Prime time for juvenile crime is when kids get out of school and before parents come home.
That was the surprising warning in a report to Attorney General Janet Reno on Wednesday by a national crime prevention group consisting of police, prosecutors and survivors of crime. The organization - Fight Crime: Invest in Kids - said proposed congressional legislation doesn’t pay enough attention to programs designed to keep young people off the streets.
James Alan Fox, dean of Northeastern University’s College of Criminal Justice and co-author of the report, predicted that things can only get worse, with the number of teens expected to increase 17 percent by 2005. He noted that reports of declining crime were misleading, because while the rate of killing by those over 25 dropped 22 percent between 1985 and 1995, teenage killing soared by 141 percent.
He asserted that the problem stemmed from too little adult supervision and decreased availability of constructive activities, partly because of community cutbacks on spending for music, recreation and sports programs.
“The kids are bored and idle, with too much time to kill,” said Fox.
According to the report, “When the school bell rings, juvenile crime triples and prime time for violence begins.”
Data from FBI reports in eight states - Idaho, Utah, Alabama, South Carolina, Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota and South Dakota - were used to track juvenile violence. Almost two-thirds of all juvenile crime takes place during the nine hours between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m., with a drop around the 8 p.m. dinner hour. Youth crime dips after 11 p.m., when most parents insist teenagers be home, the study concluded.
The report also raises questions about the need for curfews, a popular but controversial crime-control measure. Although many civil rights groups and individuals challenge the constitutionality of curfews, about three-fourths of the nation’s 200 biggest cities have them.
While the report says that nearly half of violent juvenile crime - murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults - occurs from 2 p.m.-8 p.m., it found that just one-seventh occurs from 11 p.m.-7 a.m., when curfews typically are in effect. “What a curfew does is tell kids you should not commit crimes when you are asleep,” Fox said.
The report cautioned: “Such data is a wake-up call. If we provide students with quality after-school programs, and constructive recreational and community service activities, we would dramatically reduce crime.”
Sanford Newman, president of the group, warned against legislation with a “wait for crime approach, which shortchanges both the programs to prevent crime … and the intensive help to steer kids back on track when they begin to get in trouble.”
Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., sponsor of an anti-juvenile crime measure, said he was in favor of prevention programs, but added, “There is a definite need to correct the broken corrections systems for juveniles.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate youth crime subcommittee, emphasized the drive on Capitol Hill toughening juvenile crime law and encouraging states to follow suit. He also pointed out that the government already spends more than $4 billion a year on programs for at-risk youth.
“Do these programs reduce juvenile crime?” he asked. “We need to take a look at plans in place before we spend more money on prevention.”