Facts and Figures

In Boston:

A study of Boston Globe reports of homicides between 2005 and 2008 shows that the median age of homicide victims is 23, while the median age of suspects is 26. The arrest rate for homicides in that period was about 40%. Globe reports of court cases show that murder suspects who plead innocent and are convicted will usually receive life in prison; those that plead guilty to murder tend to receive 10-20 years, while those who plead guilty to manslaughter can receive as little as five years.

(Source: Boston Globe archived articles, accessed online at http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/boston/advancedsearch.html, as well as the Globe's homicide database, accessed online at http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/2008_murders_in_boston.)

National Homicide Trends:

  • The national homicide rate nearly doubled from the mid 1960's to the late 1970's.
  • In 1980, it peaked at 10.2 per 100,000 people and subsequently fell off to 7.9 per 100,000 in 1984. 
  • It rose again in the late 1980's and early 1990's to another peak in 1991 of 9.8 per 100,000.
  • From 1992 to 2000, the rate declined sharply. Since then, the rate has been stable, at about 5.6 homicides per 100,000 people.

(Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/homicide/hmrt.cfm.)

From the Surgeon General's Report:

  • In the early 1980s, youth homicides done with a gun were just as common as those done with any other type of weapon. Since then, there have been about as many non-gun homicides every year as before, but there have been far more gun homicides: in 1994, there were more than four times as many gun homicides as non-gun homicides, declining to about twice as many by 1997. That means that the dramatic rise in youth homicides in the 1990s was entirely a rise in gun homicides.

  • In 1983 and 1993, there were seven times as many male youth crimes as there were female youth crimes. In 1998 there were less than four times as many. 
  • In 1999, for every youth arrested for homicide in the U.S., there were three arrested for rape, 20 arrested for robbery and more than 40 arrested for aggravated assault.


  • Schools are relatively safe places: less than 1% of all youth homicides occur in schools, at school events or on the way to or from school. However, worries about the safety of schools are widespead and increasing: in 1977, 24% of parents worried about their children's safety at school, while in 1999 nearly half of parents said they were worried. According to a Gallup survey, "in May 1999, shortly after the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, 74 percent of parents said that a school shooting was very likely or somewhat likely to happen in their community." 
  • Usually, someone who commits their first violent act before puberty will go on to commit more frequent and more serious violence later in adolescence. Such people usually show warning signs of aggression even from early childhood. However, the majority of violent youth commit their first act of violence after puberty. These "late onset" youth usually do not show warning signs in early childhood. A typical career of violence for a late onset offender is usually either a year of repeated acts of violence or several years of occasional violence. Youth who commit crimes before puberty are not guaranteed to become chronic offenders, though. A study in Rochester found that 39% of people who commit their first crime before age 9 eventually became chronic offenders, while a Denver study put the figure at 62%. 
  • Studies have shown that nearly half of all programs designed to stop youth violence have no effect at all on whether the youth involved with the program eventually become involved with violence. Some of these programs are even harmful, meaning that youth involved with them are more likely to becoming involved with violence since joining the program. Still, more than half of all programs are found to be effective, and some are very effective. Studies have shown that most effective programs are those focused on training practical life skills, teaching problem solving, moral reasoning, training parents and home visitation. The least effective methods include boot camps, gun buyback programs, grade non-promotion and trial in adult courts.

(Source: Elliot, Delbert, Norma J. Hatot and Paul Sirovatka, eds. Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General. Washington, D.C.: Department of Health and Human Services, 2001.  Available online at  www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/youthviolence/report.html#message.)

On Prisons in Massachusetts:

  • It costs $43,000 a year to keep someone in a Massachusetts prison. (It costs $18,000 a year for tuition, fees, room and board at UMass.)
  • 97% of prisoners in Massachusetts are eventually released: 20,000 every year.
  • The prison system "is 42% over capacity; all but two prison facilities are overcrowded. Every county jail is overcrowded, operating, on average, 65% above capacity with an average daily population of 13,932 with capacity for 8,444 inmates."
  • A 1997 study published by the Department of Health and Human Services demonstrates that for every $1.00 invested in substance abuse treatment, taxpayers save $7.00 as a result of reductions in crime, victimization and other costs.
  • 93% of employers say that they would not hire someone with a felony property crime on their record, and 77% say that they would not hire someone with a felony drug crime.

