Juvenile Recidivism: Homicide Offenders

By Sandra Yu Min Lee

Published Date: 2021 / 07 / 28

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Juvenile recidivism is a societal crisis that has plagued the youths of the U.S. According to a 2017 report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), 55% of youth offenders relapse into criminal behaviour within one year of release. Although juvenile arrest has declined 72% since 1996 to 2019, juvenile recidivism—the tendency of a convicted adolescent criminal to reoffend—has remained relatively steady, which urges better understanding of the issue.
Among major juvenile offences, homicide is a significant hazard to society; juvenile homicide offenders are a small but disproportionately problematic sub-group of juvenile offenders. According to a study by Norair Khachatryan, professor in criminology at the University of South Florida, over the course of 30 years, approximately 10% of juvenile homicide offenders commit either completed or attempted homicides, 70% are rearrested for aggravated assault or simple assault, and 31% are rearrested for committing other types of violent crimes. Considering the severity of the results of the relapse of juvenile homicide offenders, it is crucial to evaluate the effectiveness of current approaches in combating juvenile homicide recidivism. Hence, this report investigates responses and preventative measures taken by various sectors of the U.S.

Policies implemented by state governments are crucial in combating juvenile recidivism. Juvenile boot camps use exercise, physical labor, strict schedules, and daily work in hopes of modifying participants’ problematic behaviors that increase their odds of reoffending. According to a 2016 report conducted at Nova Southeastern University, a study consisting of data on two groups of juvenile homicide offenders—a boot camp group and control group—showed that both groups had the same average number of offenders that were rearrested within a follow-up period. Another study by Benjamin Steiner, professor at the School of Criminology at the University of Nebraska Omaha, and Andrew L. Giacomazzi, professor at the Department of Criminal Justice at Boise State University, analyzed the effectiveness of boot camps on reducing recidivism by examining juveniles transferred to adult court. According to Steiner and Giacomazzi, within the group of juvenile participants of the study, 48% were sentenced to boot camps, 32% received probation, and 20% were not eligible for the study. Ultimately, the results revealed hardly any differences between the two groups regarding recidivism. From these studies taken by multiple researchers, it can be reasonably inferred that boot camps do not reduce the participants’ tendencies to reoffend, from which it can be deduced that they are ineffective.
Contrarily, state action in the United States offers a more supportive attitude towards the use of boot camps. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Juvenile Boot Camp Act, enacted by Michigan policy makers, provides a 90 to 180 day term of militaristic training, academic curriculums and counseling, followed by a 4 to 6 month period of aftercare. Furthermore, numerous juvenile boot camps with physical, academic, and moral training and aftercare programs to “aid in successful community reintegration” have been established in Texas after the broad-based juvenile justice reform in 1995, which is still present today. These actions taken by individual state governments demonstrate that the efficacy of government policies regarding the treatment of adolescent offenders are not thoroughly questioned.

In the 1990s, a movement revolving around juvenile justice reform, known as the “get tough” policy, caused legislators in essentially every state of the U.S. to enact punitive measures instead of enforcing rehabilitative methods - the core principles of the juvenile justice system. As a result, the number of juveniles being transferred to adult court has increased under transfer laws within the U.S. criminal justice system, with homicide being the most common offense that results in juvenile transfer to adult court. A study by Martin Guecara Urbina, professor at Sul Ross State University in the department of criminology, that investigated 128 court officials, offenders, prosecutors and judges, showed that most participants believed “rehabilitation is no longer effective at reducing crime in the juvenile system”. Most court officials stated that criminal murder by juveniles is increasing, and therefore supports the rationale to tranfer them to adult court and increase confinement. Evidently, many of the practitioners believed transfer laws to be reasonable, however, failed to explain the efficacy of them in reducing the recidivism of juvenile violent offenders.
Despite the support from judicial practitioners, NGOs and researchers oppose transfer laws due to their ineffectiveness. The Sentencing Project, an NGO that promotes reforms in sentencing policy and alternatives to incarceration in the U.S., states that declines in youth homicide rates in transferable teenagers and older juveniles are roughly equal, proving that there may not be a correlation between the transfer of juveniles into adult court and their recidivism rates. In fact, according to David L. Myers, professor of Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven, a study from the Center for Juvenile Justice Training and Research revealed that juveniles charged with violent crimes, including criminal murder, who are waived to adult court are more likely to recidivate than those who remain in juvnile court. Transfer laws, although intended to aid offenders, do not contribute in reducing juvenile violent recidivism, if not worsen the issue at hand.
Upon a thorough discussion of the solutions to combating juvenile homicide recidivism, three methods were reviewed as viable possibilities: removal of transfer laws, raise of the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, and continual of MST treatment. Although transfer laws are believed to be effective by court practitioners, they have been proven to be ineffective. The policies that apply adult incarceration standards to juveniles do not have a rationale, and therefore should be eradicated. Raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18 is a possible solution. Currently, 41 states in the U.S. have set 17 as the eldest age of an adolescent under court jurisdiction; in some states, the age is 16 or younger. Raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction will prevent teenagers from entering adult prisons and ensure they have access to age-appropriate services.
On the other hand, effective methods should be continued. Multisystemic therapies have proven to induce positive results regarding juvenile recidivism, especially that of violent offences. However, limitations still hinder its capabilities. The level of adherence of the offender dictates the effectiveness of the treatment, and ultimately makes it inconsistent depending on the particular participant. Thus, measures should be considered by therapists to effectively treat the offenders with strategic methods and verify the steadiness of the treatment, which would be best assisted through government funding. In essence, removal of transfer laws, continuation of certain current practices, and government funding must be implemented to ensure decrease in juvenile homicide recidivism.

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