Violence involving children has been one of the least documented areas of violent crime. The purpose of this study was to develop cost estimates to assess the magnitude of juvenile violence in Pennsylvania in terms of both victimizations and perpetrators. Our study is the first to address 4 critical questions. First, how large a share of violence is juvenile violence? Second, is the juvenile violence problem primarily a problem of violence by juveniles or of violence against juveniles? Third, is the juvenile violence pattern different in urban and rural areas? Fourth, does the public spend more on victims or on perpetrators of juvenile violence?


Archival data on the number of violent crimes committed in the state in 1993 were used and adjusted for underreporting. The incidence of juvenile violence has 2 dimensions: 1) juvenile perpetrator violence, which consists of violent crimes committed by juveniles regardless of victim age; and 2) juvenile victim violence, which includes violent crimes committed against juveniles regardless of perpetrator age.

Cost estimates were developed to reflect the costs incurred by society for both victims and perpetrators. Two major categories of costs were computed: 1) victimization costs and 2) perpetrator costs.

Victimization costs of juvenile violence include the costs related to victims of both juvenile perpetrator violence and juvenile victim violence. These costs were computed in 5 categories: 1) medical care costs, 2) future earnings losses, 3) public program costs, 4) property damage and losses, and 5) quality of life losses. Victim costs per violent crime were adapted from national estimates that we broke down by rural/urban location and by victim age. National estimates were multiplied times price and wage adjusters for Pennsylvania. We applied a 2.5% discount rate to adjust future losses extending beyond a year (eg, future work loss, quality of life losses) to their present value.

Perpetrator costs of juvenile crime included the expenditures for juvenile offenders who committed violent crimes against other juveniles and adults. The costs associated with adult perpetrators of violent crimes against juveniles were not studied. The major elements of perpetrator costs were: 1) probation costs, 2) detention costs, 3) residential treatment program costs, 4) alternative placement costs, and 5) incarceration costs.


In 1993, there were 63 500 cases of violence by juveniles against other juveniles, 30 400 cases of violence by juveniles against adults, and 31 300 cases of adult violence against juveniles. Nearly 9 of 10 violent crimes committed by juveniles and 7 of 10 violent crimes committed against juveniles involved rape or assault. Of the 377 000 estimated violent crimes overall committed in Pennsylvania in 1993, juveniles were 25% of both perpetrators and victims.

For most violent crimes, the largest contributors to national estimates of average total costs per victim were quality of life losses followed by future earnings losses. The absolute level of quality of life and future earnings losses, however, varied considerably across crimes. The quality of life and future earnings losses related to murder and rape were larger for juvenile victims than for adult victims because juveniles suffer larger productivity losses because of their longer expected work lives. Victim age was also related to differences in medical care costs of rape victims because of higher average mental health treatment costs for the juvenile victims.

Estimated total victim costs of all violent crime in Pennsylvania in 1993 exceeded $11.6 billion. Of this total, juvenile violence accounted for $5.4 billion of victim costs (47%). Quality of life losses accounted for 83% of total victim costs and future earnings losses accounted for 11%. Including Medicare and Medicaid costs, public programs targeted toward the victims of juvenile violence cost an estimated $42 million. The victim costs of violence against juveniles ($4.5 billion) greatly exceeded the victim costs of violence by juveniles ($2.6 billion).

Most juvenile violence occurred in the urban counties of the state, which together accounted for >72% and nearly 71% of the total violent crimes committed by juveniles and against juveniles, respectively. As with the incidence of violent crime, victim costs were higher in urban counties than in rural ones ($4.0 billion vs $1.4 billion), accounting for nearly 75% of total victim costs. In both urban and rural counties, the largest share of victim costs of juvenile violence was for crimes by adults against juveniles; the smallest share was for violent crimes by juveniles against adults. Several violent crimes—rape, assault, and robbery—were more likely to result in physical injury when committed in rural areas.

The estimated total criminal justice costs for perpetrators of juvenile violence in Pennsylvania exceeded $46 million in 1993. Juvenile treatment program costs accounted for 55% of total perpetrator costs, and probation costs and detention costs ∼20% each. Incarceration costs, although large per unit, accounted for only 6% of total costs.

Total public spending on victims and perpetrators of juvenile violence was approximately equal. On a per capita basis, however, spending per known perpetrator was nearly 5 times greater than spending per known victim.


Contrary to recent concerns over rates of violence among juveniles, the results of this study suggest that violence against children and adolescents is a much larger problem than is violence committed by youth. Although incidence data suggest that juveniles are 25% of both victims and perpetrators, our cost estimates show that because of differences in the distributions of youth and adult victims across crimes and the impacts on victims, greater losses are associated with violence against youth than with violence by youth. Although the analysis presented here is based on data from 1993 (when juvenile violence peaked), recently published national crime and injury data suggest that our findings regarding juvenile victim versus juvenile perpetrator violence continue to hold.

The finding that total public spending on victims of juvenile violence roughly equals total spending on juvenile perpetrators of violence is both novel and provocative. Public debate is needed about whether equity in expenditures on victims versus perpetrators is appropriate, as well as the extent to which resources should be directed toward prevention programs (which are not costed here). juvenile violence, costs, victims, perpetrators.

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