Teen-age homicide is a rarity in most of U.S., study concludes Assumptions about lethal violence among America's young people challenged

July 17, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE Sun staff writer Kate Shatzkin contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Most of the homicidal teen-age "superpredators" supposedly stalking the streets of America in fact live in just six states -- one-third of them in four big cities.

Despite widespread fear and calls for government action to stem a decade-long surge in teen-age murders, 80 percent of the counties in the United States did not experience a single homicide by a juvenile in 1994.

Those are among the findings of a national study released yesterday that challenges broadly held assumptions about lethal violence among America's young.

The study found that 30 percent of the juvenile killers in the United States live in isolated neighborhoods of Detroit, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. It also attacked politicians for promoting broad-brush solutions instead of focusing on critical problems in those specific urban areas.

"The problem looks very different than one might expect, given what's being proposed as a solution," said Eric Lotke, a research associate at the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives and one of the report's authors. The study's authors advocate alternatives to prison in dealing with juvenile crime.

"These four cities have eight times the juvenile homicide arrest -- rate as the entire rest of the nation. Even the other big cities don't nearly measure up," Lotke said.

Not surprisingly, the six states that recorded the most arrests, according to the report -- Michigan, California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois -- are the states with the most people.

The author of a Republican crime bill, Florida Rep. Bill McCollum, dismissed the report as incomplete and unrealistic. By focusing on murder, he said, the report misses an array of other violent crimes committed by children, including aggravated assault, rape and armed robbery.

The study was produced jointly by Lotke's group and the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, both nonprofit organizations that promote alternatives to prison. Their findings are based on federal crime statistics.

Murders by juveniles have tripled since 1980, rising at a rate that exceeds arrests for any other crimes.

The report did not attempt to determine what is driving murder arrests in the cities. They are among the nation's most populous. But while they contain 1 in 20 American juveniles, they are home to nearly 1 in 3 teen killers, according to the report.

Rep. Maxine Waters, who represents parts of Los Angeles, and Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr. were among a bevy of House Democrats on hand for the report's unveiling, which was scheduled to coincide with a meeting of a House panel considering McCollum's bill, the "Violent Youth Predator Act of 1996."

That measure would require children as young as 14 to be transferred automatically to adult court for serious violent crimes or major drug offenses. It also would allow children as young as 13 to be transferred to adult court for any federal felony.

McCollum's crime bill is expected to be approved by the Judiciary Committee today and to be passed by the full House in September. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.

The McCollum bill calls for a federal grant program that would encourage all states to punish more juveniles as adults, an idea the report attacked as particularly ill-conceived.

The report says that locking juveniles in adult jails and prisons generally does not bring down the rate of juvenile homicide.

A Florida study of juveniles tried in adult courts and sentenced to adult prisons recently found that those children were 30 percent more likely to commit new crimes than juveniles who were imprisoned in the juvenile justice system, the report says.

Maryland, which had one of the higher rates of youths incarcerated in the adult system, had one of the higher rates of juvenile homicide, according to figures cited in the study.

California, on the other hand, had an even higher rate of juvenile murder while keeping more young offenders in the juvenile system.

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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