In the 1990s, a handful of researchers inspired panic with a dire but flawed prediction: the imminent arrival of a new breed of “superpredators.”

Combating the Myth of the Superpredator

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.

Today, states are reconsidering life prison sentences of people who were given mandatory life terms as juveniles – a practice that has since been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

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