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New data debunks narrative of youth crime wave 

Suzanne Potter

(California News Service) A new report from The Sentencing Project debunks the myth of a post-pandemic crime wave fueled by young people.

In March, Congress held a hearing about a spike in carjackings in big cities, but the data show a drop in overall robberies by youths in 2020, and a drop in the share of crime committed by youths over the past 20 years.

Tshaka Barrows, co-executive director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute in Oakland, California, rejected calls to ditch progressive policies on juvenile justice.

"To think that somehow we don't need to revisit failed approaches that specifically have a racial impact that's structural - that dates all the way back to the founding of this country - to me, is disingenuous," he said. "It lacks a true reflection of the magnitude of what we're dealing with."

Barrows said he supports restorative-justice programs that rehabilitate young people and keep them out of the criminal-justice system. He said he views the recent recall of progressive San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin as a setback, and added that huge investments in law enforcement have not made communities safer.

Report author Richard Mendel, senior research fellow at The Sentencing Project, said he thinks young people who commit minor crimes should not be expelled or locked up - but rather, redirected to counseling.

"You take them away from school, you take them away from activities of rites of passage and adolescence, and you surround them instead with incarceration, with other troubled kids," he said, "and it's a negative dynamic that halts their natural progression to 'age out' of these behaviors."

State data show the felony juvenile arrest rate decreased from 2019 to 2020 - from 3.9 per 1,000 to 2.7 at the height of the pandemic.