Juvenile delinquency is a fundamental social and economic problem not only in the United States but globally. Shoemaker (2013) states that juvenile delinquency encompasses set of behaviors that define an individual and are always not in line with the expectations and ethical beliefs of particular social structure and group. Significantly, studies have established that such behaviors are contrary to societal expectations and thus violate well established societal beliefs, criminal codes and laws governing a given society (Shoemaker, 2013). Moreover, it is important to note that juvenile delinquency does not only encompass criminal activities but also entail anti- social behaviors exhibited by children like skipping or running away from school. “Theories formulated from research studies have confirmed that there are numerous causes of juvenile delinquency and the extent of such behaviors are diverse” (Shoemaker, 2013). Good news is that there are preventive mechanisms that can be put in place to control behaviors of children or peers in the community, these mechanisms discourage deviate behaviors exhibited by certain section of community members.
The Nature of Juvenile Delinquency
In respect to juvenile justice, studies have found out that juveniles behave contrary to the requirements of the laws are often treated differently from adults (Shoemaker, 2013). Historically, it can be ascertained that in the past juveniles who exhibited deviant behaviors were thrown into jails together with adults. Surveys during that time reported that juveniles were subjected to long prison times and corporal punishment (Shoemaker, 2013). This prompted reformers and civil rights activists to urge governments to establish separate courts and establishments that would specifically deal with juveniles. The motivations behind the move were anchored on the assertion that children who went against the set law were to be helped rather than punished. Moreover, lawyers who were working to prove innocence or guilt of a juvenile offender were rather to act as parents and convince the courts also to assume the role of parents. “Today, different states have established separate juvenile court systems that handle different groups of juveniles that are delinquent offender and the status offender” (Siegel &Welsh, 2011). Siegel and Welsh (2011) establishes that a delinquent juvenile is one who has committed an act that is a crime and congruent to those of adults established under federal and state laws. “On the other hand, status offenders are juveniles who exhibit unruly behaviors that are extremely difficult for parents to control” (Siegel &Welsh, 2011).
Studies have revealed that before juvenile courts were established, juveniles whose age was less than seven were never held accountable for their criminal activities (Siegel &Welsh, 2011). It is ascertained that this was majorly because the laws questioned the capability of ascertaining their intentions (Siegel &Welsh, 2011). Currently, the set limit for juveniles in most states is 16 or 17 years old while others consider all those less than 18 years to be juveniles. Siegel &Welsh (2011) elaborates that some states have ensured that juveniles are charged with different crimes and thus transferred to criminal courts and tried as adults if need be. Because of the increase in juvenile crimes that include deviant acts such as murder, a number of states have reduced the age at which juveniles can be subjected to laws (Siegel &Welsh, 2011). However, certain sections of the community are of the opinion that juveniles should just be tried as adults if they commit criminal acts, this is because in most cases such juveniles are beyond redemption.
Moreover, Siegel &Welsh (2011) assert that offenses committed by children of less than 18 years are covered under juvenile crime thus denoted as juvenile delinquency. “In different circumstances juvenile offenders can be tried as juveniles or adults, when tried as adults, they are treated differently in light with the requirements of juvenile criminal system” (Siegel &Welsh, 2011). Criminal law practitioners have described the linking of crime and delinquency as complex because of the myriad factors existing that help explain why individuals engage in crime or delinquent acts. “This supports the assertion that crime is caused by biological and psychological factors while juvenile delinquency is best caused by social factors” (Siegel &Welsh, 2011). Theorists have elaborated instances of crime and delinquency in society, all have concurred that crime is diverse while delinquency is as a result of the surrounding environment occupied by juveniles (Siegel &Welsh, 2011). Media has greatly publicized juvenile acts and as a result many people are more of aware of juvenile crimes today than in the past. Evidence presented attributes decline in juvenile cases this to the unreported minor criminal behavior exhibited by juveniles (Siegel &Welsh, 2011).
Juvenile courts have been instrumental in protecting and reforming juveniles who participate in deviant behaviors. They are some of the few places in society where needs of children are fulfilled and thus paramount and passionate in helping children change for the better of society at large (Siegel &Welsh, 2011). It is because of this that human rights activists have affirmed the positive contributions that such courts deliver to the community even during adverse circumstances. Studies have established that most people view juvenile court systems as being institutions designed to deal with juveniles who commit crimes that are contrary to the requirements of law and social structures. Siegel and Welsh (2011) asserts that child abuse and neglect that have been responsible for most of the delinquent acts and has disposed the relationship and understanding that exist between dependency and delinquency. To achieve ensure effective reform of children, the courts are founded on goals of helping and rehabilitating juveniles in society. In cases, that the juvenile court systems have failed to reform or rehabilitate juvenile offenders, best alternatives have often been sought through putting in place structures meant to prevent occurrence of such crimes.