(Source: Engel, Len. "Promoting Public Safety Through Successful Community Transition." Crime and Justice Institute. May 9, 2008.)

Results of Individual Studies:

Most of what academics know about youth violence comes from formal academic studies. These studies can be based on a number of different sources of information: statistical analyses of police records over a period of many years, for example, or on the results of survey questions asked to a random sample of people. Like most questions of social science, the accuracy of these studies depend on the quality of research methods used and on the assumptions of the researchers. Because of this, studies on the same subject, using the same sources of information, can come to completely different conclusions. In this light, here is a sample of the results of some recent studies that our research team has found. Each study's results are sorted by general theme and are presented in a paragraph or less:


  • The influence of peers is the most important factor in determining whether a youth becomes involved in violence. Early childhood behavioral problems are a moderate predictor of violent behavior in adolescence. Family environment is a secondary but still influential factor. (Sullivan, Christopher J. “Early Adolescent Delinquency: Assessing the Role of Childhood Problems, Family Environment, and Peer Pressure.” Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice. 4.4 (2006): 291-313.)
  • Both bullies and their victims are more likely than average to have psychological disoders later in life. Victims are more likely to have anxiety disorders, while bullies themselves are more likely to have antisocial personality disorders. Those who were were both bully and victim are a higher risk for both types of disorder. (Sourander, Andre. “What Is the Early Adulthood Outcome of Boys Who Bully or Are Bullied in Childhood? The Finnish "From a Boy to a Man" Study.” Pediatrics. 120.2 (2007): 397-404.)
  • Family influence is the strongest factor in determining whether a girl becomes involved in violence, though peer influence is the strongest factor for boys. (Bowman, Marvella A., Hazel M. Prelow, Scott R. Weaver. “Parenting Behaviors, Association with Deviant Peers, and Delinquency in African American Adolescents: A Mediated-Moderation Model.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 36.4 (2007): 517-527.)


  • Youth who participate in religion are somewhat less likely to become involved in crime. (Baier, Colin J., and Bradley R. E. Wright. “‘If You Love Me, Keep My Commandments’: A Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Religion on Crime.” Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency. 38.1 (2001): 3-21.)


  • Staying in school makes a youth less likely to become involved in violent crime, as youth who stay in school are more likely to have strong self-control. However, this was only found to be true for boys; staying in school was not found to have an influence on girls' self control. (Henry, Bill, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E. Moffit, HonaLee Harrington and Phil A. Silva. “Staying in School Protects Boys with Poor Self-regulation in Childhood from Later Crime: A Longitudinal Study.” International Journal of Behavioral Development. 23.4 (1999): 1049-1073.)


  • In gun and knife homicides from 1990-1994 in Boston, 75% of victims and 77% of offenders had a prior criminal record. It has been estimated that 66% of youth homicides in Boston can be reasonably attributed to gang violence. A survey of gangs in Boston in 1996 found that there were about 61 gangs in the city with a total of 1,000 members between them, and that these gangs are smaller and less organized than gangs in other cities. Gangs in Boston disband or change their function (such as a focus on violence, robbery or drugs) more frequently than in other cities, and gang violence is usually over personal disputes rather than drug wars or turf wars. Gang turf is small, often a single apartment building, and never larger than a few blocks. (Kennedy, David M., Anne M. Piehl and Anthony A. Braga. “Youth Violence in Boston: Gun Markets, Serious Youth Offenders, and a Use-Reduction Strategy.” Law and Contemporary Problems. 59.1 (1996): 147-196.)

