Juvenile delinquency

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Juvenile delinquency refers to criminal acts performed by juveniles. It is an important social issue because juveniles are capable of committing serious crimes, but most legal systems prescribe specific procedures for dealing with juveniles.

Nature and causes

Juvenile delinquency may refer to either violent or non-violent crime committed by persons who are (usually) under the age of eighteen. There is much debate about whether or not such a child should be held criminally responsible for his or her actions. There are many different inside influences that are believed to affect the way a child acts both negatively and positively, some of which are as follows:

  • Abandonment
  • Social institutions
  • Peer pressure

Definition and specifications

In the United States, a juvenile delinquent is a person who has not yet reached the age of majority, and whose behaviour has been labeled delinquent by a court. The specific requirements vary from state to state. In the United States, the federal government enacted legislation to unify the handling of juvenile deliquents, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act of 1974. America has more than 1 million people in prison..

The act created the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) within the Justice Department to administer grants for juvenile crime-combatting programs (currently about only 900,00 dollars a year), gather national statistics on juvenile crime, fund research on youth crime and administer four anticonfinement mandates regarding juvenile custody. Specifically, the act orders:

  • Deinstitutionalization: Youths charged with "status" offenses that would not be crimes if committed by adults, such as truancy, running away and being caught with alcohol or tobacco, must be "deinstitutionalized," which in this case really means that, with certain exceptions (e.g., minor in possession of a handgun), status offenders may not be detained by police or confined. Alleged problems with this mandate are that it overrides state and local law, limits the discretion of law enforcement officers and prevents the authorities' ability to reunify an offender with his family.
  • Segregation: Arrested youths must be strictly segregated from adults in custody. Under this "out of sight and sound" mandate, juveniles cannot be served food by anyone who serves jailed adults nor can a juvenile walk down a corridor past a room where an adult is being interrogated. This requirement forces local authorities to either free juveniles or maintain expensive duplicate facilities and personnel. Small cities, towns and rural areas are especially hard hit, drastically raising those taxpayers' criminal justice costs.
  • Jail and Lockup Removal: As a general rule, youths subject to the original jurisdiction of juvenile courts cannot be held in jails and lockups in which adults may be detained. The act provides for a six-hour exception for identification, processing, interrogation and transfer to juvenile facilities, court or detention pending release to parents. The act also provides an exception of 24 hours for rural areas only.
  • Overrepresentation of minority youths: States must systematically try to reduce confinement of minority youths to the proportion of those groups in the population.

Theoretical Perspectives on Juvenile Delinquency and Crime

Robert Merton

Merton believes that there is a serious relationship between poverty and crime. He feels that there are institutionalized paths to happiness in our society. He believes in a society of equilibrium where goals = means. A society of disequilibrium would be adaptation. Merton's Strain Theory suggests five attributes.

  1. Innovation: individuals who accept socially approved goals, but not necessarily the socially approved means.
  2. Retreatism: those who reject socially approved goals and the means for acquiring them.
  3. Ritualism: those who buy into a system of socially approved means, but lose sight of the goals. Merton believed that drug users are in this category.
  4. Conformity: those who conform to the system's means and goals.
  5. Rebellion: people who negate socially approved goals and means by creating a new system of acceptable goals and means.

Ongoing debate

One of the most notable causes of juvenile delinquency is fiat, i.e. the declaration that a juvenile is delinquent by the juvenile court system without any trial, and upon finding only probable cause. Many states have laws that presuppose the less harsh treatment of juvenile delinquents than adult counterparts’ treatment. In return, the juvenile surrenders certain constitutional rights, such as a right to trial by jury, the right to cross-examine, and even the right to a speedy trial. Notable writings by reformers such as Jerome G. Miller show that very few juvenile delinquents actually broke any law. Most were simply rounded up by the police after some event that possibly involved criminal action. They were brought before juvenile court judges who made findings of delinquency, simply because the police action established probable cause. h

Delinquency Prevention

Delinquency Prevention is the broad term for all efforts aimed at preventing youth from becoming involved in criminal, or other antisocial, activity. Increasingly, local, state, and federal governments are recognizing the importance of allocating resources for the prevention of delinquency. Websites such as the 'DelinquencyPrevention.Org' are working toward unifying delinquency prevention efforts. Because it is often difficult for states to provide the fiscal resources necessary for good prevention, organizations, communities, and governments are working more in collaboration with each other to prevent juvenile delinquency.

Because the development of delinquent behaviour in youth is influenced by numerous factors, so should prevention efforts be comprehensive in scope. Prevention services include activities such as substance abuse education and treatment; family counseling; youth mentoring; parenting education; educational support; and youth sheltering. Organizations such as the Prevent Delinquency Project concentrate their efforts on teaching parents the importance of parental supervision and guidance, and assist them in learning to identify the various threats that exist to children. Armed with this knowledge, parents are in a better position to intervene at the earliest signs of trouble, before their children wind up in the juvenile justice system. Although those who provide prevention services are often well educated, well trained, and dedicated, they are frequently underpaid, and under recognized for their work. Agencies that provide prevention services typically run on "shoe string budgets" and appreciate any financial help they can get from individuals, social organizations, and governments.

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