Surprise! Juvenile Crime Has Plummeted in California.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that juvenile crime has plunged mysteriously:

Over the past decade, the state’s numerous expanded juvenile halls have become near-empty monuments to a costly miscalculation — a mistake compounded each year as the number of young offenders plummeted. Some California counties are spending $1,400 a day to incarcerate each juvenile, or $500,000 annually, up from $400 a day or $150,000 annually just eight years ago….Unlike the surge of violence a generation ago, the plunge in juvenile crime has received relatively little attention and has spurred few demands for action.

My, that is a mystery, isn’t it?

With bigger facilities and fewer wards, the costs of juvenile detention spiked. The Chronicle requested and reviewed juvenile hall and camp populations and spending data from 14 diverse counties, and found that the annual cost of detaining youths increased in each one since 2011, ranging from 29 percent to 214 percent. “It’s really the opposite of what we thought it would be,” Varela said. “We’re all kind of scratching our heads over what we’re going to do with all the extra space.”

….Systemically, there is no clear explanation for why the crime rate dropped, and continued to decline through the 2008 recession and to the present day. Though there’s no consensus, many are eager to offer theories and take credit. Possible reasons include a decline of lead poisoning in children, which reduced the toxic effects on young brains, and pivotal shifts in the street drug trade, including diminishing demand for crack cocaine and strict laws that sent dealers who might recruit young people away for decades.

Give it up, folks. It’s lead. And that’s a very good thing, since it means the drop in juvenile crime is permanent. It’s time to scuttle all that extra space in juvenile hall.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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