What Happened To “Superpredators?” DiIulio Says “Demography Is Not Fate”


The New York Times’ “Retro Report” feature, mentioning a new New York City case of murder by a teenager, recalls that in the 1990s, some commentators warned that the U.S. “was being overwhelmed by waves of ‘superpredators,’ feral youths devoid of impulse control or remorse. The Times cites John J. DiIulio Jr., then a political scientist at Princeton, said that the demographics of juvenile crime were inexorable.

A funny thing happened, though, the Times says: Instead of exploding, violence by children sharply declined. Murders committed by those ages 10 to 17 fell by roughly two-thirds from 1994 to 2011, says the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. A chastened DiIulio offered a mea culpa. “Demography,” he says, “is not fate.” The trouble with his superpredator forecast, he told Retro Report, is that “once it was out there, there was no reeling it in.” It energized a movement, as one state after another enacted laws making it possible to try children as young as 13 or 14 as adults.

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