Members of the millennial generation live with their parents more, have less sex and start families later than prior generations. Turns out they also got in less trouble with the law as teenagers.
On average, 5 percent of Californians born between 1982 to 2004 were arrested while younger than the age of 18, according to a new report by the national Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a nonprofit. That compares with 11 percent of those born between 1943 and 1960 and 8 percent of those born from 1961 to 1981.
Sacramento County’s numbers show a similar downward trend, and the county boasts juvenile arrest rates well below the state average.
The drop in arrests is “more than significant, it’s revolutionary,” said Mike Males, a senior research fellow at CJCJ who compiled the report. “This is by far the lowest level of crime that we’ve been able to document in youth.”
Juvenile arrests in California have sharply decreased in the past several decades, with police arresting 1,543 juveniles for every 100,000 minors ages 10 to 17 in the state last year – a 13 percent drop from the 2015 figure. The juvenile arrest rate peaked in 1969 at 14,310 arrests for every 100,000 minors between the ages of 10 and 17.
Males’ research examined data starting from 1957, the first year statewide juvenile arrest statistics were published. During the period studied, the nation’s juvenile population between 10 and 17 became more ethnically diverse and grew from 1.55 million in 1957 to over 4 million in 2016, according to data provided by Males.
In Sacramento County, minors between 10 and 17 years old were arrested for felony and misdemeanor offenses at a rate of 1,003 per 100,000 in 2016, according to data provided by the Sacramento County Probation Department. That figure is down 76 percent from 2003.
“We’re proud that we as a county are seeing even fewer youths commit crime than the statewide average,” said Sacramento County’s Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale. “We want to continue to invest in programs that work. We want to make sure that we continue to hold kids accountable.”
So what’s behind the slowdown in juvenile arrests? Those working in the field cite a variety of factors, including a less punitive approach to juvenile misbehavior and larger societal trends that have played out across the country.
Reforms to California’s juvenile justice system that prioritize treatment and community-based programs over incarceration have helped lower arrest rates among Sacramento youth in the last two decades, Seale said.
Those efforts include the 2000 Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act, which established funding for programs aimed at curbing crime among at-risk youth. Examples of programs include after-school groups for at-risk youth, gang prevention organization and job-training programs.
The more recent Juvenile Justice Realignment Bill of 2007 set limits on which young offenders could be transferred to adult jails, a move that made counties rethink alternatives to arrests, Seale said.
“We’ve come to better understand that low-level juvenile offenders do not belong behind bars,” he said. “What that did was to destabilize the youth’s connection to education and family and actually made it more likely so that youth would go on to commit more crime.”
Those working with young people are paying closer attention to data to determine what programs do and do not work instead of relying solely on the tough-on-crime policies seen in the 90s, Seale added.
Currently, the Sacramento County Probation Department contracts with the River Oak Center, a behavioral health services program, and Stanford Youth Solutions, a Rosemont-area organization that works with foster children and offers crime prevention programs to help at-risk youth in the county.
While recent reforms may have helped reduce the arrest of juveniles in California, Males says the trend also exists in other states that haven’t adopted as many changes. Males instead points to cultural changes among members of the millennial generation as a possible explanation for the reduction in juvenile arrests.
Millennials are more likely to attend college and obtain higher levels of education than their Baby Boomer and Generation X predecessors, Males said. Fewer women are having children before the age of 25, he added.
“I think kids today have had to cope with parents that have much worse drug problems, much worse incarceration problems, and as a result they have had to become more responsible,” Males said.
Males notes that violent crimes have fallen to less than half of those reported statewide in 1990. Sacramento County has also seen a sharp decline in felony arrests in recent years, dropping from 1,399 felony arrests per every 100,000 minors ages 10-17 in 2009 to 445 of the same arrests in 2016.
Overall, law enforcement agencies throughout the state are also noticing a decrease in juvenile arrests, says Shaun Rundle, the deputy director for the California Peace Officers’ Association. He noted that the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014 may have also played a role in the decline of felony arrests in recent years. Proposition 47 reduced some nonviolent, non-serious felonies to misdemeanors.
The downward trend of juvenile arrests may carry over to Generation Z, made up of kids born in 2005 and onward, Males said.
“Right now, the trends are very encouraging and I don’t see why they would turn around,” he said.