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Childhood arrest is vanishing from California, an astounding validation of progressive ideals with revolutionary implications for the entire criminal justice system.

Notice the ripple effect in plummeting arrests for preteens, then younger teens, then older teens for the most recent year (2013) versus the first year statistics were reported (1978) and another key year, 2010:

All arrests Year Under age 10 Under age 12 Age 12 – 14 Age 15 – 17 Age 18 – 19 1978 4,489 13,790 77,444 195,278 157,883 2010 361 2,462 46,222 137,183 110,531 2013 219 1,394 23,710 71,828 70,968 Absolute change ‑4,00012,00054,000124,00087,000 Rate change* ‑97% ‑93% ‑77% ‑71% ‑65% Felony arrests 1978 1,282 4,137 27,169 69,384 45,489 2010 141 794 12,298 38,928 38,956 2013 78 449 6,958 23,405 29,127 Absolute change ‑1,2003,70020,20046,00016,400 Rate change* ‑96% ‑93% ‑81% ‑73% ‑51%

*2013 versus 1978, allowing for population growth in age group. Absolute change is rounded. Source: Criminal Justice Statistics Center, 1980 – 2014

These statistics look impossible, but they’re real. The biggest generator of justice system clients used to be kids who got in trouble young; today, it’s aging addicts. Over the last 35 years, arrests of Californians ages 40 – 59 rose by 132,000.

The 30-year decline in crime by grade schoolers snowballed into massive drops in later teenage arrest, reducing the numbers entering the justice system by over 250,000 (including 86,000 fewer felonies) per year by 2013. As the decrease of 128,000 annual arrests among under-20 Californians from 2010 to 2013 shows, the trend appears to be accelerating.

Progressive groups should be ecstatic. Nearly every liberal/​left ideal is stunningly validated by this dramatic trend. As California’s youth population became more racially diverse (three-fourths are of color today), and as the state moved sharply away from policing (curfew and other status-crime arrests have plummeted) and incarcerating youth (state and local juvenile facility populations are down 60 percent), youth crime plunged as never before.

The rapid disappearance of childhood and young-teen arrest is one of the biggest bombshells in criminal justice history. The diminishing supply of wayward youth who accumulate grade school rap sheets and go on to become long-term criminals now permits major downsizing of juvenile and criminal justice and prison systems and redirection of resources.

Yet discussion of existing and new juvenile justice projects at the state level is proceeding as if it never happened. The most careful, objective research into why these trends are occurring — not speculations founded in self-interest, and ideology — is needed to modernize the justice system in the most efficient and evidence-driven way possible.