Criminal justice Professors Ray Surette and Ken Adams are members of an interdisciplinary team from the College of Health and Public Affairs that is studying juvenile crime for the State Attorney’s Office for Orange and Osceola Counties.
State Attorney Lawson Lamar turned to researchers in the college for help in understanding a perceived increase in the severity of juvenile crimes in the region. Surette, Adams and researchers from the college’s School of Social Work and Doctoral Program in Public Affairs went on to launch a three-phase project to examine the issue.
Lamar’s staff provided the team with official records of serious and violent crimes processed through Orange and Osceola counties’ juvenile justice system over a 12-year period, from 1995 through 2006. All of the crimes were committed by children, or individuals less than 18 years of age.
During phase I, the team conducted a trend analysis of the administrative crime records. Surette led the team through the exhaustive process of extracting information to create a valid data set for analyzing changes in criminal activity over time. He also used sophisticated statistical techniques to analyze the data, enabling the team to draw conclusions based on statistically significant trends.
The analysis revealed that in Orange County there was a slight decrease in the number of juvenile crime cases during the 12-year span, but the proportion of cases that were serious or violent crimes, such as homicide, robbery and car jacking, had increased. In more recent years, there was a dramatic increase in the proportion
of cases in which a juvenile had been charged with either a first-degree felony or an offense that carries the potential sentence of capital punishment or life imprisonment.
In Osceola County, there was a wide fluctuation in the number of juvenile crime cases over time, with a general upward trend for all juvenile crimes; serious and violent crime cases remained relatively stable.
During Phase II, the team examined the case records for 406 violent crimes to learn more about the offender, victim and major characteristics of the crime. The cases were taken from two years within the 12-year span — 2000 and 2006.
“The State Attorney’s Office personnel think there has been a substantive change in the nature of juvenile offending since 2000, so we used 2000 as a benchmark year,” Surette said.
The team completed phase II and submitted a report to Lamar in the fall, according to Adams. The researchers
also submitted an outline for Phase III, which will focus on a small sample of cases studies during the second
phase. Phase III calls for interviews of the offending juveniles and surveys of educators, community youth agencies, law enforcement officials, parents and other juveniles. Lamar and the college are currently working to secure funds for this phase of the study.
With the results from phases II and III, the team will formulate recommendations for public policy to help the State Attorney’s Office address juvenile crime problems.