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San Francisco, CA: After a record plunge in youth crime, fewer youths were arrested in California last year than at any time since 1957, when California had three million fewer teenaged youth. 

New figures released by the Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center show 149,563 Californians under age 18 were arrested in 2011, the lowest number since statewide figures were first issued in 1957 (144,978).

When the growth in the juvenile population is accounted for, California’s youth today are much less likely to be arrested for felonies, property crimes, murder, rape, and most other major and minor offenses than youth were in the 1950’s and other previous decades.

California youth crime rose during the 1960’s, peaked in the 1970’s, and have generally plunged since. In fact, overall rates of youth crime, including all serious and violent offenses, have dropped by 50% since the 1970’s. 

In particular, the decline of 100,000 in juvenile arrests over the last decade is notable because it occurred even as the youth population age 10 – 17 was rising by 200,000. The 36% drop in violent crime rates from 2000 to 2011 included all demographics: Latinos (down 36%), African Americans (down 10%), Whites (down 45%), Asians (down 62%), females (down 33%), and males (down 37%). 

Looking at the most recent trend, reports from law enforcement agencies in all 58 counties show California’s youth arrests fell by 21% from 2010 to 2011. Juvenile arrests fell 17% last year, including drops in violent and property offenses (each down 16%), misdemeanor and status offenses (down 21%), and murder (down 26%). 

Around 25% of the youth crime decline from 2010 to 2011 is attributable to a legislative change that reduced simple possession of marijuana from a crime to an infraction, which reduced youthful misdemeanor marijuana arrests by 9,000 last year. The remainder, however, appears to reflect a real decrease. 

That California’s most racially diverse teenage population has the lowest crime rates ever reliably recorded is an optimistic trend for a state experiencing rapid demographic change. 

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Next week CJCJ will be releasing a new publication analyzing the new 2011 data including possible explanations for the dramatic decline in California’s youth crime. For more information or to schedule an interview with CJCJ’s Senior Research Fellow Mike Males, contact Selena Teji at (415) 6215661 x. 123 or by email at steji@​cjcj.​org.