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Hundreds of news stories and expert commentaries, with few exceptions, depict juvenile crime as soaring, becoming more violent, and involving ever-younger killers and criminals. Occasionally, youth crime is depicted as declining, but only when interest groups are positioned to take credit.

A typical recent news story, Younger and Twice as Violent” declared youth crime is exploding” nationwide, quoting a prosecutor: The 18-year-old of my day is, in terms of criminal activity, probably the equivalent of at least a 16-year-old if not a 15-year-old today.” Likewise, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360,” citing the murders of 28 Chicago schoolchildren in the previous year, declared youth violence is on the rise around the country,” variously blaming a generation that does not value life,” a general lack of respect for authority that is worse than it used to be,” violent video game and media culture,” and so on.

Such statements are easily debunked. In fact, the best source, FBI Uniform Crime Reports, shows exactly the opposite trend. For most major offenses, youth arrest rates nationally stand at their lowest level today than at any time in at least four decades, and perhaps ever – and the youngest ages show the biggest declines in nearly all forms of crime.

For examples, the average age of a teenager arrested for murder in 2008 (18.1 years) was four months older than the average age of a teenage murder arrestee in 1960 (17.7 years). The average teenage violent felon was two months older in 2008 than in 1960. Teenage offenders are arrested for less violent offenses today than in the past. In 1960, half of all teenage violence offenders were arrested for misdemeanors such as simple assault; in 2008, more than three-fourths. The average younger teen (under 15) today is much less likely to be a murderer or other serious offender, both in absolute rate and in comparison to older ages, than his/​her counterpart of the 1960s, 70s, 80s, or 90s – with an especially impressive drop over the last 10 to 15 years.

For adults as well, the average American violent offender has become older, not younger, over the last 40 to 50 years. Overall, violent offenders have aged faster than the population as a whole for three decades, and serious, Part I, felony offenders have been aging since 1968. While the average age of murder arrestees did fall from the 1960s to the early 1990s, murder arrestees today average about 18 months older than they did 15 to 20 years ago.

Even in Chicago, coroner reports show murders of youth ages 5 – 17 reached their lowest level in 2007 than at any time since statistics were first recorded 40 years ago. CNN and its sources could have expressed concern about murder without stigmatizing an entire generation. But the fact is that major interests – law enforcement agencies seeking more funding and personnel, programs and interests promoting their solutions, academic authorities pursuing grants, and news media seeking higher ratings from creating sensation – all benefit from perceptions of growing crises.

Meanwhile, the public interest suffers and young people become objects of irrational fear, crackdowns, banishings, and harsher punishments. It’s long past time we stopped relying on faulty personal impressions,” interest-group propaganda, and anti-youth bigotry rather than solid analysis of vital crime issues.

Full report on aging of America’s offenders available from Mike Males, senior researcher, mmales@​earthlink.​net