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Juvenile Justice: Juvenile Court - Caseload

percent delinquency offenses courts

In 1997 juvenile courts throughout the United States handled an estimated 1,755,100 delinquency cases. This was equivalent to nearly 5,000 cases per day. The national caseload in 1997 was more than double the number of cases handled by juvenile courts in 1970.

A property offense was the most serious charge involved in 48 percent of delinquency cases nationwide in 1997. The most serious charge was a person offense in 22 percent of the cases, a drug offense in 10 percent, and a public order offense in 19 percent (i.e., obstruction of justice, disorderly conduct, weapons offenses). Larceny-theft, simple assault, burglary, vandalism, and obstruction of justice were the most common delinquency offenses seen by juvenile courts in 1997. Together, these offenses accounted for 59 percent of all delinquency cases processed by juvenile courts during 1997.

More than half (57 percent) of the delinquency cases handled by U.S. courts with juvenile jurisdiction in 1997 were processed formally (i.e., a petition was filed charging the youth with delinquency). Of all the cases that were formally petitioned and scheduled for an adjudication or waiver hearing in juvenile court in 1997, 58 percent were adjudicated delinquent while less than 1 percent were transferred to adult court. Transfers to adult court were more common in cases involving formally handled person offenses (1.5 percent) and drug offenses (1.1 percent). Of the delinquency cases adjudicated in juvenile court in 1997, 28 percent resulted in out-of-home placement and 55 percent in probation.

Figure 3 SOURCE: Jeffrey Butts and Adele Harrell, Delinquents or Criminals: Policy Options for Young Offenders. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute, 1998.

To examine changes in juvenile court caseloads while controlling for the size of the population, researchers often examine the per capita rate of delinquency cases (number of cases per 1,000 juveniles in the population). Juvenile population is defined as the number of youth age ten or older who were at or under the upper age of original jurisdiction of the juvenile court according to the laws of their state. Between 1987 and 1996, for example, the national delinquency case rate increased 34 percent, from 46 to 62 cases for every 1,000 youth at risk of referral to juvenile court. The steepest increases between 1987 and 1996 were seen among fifteen year olds (up 45 percent) and sixteen year olds (up 43 percent). The case rate for juveniles charged with drug offenses and person offenses also grew substantially, 120 percent and 80 percent, respectively.

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