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The Superpredator Scare

In the mid-1990s, after a decade of soaring juvenile crime, some social scientists warned the violence would only get worse. Reality proved otherwise.

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The Superpredator Scare

Produced by Bonnie Bertram and Scott Michels
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In the mid-1990s, after a decade of soaring juvenile crime, some social scientists warned the violence would only get worse. Reality proved otherwise.

In 1995, John DiIulio, Jr., then a Princeton professor, coined a phrase that seemed to sum up the nation’s fear of teen violence: “superpredator.” In the previous decade, teenage crime rates had exploded. Television news led with story after story of seemingly incomprehensible violence committed by children as young as 10. Many criminologists feared the trend would continue, and DiIulio warned that hundreds of thousands of remorseless teen predators were just over the horizon.

The “superpredator” caught the attention of reporters and politicians, some of whom used it to push for the continued overhaul of a juvenile justice system they considered too lenient. By the end of the 1990s, nearly every state had passed laws to make it easier to try juveniles in adult courts or to increase penalties for violent juvenile crimes.

But what happened to the “superpredators” of the 1990s? And what’s changed since in how the nation deals with youth crime?

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