Juvenile Delinquency Essay

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In the past, there was no such term as “juvenile delinquent” or “juvenile delinquency” within the justice system. As frightening as it is to consider, over a hundred years ago, children who committed crimes were thrown into prisons with adults and some children were even sentenced to corporal punishment or even death (Yale.edu, 2000). Reformers of the justice system were the ones who pushed for a distinct court system for the treatment of juveniles, with the underlying notion being that these young people could potentially be helped and reformed. “Central to the concept of juvenile court was the principle of parens patriae. This meant that instead of lawyers fighting to decide guilt or innocence, the court would act as a parent or guardian interested in protecting and helping the child” (yale.edu, 2000). These reforms were novel at the time, and helped to enact changes such as closed hearings for juveniles, informal proceedings and the separation of child criminals from adult criminals in the case of a conviction (yale.edu, 2000). The very first juvenile court was created in Cook County, Illinois in 1899 (yale.edu, 2000). And just as there have been strides in the justice system regarding juveniles, there have also been great strides in the research and general comprehension of how some young people become juveniles. Research conducted on child development have now helped narrow down the overall factors that can influence behavior in this manner, such as the individual, social and community conditions (NRCIM, 2001). “There is general agreement that behavior, including antisocial and delinquent behavior, is the result of a complex interplay of individual biological and genetic factors and environmental factors, starting during fetal development and continuing throughout life” (NRCIM, 2001). Hence, given the nature versus nurture debate, experts now know that while genes have an indelible impact on the biological development of the young person, the environmental input ensures that the biological development occurs at all: nature and nurture both shape behavior (NRCIM, 2001).

Juvenile Delinquency Defined

There are a host of definitions that abound for what qualifies as a juvenile and what standards equate to a juvenile delinquent. A “Juvenile is considered as a child who has not completed a specific age as mentioned in the law of any country and doesn’t bear resemblance as an adult person and who can be made legally answerable for his criminal activities. The juvenile is a child who has alleged violated certain laws which declares his act or omission as an offence” (Chapter 2). It’s important to distinguish that a juvenile and a minor or used in two distinct ways: a juvenile is a person who has committed a crime, a minor is term used to describe the overall legal capacity of a person (Chapter 2). In America the states can use their own discretion to determine what age makes someone a juvenile—for some states it’s the age 16 or younger, and for others it’s 18 or younger. As already mentioned, every state has a separate court for juvenile offenders, a distinction that is mandatory for them to make.  Juveniles are generally categorized into two distinct classifications: the delinquent offender and the status offender. A delinquent child is one who has engaged in an act that is considered criminal for adults as decreed under the federal state or local law (yale.edu, 2000). On the other hand, a status offender is considered to be a juvenile who is viewed as unmanageable or beyond the control of the parents or guardians (yale.edu, 2000). It’s important to differentiate that status offenders do not equate with criminal acts: only juveniles are capable of engaging in a status offense as it qualifies as something like skipping school or becoming a runaway (yale.edu, 2000).

In recent times, there’s been more and more interest in understanding juvenile delinquency, where it starts and how it can fester, as juvenile delinquency has become a crucial component in criminology studies in general. “Juveniles have got serious forms of delinquent behavior which may hamper the stability and social command of our society. The deviant behavior of the juveniles has created social disorder and destruction of moral values which is creating an alarming position in organized society” (Chapter 2). Young people are still capable of much destruction.

Examples of Juvenile Delinquency

This essay has already mentioned some of the forms of juvenile delinquency that qualify as status offenses; these are things like running away from home, drinking alcohol while under-aged, or skipping school. However, juvenile delinquency as a whole encapsulates a nuanced range of behavior that can embody a host of things. According to the organization Global Youth Justice, the top offense committed by juveniles is theft and larceny. This offense typically manifests as shoplifting, stealing a bicycle, or stealing from backpacks and lockers. The second type of offense is vandalism; this offense generally manifests as engaging in tagging and graffiti, scribbling on the walls of public bathrooms, keying a car and slashing auto tires (globalyouthjustice.org). The third most common incident involves the possession and consumption of alcohol. The fourth most common offense refers to “disorderly conduct” and this can involve things like fighting in public spaces, using foul language to a teacher, or various forms of indecent exposure, from flashing to mooning (globalyouthjustice.org). The fifth most common form of juvenile delinquency is basic assault or battery (globalyouthjustice.org). This can manifest as in-school bullying or it can be more complex, such as hurting/shoving people or engaging in physical disagreements between parents, or strait up assault (globalyouthjustice.org). It’s important to remember with offenses such as these, the entire juvenile delinquent court system was invented because there was the underlying belief that these young people could be rehabilitated.

Sentencing young people in accordance with adult standards is short-sighted and something that endangers the child toward recidivism. As one scholar Harold S. Hubert wrote, “Children need love, especially when they do not deserve it.” Much juvenile delinquency is a manifestation of problems at home, anxiety or stress or a need for nurturing that the child currently isn’t receiving. It is important to state, that examples of juvenile delinquency do include things like homicide. When young people commit severe crimes such as homicide, it can create a springboard for states to push for harsher sentences for young offenders.

Statistics of Juvenile Delinquency

Statistics of juvenile crime are useful in helping to determine patterns of behavior and trends of juvenile issues in terms of a greater social problem. There have been concerns that in the last three or four decades, that the data shows that juveniles are committing more crimes than they did in times past. Some of have argued that young people today are exposed to more dark and provocative forms of media than generations of times past—more violence shows and video games that glamorize violence and that glorify hurting women and bullying others. Many have long argued that these are catalysts for not just a wave of violent juveniles but elements that contribute to a more violent society. “News accounts of serious crimes committed by children and adolescents and criminologists' warnings of a coming tide of vicious juveniles—sometimes referred to as super-predators… have encouraged a general belief that young people are increasingly violent and uncontrollable and that the response of the juvenile justice system has been inadequate” (nap.edu). Hence the more that the statistics show growing numbers of violent adolescents and teenagers, the more that policymakers fight for harsher penalties for these incidents.

However, while arrest data is valuable in tracking the flow of crime, as the table above demonstrates, there are limitations to relying exclusively on arrest data. Arrest statistics don’t always accurately encapsulate the actual number of people arrest each year, largely because a variable quantity of people may be arrested more than one time annually (nap.edu). Furthermore, for some crimes, the individuals involved don’t necessarily receive arrests; other crimes the parties involved receive multiple arrests (nap.edu).  It’s also worth noting that sometimes people are incorrectly arrested, and the individuals taken into custody did not actually commit the crime they were brought in for. “Arrests also depend on a number of factors other than overall crime levels, including policies of particular police agencies, the cooperation of victims, the skill of the perpetrator, and the age, sex, race, and social class of the suspect” (nap.edu). It is accurate to say that in certain parts of the country that have a more serrated history of racism and were part of the segregated south, there might be more arrests of young black males: this might actually have more to do with a corrupt police force, rather than any indication of juvenile crime on the rise. However, when it does come to juvenile crimes, arrest numbers can be misleading, particularly with the presence of serial perpetrators and…

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