New Report Debunks Widespread Myth of Youth-Led Crime Wave

A new analysis from The Sentencing Project debunks the widespread narrative that youth crime exploded during the pandemic. The report finds scarce evidence of a new youth-led crime wave. Rather, most of the data suggests that rates of violence among people under 18 have been flat or declining.

The share of crimes in the U.S. committed by youth has fallen by more than half over the past two decades and continued to fall for all major offense categories in 2020 (the most recent year for which data is available). Additionally, the overall number of offenses categorized by the FBI as violent (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) committed by youth declined in 2020.

Click here to view the report.


The report also dives into youth-led carjackings, which have received blanket media coverage based on a spike in youth arrests in some jurisdictions. The report notes that no national data on carjackings is available, and evidence about the share of carjackings committed by young people is inconclusive. Data does show that total robberies by youth – of which carjackings are a subcategory – declined in 2020.

Over the past 18 months, many media outlets and policymakers have perpetuated a narrative that youth crime is skyrocketing. Scattered anecdotes and talk of out-of-control youth are fueling calls for stricter punishments and harsher treatment. But such methods have consistently proven to be ineffective at preventing crime, and are likely to cause crime to increase.

We must do everything we can to steer young people away from delinquency, and we must block young people’s access to deadly assault weapons. But the evidence is overwhelming that imposing more extreme punishments on youth doesn’t work. Instead, we need to implement strategies that actually reduce crime – like minimizing youth confinement and improving social, emotional, and mental health support for young people within their schools and communities.