Criminal Justice

  • Government-imposed curfews that make it illegal for youth to be out after a certain hour have no effect at all on crime rates (Males, Mike A. and Dan Macallair. “An Analysis of Curfew Enforcement and Juvenile Crime in California.” Western Criminology Review. 1.2 (1999): 1-26.)
  • Putting more police on the street and arresting more people both lead to short-term drops in the crime rate. On the other hand, concealed weapon laws and the death penalty have no effect on crime rates (Levitt, Steven D., and Thomas J. Miles. “Economic Contributions to the Understanding of Crime.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science. 2 (2006): 147-164.)
  • The famous "three strike" laws of the 1990s, such as California's requirement of life in prison after three felony convinctions, had no impact on crime rates at all. (Kovandzic, Tomislav V., John J. Sloan III, Lynne M. Vieraitis. “"Striking Out" as Crime Reduction Policy: The Impact of "Three Strikes" Laws on Crime Rates in U.S. Cities.” Justice Quarterly. 21.2 (207-239): 207-239.)


  • Disadvantaged and at-risk youth benefit the most from having a mentor. However, mentoring only has a positive influence when certain practices are successfully followed: a poorly implemented program can have a harmful effect. (DuBois, D.L., B.E. Holloway, J.C. Valentine, and H. Cooper. “Effectiveness of Mentoring Programs for Youth: A Meta-Analytic Review.” American Journal of Community Psychology 30.2 (2002):157-197.)


  • An unemployed person is more likely to be involved in crime than an employed person. (Britt, Chester L. “Reconsidering the Unemployment and Crime Relationship: Variation by Age Group and Historical Period.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology. 13.4 (1997): 405-428.)
  • Being rich does not make a person any more likely to avoid crime; wealth and poverty both encourage crime for different reasons. (Wright, Bradley R. Entner, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E. Moffit, Richard A. Miech and Phil A. Silva. “Reconsidering the Relationship Between SES and Delinquency: Causation but not Correlation.” Criminology 37.1 (1999): 175-194.)
  • Having a job makes a youth less likely to commit crimes only when that job fits in with his or her school schedule; a job that disrupts the school schedule can even make a youth more likely to become involved in crime. (Staff, Jeremy, and Christopher Uggen. “The Fruits of Good Work: Early Work Experiences and Adolescent Deviance.” Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency. 40.3 (2003): 263-290.)
  • Crime tends to go down in a city when unemployment and income inequality go down. (Strom, Kevin J. and John M. MacDonald. “The Influence of Social and Economic Disadvantage on Racial Patterns in Youth Homicide over Time.” Homicide Studies. 11 (2007): 50-69.)

Access to Guns

  • In counties where legal gun ownership is high, illegal gun carrying by youth is also high. (Cook, Philip J., and Jens Ludwig. “Does Gun Prevalence Affect Teen Gun Carrying After All?” Criminology. 42.1 (2004): 27-54.)
  • A city or state's gun control laws have only a small influence on gun-related deaths in that area, while poverty, unemployment and alcohol consumption are much better predictors. (Kwon, Ik-Wan G., Bradley Scott, Scott R. Safranski and Muen Bae. "The Effectiveness of Gun Control Laws: Multivariate Statistical Analysis." American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 56.1 (1997): 41-50.)
  • National gun restrictions seriously limit the number of gun homicides in a country. For example, the United States has 15 times as many gun homicides as Canada does, which is arguably almost entirely due to Canada's tight gun control laws. In Canada, most gun homicides involve rifles and shotguns, because of the tight restrictions on handgun ownership. (Cukier, Wendy. “Firearms Regulation: Canada in the International Context.” Chronic Diseases in Canada 19.1 (2000). Public Health Agency of Canada.)

Media and Violence

  • Exposure to violent media makes people score higher on a test of aggression immediately afterwards. Additionally, people who were exposed to violent media in childhood are statistically more likely to show violent behavior later in life. It has been argued that violent media encourages violence in the same way that commercials encourage consumerism: people see violence as an effective way to solve their problems. However, media violence is still only considered to be a very small factor in the determination of violent behavior. (Anderson, Craig A., Leonard Berkowitz, Edward Donnerstein, L. Rowell Huesmann, James D. Johnson, Daniel Linz, Neil M. Malamuth, and Ellen Wartella. “The Influence of Media Violence on Youth.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 4.3 (2003): 81-110.)

 Neighborhood Briefing Documents


For each neighborhood in the Project, our research team compiled a 40 page briefing document of history, maps, demographics and institutional resources.  All four documents can be found here.


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