The epidemic of youth violence in the United States
is not over, even though arrest rates for violent crimes by youths have dropped
substantially in recent years, according to a report released today by Surgeon
General David Satcher. At the same time, the report found a number of programs
exist that are highly effective in preventing serious violent behavior and
eliminating major risk factors for violence.
Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General
examines the factors that lead young people to gravitate toward violence,
reviews the factors that protect youth from perpetrating violence and identifies
effective research-based preventive strategies.
"This is no time to let down our guard on
youth violence," Satcher said. "Even so, our success in developing knowledge and tools
to prevent serious violence gives us reason for optimism.
"This report confirms that, as a nation, we
possess knowledge and have translated that knowledge into programs that are
effective in preventing youth violence,” Satcher said.
"Therefore, we cannot afford to waste resources on ineffective or
harmful interventions and strategies-or to further jeopardize the well-being of
youth who may be assigned to ineffective programs."
Youth homicide, robbery and arrest rates in 1999
were actually lower than they were in 1983. This drop was largely due to a
decrease in the use of firearms by youths since the peak years of mid-1990s.
At the same time, however, arrest rates for aggravated results remain
nearly 70 percent higher than 1983, and self-report studies indicate that the
proportion of youth involved in violent behavior and the rates of violent
offending have not declined since the mid-1990s.
Serious violence is part of a lifestyle that
includes drugs, guns, gangs, precocious sex, and other risky behaviors. Risk and
protective factors related to youth violence exist in every area of life -
individual, family, school, peer group and community - and vary in importance as
children move from
infancy to early adulthood. For
example, substance abuse is an even more powerful risk factor at age 10 than it
is at age 18.
The report found strong evidence
that exposure to violence in the media can increase children's "aggressive
behavior" in the short term and concluded: "Research to date justifies
sustained efforts to curb the adverse effects of media violence on youths."
However, it found that it was extremely difficult to distinguish between the
relatively small long-term effects of exposure to media violence and those of
Successful youth violence
prevention programs target specific populations of young people as defined by
risk and life experience, build individual skills and competencies, include
parent effectiveness training and encourage changes in type and level of
involvement in peer groups.
In addition to identifying 27
specific intervention programs that have met rigorous scientific standards, the
report also challenges false notions and misinterpretations about youth violence
and debunks myths about violence and violent youth, including:
Most future offenders can be identified in early childhood.
(Fact: Exhibiting uncontrolled behavior or being diagnosed with a conduct
disorder as a young child does not predetermine violence in adolescence);
African American and Hispanic youths are more likely to become involved in
violence than other racial or ethnic groups (Fact:
While there are racial and ethnic differences in homicide arrest rates, data
from self-reports indicate that race and ethnicity have little bearing on the
overall proportion of nonfatal violent behavior);
A new, violent breed of young "super-predators" threatens the United
States (Fact: There is no evidence that
young people involved in violence during the peak years of the early 1990s were
more frequent or more vicious offenders than youths in earlier years.);
Getting tough with juvenile offenders by trying them in adult criminal courts
reduces the likelihood that they will commit more crimes
(Fact: Juveniles transferred to adult criminal court have significantly higher
rates of re-offending and a greater likelihood of committing subsequent felonies
than youths who remain in the juvenile justice system.); and
Most violent youths will end up being arrested for a violent crime.
(Fact: Most youths involved in violent behavior will never be arrested for a
The report suggests that
unsupported assumptions or failure to recognize the true nature of a problem can
obscure the need for informed policy or for interventions.
"The most urgent need now is
a national resolve to confront the problem of youth violence systematically
using research-based approaches and to correct damaging myths and stereotypes
that interfere with the task at hand," Satcher said.
He noted that the public health
approach to solving problems holds that health care is best learned, performed
and maintained when it is ingrained in individuals' and communities' daily
routines and perceptions of what constitutes good health practices. That
principle is consistent with action steps listed in the report that the nation
can take to prevent youth violence:
Facilitating the entry of youths into
effective intervention programs rather than incarcerating them;
Disseminating model programs with
incentives that will ensure fidelity to the original program design when taken
Providing training and certification
programs for intervention personnel;
Improving public awareness of effective
Improving federal, state and local
strategies for crime information reporting; and
Convening a periodic youth violence
summit involving diverse disciplines, federal, state and local government
agencies and private organizations.