavior of our children and youth.
Contrary to what news coverage might lead you to believe, arrests of children and youth in Nebraska are actually at their lowest point in over 25 years. In 2012, 11,993 youth were arrested in Nebraska. The last time Nebraska arrested fewer youth was in 1987, when 11,870 youth were arrested.
What’s more, the number of youth committing violent crimes in our state is miniscule. Less than 2% of youth arrested in 2012 were arrested for committing a violent crime. Like overall trends on arrests, violent crimes committed by youth have also fallen over time – from almost 400 violent crime arrests per year in the mid-90s, to just 214 in 2012. (You can find more data in our Kids Count Report).
Our justice system needs to hold youth accountable for their actions in ways that both protect public safety and put young people on the path to becoming productive, contributing adults. There are those in our state who believe that public safety can only be protected by treating kids like adults.
The whole story is much more complicated, though. The numbers on youth arrests in Nebraska show that most kids don’t pose a risk to public safety. Furthermore, research has shown that keeping kids in the juvenile justice system (even those who do commit serious crimes) actually improves public safety and reduces recidivism.
This year, the Legislature has a chance to bring youth back to the juvenile justice system, so that they can benefit from developmentally appropriate and evidence-based services. We hope that lawmakers will consider the whole story on youth crime in Nebraska and clear research on what works, as they make their decision on how to vote.