The idea of ‘demographics as destiny’ refers to the concept that because one falls within a specific demographic group, one is more likely to behave in a way that has been predicted for that group. More generally, it suggests that trends for the demographic group seen in the present can be used to predict or anticipate trends for the demographic group in the future. In other words, what teenagers are doing today as a group can be used to predict and anticipate what teenagers in the future will do. In the late 80s/early 90s, demographics studies suggested that trends in violent crimes committed by youth were on the rise.
This information was extrapolated into the future in which growth in the total numbers of adolescents within the population coupled with a corresponding increase in the levels of violent crime within this demographic group had experts fearing the development of a ‘superpredator’. “These were juveniles for whom violence was a way of life – new delinquents unlike the youth of past generations” (2). Fearing this development, many states changed their laws to enable them to more appropriately deal with these ‘superpredators’ by making it possible to treat juveniles as adults within the legal system and changing the focus of law enforcement to one of hyper-vigilance. Despite this vigilance, however, the expectations of a superpredator have not been realized.
As the reading demonstrates, using the demographics of one generation to predict the outcome of a future generation is an exercise in futility. There are several reasons for this. To begin with, this practice encourages researchers to downplay or even ignore statistics from other demographic groups. For example, the report points out that the years in which evidence for the juvenile superpredator was discovered were also characterized by increases in violent crime among all demographic groups.
“The age group with the greatest increase in violent crime arrest rates is persons in their thirties and forties. No one has argued that there is a new breed of middle-aged superpredator, but the data provide more support for that conclusion than for the concept of a juvenile superpredator” (3). In addition, the statistics fail to adequately factor in the impact of changes in public policy regarding violent crimes. As the report demonstrates, several changes in social attitudes have led to the re-classification of crimes into more violent categories, have increased the number of mandatory arrests as a result of changing attitudes toward domestic violence, and have placed greater scrutiny on crimes that were ignored or considered minor in the past. The report offers two examples of the latter concern.
More teenagers were arrested for curfew violations following the prediction of the superpredator than before even when statistics didn’t necessarily support the idea that this was becoming a problem. The second example is in the area of drugs in which more teenagers were arrested for possession of marijuana than had been in the past under the social fear that this drug is a ‘gateway’ drug into stronger materials and thus into the world of violent crime. No consideration seems to have been given to the idea that mandatory arrests for possession of this substance served as an introduction for many young people simply experimenting into the world of crime simply because of the arrest on their record and they’re being brought into proximity with actual juvenile delinquents.
As this report shows, there are many dangers involved in using demographics and empirical data to help formulate juvenile justice policy. Much more needs to be factored into these ideas if an adequate policy is to be formulated. Social attitudes play a significant role in how policy is carried out and what policies are made at the same time that changes in the system affect future generations, causing them to behave differently than one before.
While spikes in juvenile crime can and will occur, empirical data for a given demographic must be considered in conjunction with the same sort of data in other demographics as well before a clear picture can begin to emerge. Even then, much of what is understood should be considered as being seen through a glass darkly – clear images today offer only a fuzzy image of what tomorrow may bring.
Although the data pointed to the clear development of a superpredator by this point in history, actual data suggests that this has not materialized nor should it within the foreseeable future.