Following a year in which the public was horrified by violent murders at dance clubs frequented by teens and tales of middle-schoolers participating in vandalism campaigns and anti-Semitic rampages, the Beersheba Conference on Children's Welfare held a meeting Tuesday to discuss the phenomenon of youth crime.
The phenomenon, experts said, seems to be growing, and the type of crimes are becoming more and more alarming.
"In recent years we have seen an increase in violent crimes and in their severity, a spectrum of related offenses which had previously been reserved for 'grown-ups'," Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter said at the meeting.
"As a society we must deal with the restoration of parental authority, with the rehabilitation of teachers' authority and to check what our children are doing in clubs, on which Internet sites they're surfing and which television programs they're watching."
Dichter was one of several top officials who attended the Beersheba meeting alongside the President of Juvenile Court Judge Galit Mor-Vigotzky, Southern District Police Chief Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev, as well as representatives of the Welfare Ministry, the police, the Israel Prison Authority (IPS) and others.
According to police officials, slightly over 14 percent of all crimes in Israel in 2006 were perpetrated by juveniles. Almost a third of those offenses, police said, were property-related. Criminal behavior seems to begin early, with 25% of youth crime being carried out by minors under the age of 15.
During the meeting, the IPS representatives revealed that a total of 237 persons between the ages of 14-21 are currently imprisoned, and that 52% of those were non-Jews.
The vast majority of those prisoners are under 18, and only a small part of the group are 18-21-year-olds who are serving sentences for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18.
Almost half of those prisoners, they said, had already served prison sentences for prior offenses, and almost one out of 10 imprisoned juveniles were serving their fourth prison sentence.
Over a quarter were jailed for violence and assault-related charges.
The Internal Security Ministry operates a department that specifically addresses youth crimes. "Hahayim," one of the projects run by the department, is attempting to address the challenge of restoring youths to what the ministry termed "a normative life path", including IDF enlistment for youths with criminal histories. The IPS reported that 99% of youths participating in the program had left the "cycle of crime" and that a majority of them had been successfully drafted into the ranks of the IDF.