Juvenile arrests in Minnesota have plummeted nearly 60 percent since they peaked in 1998, according to a state report released Thursday.
It’s a turnaround that likely can be attributed in part to a shift in philosophy in how to deal with juvenile crime, said Dana Swayze, juvenile justice analyst with the Office of Justice Programs in the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
“There’s more focus on prevention,” she said. “It’s helping offenders repair the harm that they’ve done, re-integrate them into the community and addressing the underlying factors that brought them into the juvenile system.
“It’s about diversion programs and detention alternatives. The more you can divert youth from going deeper into the system, the less likely they’ll reoffend in the future.”
According to the report, juvenile arrests in Minnesota increased 150 percent from 1982 to 1998. What was more troubling to policymakers was a surge in violent crime among youths, where arrests jumped from 737 in 1980 to 2,093 in 1998.
“Academic scholars and criminologists publicly warned of a new breed of ‘superpredators’ who were unique in their brutality and remorselessness,” the report said. “It was projected that these offenders would grow in number, prompting a negative, fear-based public perception of juveniles.”
But since then, the number of overall juvenile arrests in 2012 fell to 32,759 from its peak of 79,584 in 1998. The drop puts the number of juvenile arrests down to a level not seen for about 30 years. The numbers are striking compared with adult arrests, which were twice as high in 2010 than in 1980.
Officials at Minnesota’s Office of Justice Programs point out that $9.5 million is aimed this year at programs and agencies that work to reduce juvenile crime.
The report detailing the downturn will eventually be followed by another that will look more closely at the causes so those who oversee youth crime can determine what works and what doesn’t in keeping young people out of trouble.
“We have a unique opportunity with crime being as low as it’s been in the last 30 years to craft policy and practices that’s not driven by surging caseloads and heat-of-the-moment responses to high-profile cases,” Swayze said. “We can be thoughtful and deliberate about what practices we want to keep this downward trend going.”
Despite the drop, those who oversee juvenile justice are concerned about the racial disparity within the system.
According to the report, youth of color made up 44 percent of the juvenile arrests in 2010 compared with 12 percent in 1980. Even taking into consideration that the number of such youths has risen from 5 percent of the total juvenile population in 1980 to 22 percent in that time, “youth of color are still substantially overrepresented in Minnesota at the point of arrest,” the report said.
To change that, Raeone Magnuson, director of the Office of Justice Programs, said her office “will continue to do its part by supporting advocacy programs and agencies that target at-risk youth, and work to prevent or divert youth involvement in the juvenile justice system.”