The number of juveniles charged with narcotics-related crimes across the country has more than doubled since the beginning of the decade, even though the nation’s overall crime rate continues to fall.
Police have encountered growing numbers of youths who are possessing, manufacturing or selling illegal drugs, particularly marijuana. The number of arrests has jumped from 64,740 in 1990 to 147,107 by 1995, recently released FBI crime statistics show.
The escalating number of juveniles being arrested for drug-related crimes appears to be linked directly to an increase in drug use among youths. An annual nationwide survey by the University of Michigan recently showed that the use of illegal drugs, particularly marijuana, increased again last year among U.S. schoolchildren.
“It’s a ticking time bomb,” said Thomas Constantine, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “It’s like a generation has lost the (anti-drug) message.”
Lloyd Johnston, a researcher for the University of Michigan drug survey, agreed that “generational forgetting” is in place, with juveniles less knowledgeable and, as a consequence, less fearful of the ramifications of drugs.
“The message is that all of us need to talk to youths and tell them that (drug and alcohol use) set you up to lose in life,” said Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the president’s drug policy director, noting that the increase in arrests reflects a shift in youth attitudes that began in 1989. The country now is suffering the consequences of those changed attitudes, he said.
The increased availability of drugs has been accompanied by the emergence of drug-dealing gangs, which often are willing to use children in their narcotics-peddling operations. Earlier this year, federal authorities said police and sheriff agencies across the country have estimated that approximately 652,000 youths are members of 25,000 gangs and that gang problems are worsening in 48 percent of the communities participating in the survey.
The problem is straining already taxed public resources. “The problem is not getting better,” said Cheri Walter, deputy director of Ohio’s Department of Youth Services. “It’s getting worse.”
Four years ago, 40 percent of juveniles convicted of serious crimes in Ohio had substance-abuse problems that required residential drug treatment. Today, about 70 percent do.
The increase in juvenile narcotics activity in recent years is particularly discouraging because the trend runs counter to other general declines in crime. Last year saw the rate of violent crime continue a downward fall. And after spiraling up for nearly a decade, the number of juveniles charged with violent crime inched downward in 1995.
Now, some experts fear that hard-gained ground in battling narcotics may be lost.
As gangs and drug operations began to expand their influence among juveniles, national anti-drug rhetoric did not keep pace, some officials said.
The nation’s anti-drug media blitz died down with the beginning of the Persian Gulf War and is struggling to recover, said Daniel Rosenblatt, executive director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
“What we have learned is that we can never drop our guard,” Rosenblatt said. “The effort needs to be continued on all fronts.”
xxxx FBI STATISTICS The number of drug arrests jumped from 64,740 in 1990 to 147,107 by 1995.