The Extent and Causes of Juvenile Delinquency
Studies have found out that Juvenile delinquency is so dynamic because of the numerous causing factors (Hess et al, 2010). Moreover, professionals have outlined that prevention and treatment must purely focus on reforming deviant behavior of an individual but also within context of that particular behavior (Hess et al, 2010). Practically, preventive measures have been known to contribute positively, signifying reduction in juvenile delinquency. Hess et al (2010) notes that there is need for timely recognition of youths at risk of committing crimes and thus come up with sound measures to prevent future delinquency. Notably, studies have earthed myriad risk factors that act as indicators or predict juvenile delinquency with factors being dysfunctional at different levels. Sociologists have outlined factors that often lead to juvenile delinquency to include conflicts within families, lack of requisite supervision from parents and guardians, inappropriate or lack of parental attachment, instability, poor quality of life in homes and inconsistent discipline exhibited by juveniles (Hess et al, 2010). Early detection of presence of factors likely to contribute to the above factors is paramount for sociologists; this is because it will ensure early referral of families to sources of information that may be of assistance (Hess et al, 2010). When discussing causes of Juvenile delinquency, it is important to accurately establish the relationship between family attachment and delinquency (Hess et al, 2010). Studies have elaborated many forms of family conflicts that may prompt an individual to participate in heinous acts in society (Hess et al, 2010). Lack of sound communication structures and problem solving skills may escalate the problem to greater lengths which may be difficult to salvage according to professionals (Hess et al, 2010). The nature of family conflicts are so recurrent that inappropriate communication and problem solving may increase incidences of delinquency exhibited by juveniles.
Succinct understanding of causes is an important part of preventing juveniles from participating in activities associated with crime. Risks factors can be categorized as individual, family, mental health and substance abuse, problems occur when an individual is exposed so risks associated with above major cause. First, individual risk factor is one possible cause of juvenile delinquency since an individual with a lower intelligence level arising from lack of requisite knowledge. Under individual risk factors are juveniles exhibiting impulsive behavior, this means that the victim may not confide to any family member or friend and thus engages in activities without consultation. Hess et al (2010) assert that these individuals also show more aggression towards other people and as a result become more harmful, destructive and engage in illegal activities. Significantly, lack of sufficient education is strongly correlated to juvenile delinquency based on the assertion of criminologists (Hess et al, 2010). Moreover, it has been established that when children fail in school during early school days they are likely to engage in criminal activities in the future (Hess et al, 2010). This is because public schools are characterized by overcrowded classrooms, lack qualified teachers and children are unable to access counseling services. As a matter of fact, poor performance exhibited by children due to poor class attendance leads to high school dropout levels and expulsion that exposes them to criminal activities. It has been outlined that in circumstances that children drop out of school there is reduction in chances of grasping social skills that way enlighten them to constructively engage with their peers (Farrington & Welsh, 2007). Psychologists have affirmed that students with low education feel disadvantaged allowing them to feel hopeless and thus participate in juvenile crimes (Farrington & Welsh, 2007).
Second, family risk factors are another factor that causes the vice since it has been established that consistent family patterns are important indicators of wellness and cultivates good behavior (Farrington & Welsh, 2007). Farrington and Welsh (2007) further affirms that family risk factors encompass poor or lack of parental supervision, consistent family conflict, neglect or abuse where children are denied their basic rights and privileges. Moreover, such children are devoid of family love and become oppressed, hopeless and think the same way as their own parents who demonstrate lack of respect and social norms (Farrington & Welsh, 2007). Researchers have established that children who show less or weak family attachment have high probability of engaging in juvenile crimes (Farrington & Welsh, 2007). Likewise, in situations where children lack strong moral guidance arising from absence of concerned guardians and positive influences, juveniles tend to miss morality that is instrumental in shaping behaviors. Guardians play critical roles in shaping behaviors and thus if a child is not educated moral behaviors early enough, they may later run into crime because they may not be able to differentiate between what is wrong and right. In light of this, crime is motivated by poor family structures and is perceived as a serious threat and thus creates a barrier for a child to decide whether an act is right or wrong. Developing children require well developed structures put in place by their parents, rules and regulations is part of good foundation that parents can enforce to their children. For instance, children should consistently inform their parents on their moves including those they are spending their time with. Moreover, parenthood is a structure that provides close supervision to their children because studies have found out that lack of close supervision may lead to future crimes.
Third, mental health risk factors also contribute to juvenile delinquency because certain acts are caused by mental instability. Medical practitioners have linked some delinquent behaviors to medical diagnosis; these mental problems are best displayed in individual behaviors. For instance, Farrington and Welsh (2007) note that conduct disorder to be responsible for most of deviant behaviors because an individual exhibiting this mental disorder is often unable to sympathize with others and often disregard societal norms and beliefs. It has been established that mental illness may subject an individual to certain levels of instability characterized by increased stress and frequent changes of friends. Farrington and Welsh (2007) outline that mental instabilities may prompt a juvenile to participate in criminal acts especially if they have nothing to lose in respect to deviant behaviors.
