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Juveniles in the Adult System - Youth Crime And "get Tough" Politics

public black waiver policies

The "baby boom" escalation in youth crime that began in the mid-1960s and peaked in the late 1970s provided a strong political impetus for "get tough" criminal sentencing and waiver policies. Beginning in the 1970s, juvenile waiver policies began to shift from rehabilitation to retribution, from offender to offense, from "amenability" to "public safety," and from the judicial to the legislative or executive branches. These statutory changes coincided with escalating youth crime rates and violence in the late 1970s and again in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and with public and political perception of youth crime primarily as an urban black male phenomenon. Two aspects of youth crime and violence have special relevance for understanding changes in waiver laws during the 1980s and 1990s. Since the mid-1960s, police have arrested black juveniles for all violent offenses—murder, rape, robbery, and assault—at a rate about five times greater than that of white youths, and for homicide at a rate more than seven times that of white youths. Secondly, while the number of homicide deaths that juveniles caused by means other than firearms fluctuated within a "normal range" of about plus or minus 10 percent during the 1980s and early 1990s, the number of deaths that juveniles caused with firearms quadrupled. Because of the disproportional involvement of black youths in violence and homicide, both as perpetrators and as victims, almost all of these "excess" homicides involving guns occurred within the urban, young black male population as a by-product of the "crack cocaine" epidemic. The intersection of race, guns, and homicide fanned a public "panic" and encouraged politicians to adopt "get tough" waiver policies.

The "crackdown" on youth crime of the early 1990s culminated the politicization of crime and waiver policies that began several decades earlier. In the 1960s, the civil rights movement created divisions within the Democratic Party between racial and social policy liberals and conservatives, northerners and southerners. Republican politicians seized crime control, affirmative action, and public welfare as racially tinged "wedge issues" with which to distinguish themselves from Democrats in order to woo southern white voters. For the first time, crime policies became a central issue in partisan politics. During the 1960s, conservative Republicans decried "crime in the streets" and advocated "law and order" in response to rising "baby boom" crime rates, civil rights marches and antiwar protests, and urban and campus turmoil. Since the 1960s, politicians' fear of being labeled by their opponents as "soft-on-crime" has led to a constant ratcheting-up of punitiveness as public officials avoid thoughtful discussions of complex crime policy issues in an era of thirty-second commercials. Efforts to "get tough" have supported a succession of "wars" on crime, drugs, and juveniles, longer criminal sentences, increased prison populations, and disproportional incarceration of racial minority offenders. The mass media depict and the public perceive the crime problem and juvenile courts' clientele primarily as poor, urban black males. Politicians manipulate and exploit these racially tinged perceptions for political advantage with demagogic pledges to "crack down" on youth crime, which has become a code word for young black males.

Juveniles in the Adult System - Legislative Changes In Waiver Strategies [next] [back] Juveniles in the Adult System - Legislative Offense Exclusion And Prosecutors' Choice Of Forum

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