Many people look to crime rates as an indicator of general social health. When the economy is good, unemployment is low, and education rates are high, there is usually less crime. Crime statistics are often viewed as a barometer for social welfare. However, statistics are only as strong as the methods used to create them, and sometimes the easy explanation for a statistical change is not the correct explanation.
Working as a Portland criminal defense lawyer, I see trends in the criminal justice system at the micro level. As a Portland felony lawyer, I will see the frequency of my felony cases rise and fall. But just because one Portland felony attorney sees an uptick in the felony cases he or she has been defending does not mean that this is anything more than a localized trend. Furthermore, even if it is a general trend it is impossible for one criminal defense lawyer to determine the underlying reasons for this trend. This is why we should turn to statistics to understand changes in criminal behavior in our city, state, and country.
One interesting crime statistic is that across the country juvenile crime rates have been falling. This fact is interesting to me because juvenile cases often come across my desk in my capacity as a Portland drug lawyer, Portland misdemeanor attorney, or in any criminal defense case. Why are juvenile crime rates falling? An easy answer might be that the police are doing a better job of preventing crime, or that, with a slowly improving economy, the American family unit is getting stronger and providing youth with a more stable and prosperous upbringing. But I have found a few articles that hypothesize more interesting reasons for this drop in crime rates.
A recent article on the website Juvenile Justice Information Exchange links a rise and subsequent drop in juvenile crime rates with the rising and falling popularity of lead based paints. Read about it here. The theory expressed by the author is that young people who are exposed to lead at an early age are more likely to develop developmental disabilities and that these children are more likely to commit crimes. I’m not sure if I agree with the author’s premise, but it is an interesting use of statistical analysis to show a possible link between a single environmental factor and crime rates. As a Portland personal injury attorney, I wonder if anyone was able to successfully link lead exposure to behavior as part of a civil case for damages. Or, if any criminal defense attorney in Portland, Lake Oswego, or around Oregon or Washington, was able to use these environmental factors as a defense to a crime.
Another interesting recent article in the Willamette Week suggests that juvenile crime rates are not actually falling at all. This article quotes some experts who suggest that the apparent drop in juvenile crime is actually attributable to the change in the way juveniles are processed through the system. Juveniles charged with violent crimes are now more likely to be charged as adults than they were in the past, pushing some crimes out of the juvenile category and into the adult category. And, with a new focus in juvenile justice on rehabilitation and keeping youth out of the corrections system, less juveniles are arrested and less juveniles are charged with crimes than ever before. So, perhaps juvenile criminal behavior has not changed at all. Maybe the real change is in what behavior we label as juvenile crime to begin with. In my work as a juvenile criminal defense attorney in Portland, I saw many juveniles charged as adults even for relatively minor offenses.
What do you think?