Farrington and Welsh (2007) establishes that drug and substance abuse has been responsible for most instances of criminal activities associated with juveniles in societies and social arrangements (Farrington & Welsh, 2007). “Psychologists have identified two trends in regards to substance abuse and juveniles” (Farrington & Welsh, 2007). Today, juveniles are exposed to most powerful drugs compared to few decades ago and they begin this at tender ages. These substances illegally provide motivations that urge juveniles to commit crimes so as to obtain money to buy and use drugs. Moreover, surveys affirm that when they are under the influence of drugs, juveniles engage in destructive and harmful behaviors that degenerate into criminal activities (Bartollas, 2006). Consequently, substance abuse can heavily affect cognitive development of a child and this may lower the ability of a juvenile to assess risks associated with certain behaviors. Drug abuse also contributes indirectly to reduced knowledge and education grasp because children who abuse drugs often skip schools and thus get little knowledge to help them make sound decisions. Sociologists have affirmed that drug and substance abuse leads to inconsistent discipline among children and thereby leads to delinquent behavior exhibited by juveniles (Bartollas, 2006). Parents often ignore their children who are drug users and as a result become unruly to an extent of disobeying their parents, this leads them to criminal activities.
Lastly, peer pressure arising from interactions as they try to fit in different lifestyles that at times may be harmful and poison their minds. Bartollas (2006) explains that studies conducted in United States found out that most children cited peer pressure as the reason why they engaged in deviant behaviors such as sex, robbery and drug abuse. This in return impacts negatively on their behaviors and thus allows them to commit delinquent crimes in societies. Sub-urban neighborhoods have seen many teens engage in robbery conducted by criminal gangs that they adore. In United States, law enforcement officers have established that many teens are involved in criminal activities, this has prompted them to develop programs to identify youths at-risk of engaging into crime prematurely due to peer influence.
Preventive Measures and Programs
Despite the numerous causes of juvenile delinquency there is need to protect them and put in place structures and programs that prevent children from participating in criminal activities. Criminal law practitioners affirm that governments should provide the necessary support to programs initiated to help reform or rehabilitate juvenile criminals to prevent future delinquency (Bartollas, 2006). In United States, a council is established to determine how federal governments put in programs to prevent at-risk youth from participating in criminal activities. Surveys reveal that councils have been instrumental in unifying communities and stakeholders and have been responsible for declining juvenile arrests and prosecution.
It has been opined that parents should also play active roles in preventing deviant behaviors of their children because they have more control over them (Bartollas, 2006). Families should therefore stay together and find time to discuss social and family issues as this will prevent delinquency among youths who are devoid of supervision and guidance. For instance, surveys conducted across states in United States confirm that families that have dinner together have significant reduction in juvenile crime rates. Furthermore, it has been established that parents who are less concerned of their children greatly indirectly encourage their children to be bullies and ultimate indulge in criminal activities (Bartollas, 2006). Parents should therefore be on the forefront in active participation and take keen interest in their children, this would help reduce rates of crime associated with juveniles. Parents cannot do this alone, they need teachers too to help keep children in school and in cases of minor offences both parties should come together and discuss issues amicably. Consequently, parents should exercise full supervision with the assistance of local social services institutions if one is unable to control behaviors of a child. Notably, surveys have revealed that home-based treatment programs have yielded success, the program works by rehabilitating and reforming juveniles who have been involved in juvenile systems. Parents should also conduct trainings and perceive rewards associated with such training to prevent children from deviating from societal norms and well established laws and regulations. It is recommended that programs that parents initiate must be broad to include other behavior determinants factors such social, economic and political and should educate juveniles to desist from criminal activities.
Studies have elaborated on the causes of juvenile delinquency and prevention programs; however, the concept is complex and there is no exhaustive cause or prevention (Bartollas, 2006). The discussion and analysis has revealed that there are myriad causes and potential preventive measures; good news is that the problem has numerous solutions. However, to achieve this, professionals recommend that parents must involve other stakeholders in fighting the vice in community. It is further recommended that research be conducted in the same area to gain more understanding on the complexity of juvenile delinquency and how juveniles can conclusively be protected from the vice.
Bartollas, C. (2006). Juvenile delinquency. Boston: Pearson A & B.
Farrington, D. P. & Welsh, B. (2007). Saving children from a life of crime: Early risk factors
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Hess, K. M., Orthmann, C. M. H. & Drowns, R. W. (2010). Juvenile justice. Belmont, CA:
Siegel, L. J. & Welsh, B. (2011). Juvenile delinquency: The core. Belmont, CA:
Shoemaker, D. J. (2013). Juvenile delinquency. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.