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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FACT:

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Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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