Superpredator | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminology

Superpredator refers to the criminological concept of a highly aggressive, remorseless, and violent offender, often associated with youth and gang activity.

The term “superpredator” was coined in the mid-1990s by criminologist John DiIulio, who argued that a new breed of young, violent offenders was emerging in the United States. According to DiIulio, these “superpredators” were characterized by their lack of empathy, their willingness to engage in extreme forms of violence, and their disregard for the law.

DiIulio’s theory of superpredators gained significant attention in the media and among policymakers, who were concerned about rising crime rates and the perceived threat posed by juvenile offenders. The idea that there was a generation of young people who were beyond rehabilitation and posed a grave danger to society resonated with many Americans.

However, subsequent research has challenged the validity of the superpredator theory. Scholars have argued that the term is stigmatizing and reinforces negative stereotypes about youth and communities of color. They point out that youth crime rates have actually been declining in recent decades, and that the vast majority of young offenders do not fit the profile of a superpredator.

Moreover, studies have shown that harsh, punitive measures like mandatory minimum sentences and life without parole do not effectively address the underlying causes of crime and can actually increase recidivism rates. Instead, many experts advocate for a more nuanced, evidence-based approach to juvenile justice that focuses on prevention, rehabilitation, and community-based solutions.

Reference: DiIulio, J. J. (1998). Reflections on the “Coming of the Super-Predators.” Crime & Delinquency, 44(2), 187-200.

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Last Modified: 03/14/2023


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