In 1996, the bipartisan Council on Crime in America released a dire report. the New York Times headlined it, "Experts on Crime Warn of a ‘Ticking Time Bomb.’ ” The report predicted that over the next decade, a generation of lawless, violent young men would come of age. In the early ’90s, crime in many U.S. cities had already risen to record highs. The report’s authors warned that some young people are too far gone to save. The crime wave never materialized. Five years later, report co-author John DiIulio Jr. said he “wished he had never become the 1990s intellectual pillar for putting violent juveniles in prison and condemning them as ‘superpredators.’” The lifelong sentences many youths had been given, fueled in part by those assumptions, remained. Philadelphia sentenced more children to life in prison without the possibility of parole than any other places, the New York Times reports.
Beginning in 2005, a series of Supreme Court decisions made mandatory life sentences for minors rarer, prompting longstanding sentences to be reconsidered. The Times reported earlier that hundreds of mostly Black men exiled as youths to prison for life have begun living on the outside. Recent spikes in violent crime have rekindled fears and calls for more severe punishment. In Philadelphia, homicides for the first time have exceeded their peaks from the 1990s. The only expert consensus on why violent crime declined instead of cresting in the 2000s is that the causes are manifold and interlinked. Over time, research on the causes of violent crime has come to place greater importance on adverse childhood experience, helping experts better understand how patterns that gave rise to violence can be disrupted. The Times says it will be exploring what the communities on the front lines of violence prevention have learned.