California’s Youth Crime Rate Plummets: Study Says Easing of Marijuana Laws is the Probable Cause

According to a new study put out by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, the easing of marijuana laws may be responsible for a record low in crimes committed by young people in California. The study asserts,

New figures for 2011 released by the California Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center (CJSC, 2012) show arrests of youths under age 18 fell by 20% from 2010 to 2011, reaching their lowest level since statewide statistics were first compiled in 1954….All categories of crime fell substantially among youths in 2011. Felony arrests were down 17%, both violent and property felonies were down 16%, misdemeanor and status offenses were down 21%, and homicide was down 26%… These data demonstrate today’s young people are less likely to be involved with the criminal justice system than any generation in at least the last 60 years.

…The trend was led by a 47% decrease in drug offense arrests from 2010. The largest contributor to this decrease was a drop of 9,000 in youths’ low-level marijuana possession arrests under a new state law reducing that offense from a misdemeanor to an infraction…

California’s rates of serious youth crime and incarceration have fallen faster over the last 40 years than the nation’s rates, though national statistics are less complete (see figure 1). Prior to the 1990s, California’s youth were considerably more likely to be arrested than youth elsewhere in the country; now the rates are comparable.

…The only two factors definitively associated with (or, at least, positively accompanying) the dramatic decline in youth arrests are the relaxing of marijuana possession laws and the improvement in economic well-being among young people in the state’s poorest neighborhoods.

After California’s 2010 law decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana passed, the number of youths arrested for possession fell dramatically from almost 15,000 to less than 6,000, a drop of over 60% in just a year.  Many who study law enforcement believe that youths arrested for low level possession can end up being pulled deeper into the criminal system into a morass of arrests and trials. Thus by not arresting young people for simple marijuana possession, youth avoid being tangled and drawn into a downward spiral of worsening offenses. Courts then have more money and time to spend on serious problems.




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