Unraveling Trends in Arrests and Self-Reported Juvenile Offending

Ryan K. Williams, The University of Illinois - Springfield

Recently, criminologists have made the claim that juvenile delinquency is declining and that there is in fact no juvenile crime wave (Zimring, 1998; Bernard, 1999). These conclusions rely heavily on official reports of juvenile arrests for serious offenses such as aggravated assault and burglary. While the study of these types of offenses is certainly important, the majority of juvenile offending is of a much less serious nature. Using official Uniform Crime Report arrest data and self-reports of delinquency from the Monitoring the Future Survey, this paper will address the following questions. First, what do time trends in both minor and serious offending over the last 25 years look? Second, what is the correspondence between rates based on self-reports and offense rates based on arrest? Finally, can increases and decreases in aggregate levels of minor offending be used to help researchers better predict changes in rates of serious offending? Analyses reveal that disaggregating indexed juvenile crimes by offense type may facilitate a more inclusive and more sophisticated explanation of juvenile crime trends over the last 25 years.

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Updated 05/20/2006