The Chronicle’s Vanishing Violence project started as a simple story idea on a topic of huge importance. Violent crimes committed by youths were falling precipitously, and had been for years, in California and across the country. The numbers were startling: Homicides of juveniles in California dropped 83 percent from 1995 to 2017; youth arrests for violent felonies fell 68 percent. Sensing that this story — hidden in plain sight — had profound implications for criminal justice policy and society at large, editors at The Chronicle assigned a reporting team to dig into the data, research state and federal crime trends, and interview sources.
The project’s challenge: It was about something big that wasn’t happening. A surging wave of violent youth offenders did not overwhelm the courts and prisons. The age of the “super-predator” did not last. And, as reporters Jill Tucker and Joaquin Palomino discovered through their reporting and data work over more than six months, county and state governments did not adjust to the new reality.
Juvenile halls across the state — built up in anticipation of a rise in youth offenders facing increasingly harsh penalties — had largely emptied, while spending on youth detention continued to climb.
The reporters submitted two dozen public records requests on county-level spending, because the state did not track it. They calculated the average annual cost to incarcerate a child and spent several weeks ensuring the data offered a consistent picture of spending. Perhaps the most important finding of the series: annual per-youth county expenditures had skyrocketed over the past decade to as high as $500,000.
The reporters also interviewed dozens of experts, academics, policymakers and young people, including David Monroe, who agreed to share his story, describing the moment he fired five shots at another teenager and became a killer in the mid-1990s.
The project team gathered weekly to brainstorm interactive graphics, multimedia options, design and visual plans. Designers, videographers, photographers, digital producers, graphic artists, print designers, reporters and editors worked to storyboard the digital presentation to create a story flow that highlighted both the stark data and personal narratives.
The finished project included an opening animation that simply presents the core data analysis, a scrolling story display, dynamic graphics, video, a mobile-first visual essay and other charts and visual elements that did not run in print.