Wednesday, December 16, 1998Crime rate among girls increases, but criminologist is wary of figures
Crime or statistics? Zero tolerance policies may be responsible for higher numbers
Girls are responsible for more of Canada's youth crime, Statistics Canada reported yesterday.
But a criminologist warns the stats may not tell the whole story.
In 1997, of the 121,122 youths between the ages of 12 and 17 charged, 22% were female and 78% male. Ten years earlier, females made up just 16% of the charges.
The agency also reported criminal activity for teenage girls begins declining at age 16, while male involvement increases with age.
The highest number of females charged, 43%, were aged 14 to 15, while almost half of the males, 49%, were males aged 16 to 17.
Criminologist Rosemary Gartner questions whether these figures indicate a real increase in youth crime, or if there has simply been an increase in crime reporting.
She said many schools and police departments have established zero tolerance policies, meaning more kids who had previously been dealt with informally are ending up in the justice system.
Prof. Gartner, director of the University of Toronto's Centre of Criminology, said petty crime figures can be misleading, reflecting only an increase in reporting. It's better to judge crime increases through violent-crime statistics, she said.
"If there is a dead body people don't ignore it, whereas a school official or police officer can decide 'Do I charge this child who has been involved in a fight in the schoolyard or do I let them go?' There is a lot of discretionary decision making."
She says youth homicide statistics have not increased in the last 10 years.
But Prof. Gartner says criminological literature does support figures that show the involvement of girls in crime decreases more quickly with age than boys.
"A lot of youth crime is immature risk-seeking, hanging out with your friends, and just deciding to do something crazy. And because females tend to mature more quickly than boys they do age out more quickly."
Most victims of youth violence, 56%, were other youths, often males. Another 34% were adults, and 10% were children under 12. Three-quarters of the victims knew their attacker.
Thirty-five percent of youth crime occurred outside, and another 17% took place in commercial places and public institutions. Another fifth happened in schools.
In contrast, most adult violence, 63%, occurred in the home.
More than two-thirds who go to court are found guilty, with two-thirds of those convicted put on probation. Only 16% were incarcerated.
Profile of youth justice, 1997
A summary of the report warning that the number of female youth criminals has jumped.
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