Causes of Juvenile Delinquency and the Best Strategies and Interventions Designed to Stop Thesis

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Juvenile Delinquency


Juvenile Delinquency: Causes and Best Strategies, Interventions

The American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006) broadly defines Juvenile Delinquency as antisocial or criminal behavior by children or adolescents.

This has been a major, baffling and frustrating concern of the various sectors of society through the ages. It has become even more serious, baffling and frustrating today. The image of problem youths today has also changed: they have become both victims and offenders and at alarmingly increasing rates. The primary approach has been retributive incarceration, lately from juvenile courts to adult facilities. Studies have shown, though, that their detention leads to further victimization and greater exposure to criminal behavior. Despite praiseworthy strides in overall progress, juvenile delinquency in modern America has remained a big problem.

History of Juvenile Delinquency and Approaches

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Reformists and other concerned individuals in the mid-1800s tried to understand the issue of these neglected and erring young people (Onwudiwe, 2004). Some of them believed that children are intrinsically good and do not deserve to be tried, sentenced and punished as criminals. These so-called "child savers" argued that young offenders suffered from some deep-rooted problems, which should, instead, be viewed with compassion and intervened into by society. Most of all, these advocates contended that, unlike adult criminals, young offenders are not completely responsible for their misbehavior or crime (Onwudiwe).

TOPIC: Thesis on Causes of Juvenile Delinquency and the Best Strategies and Interventions Designed to Stop Juvenile Delinquency Assignment

Historical efforts to curb and contain juvenile delinquency have, thus, been mainly rehabilitative in nature. The turbulence, damage and pain, which accompanied or followed juvenile acts and trends in the late 70s, disturbed criminologists and the criminal justice system in a new way (Onwudiwe, 2004). Statistics revealed that there were 72.6 million Americans below 18, or 300,000 more from the previous year. At this current pace, there will be 80.3 young people in the year 2020 (Onwudiwe).

Approaches to this social problem have been derived from theoretical assumptions to explain it. Two primary but opposite perspectives emerged to determine a young offender's culpability and view of his behavior (Onwudiwe, 2004). The classical approach sees all persons as possessing free will and free choice and thus must be responsible for their individual actions. This view puts strong emphasis on deterrence, incapacitation of the offender, and when feasible, his or her retribution. The positivist approach, on the other hand, applies rehabilitation and treatment of the young offender. It views his or her behavior as not of their own volition and, therefore, not his or her responsibility. It explains that responsibility away as due to biological and cultural factors, which largely control his or her actions. Most of the responsibility is placed on the offender's genetic make-up. But recent sociological views blame delinquency on the fast-paced collective transformation of today's society. That fast-paced transformation disables neighborhoods from directing their children properly. Pioneers of the ecological philosophy suggested that cities are natural human environments. If these environments were left alone to decay, gangs and delinquency will form out of weakening social control schemes (Onwudiwe).

About 2/3 of arrested juveniles are turned over to the courts for jurisdiction (Onwudiwe, 2004). But the satisfactory solution to the problem does not come only from the courts or the law enforcement systems. The courts only impose sanctions, which limit the liberty of the offender or sentence him or her to probation or a residential facility. That satisfactory solution can evolve only from a combination of institutions and organizations. These are the family, the community, the school, and essential government institutions. Knowing and understanding the root causes of juvenile delinquency, these groups and institutions can combine forces in addressing the problem (Onwudiwe).


Experts have made certain observations. Most delinquency cases begin before age 12 (Onwudiwe, 2004). Murders committed by American teenagers are six times higher than those in Canada. And females are murder victims more often than males and by someone known. The trend somewhat changed with the America's Children Report. It said that violent crime by those aged 12 to 17 had gone down by 67% since 1993. The 2000 Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report said that adolescent accounted only for 12% of all arrests for violent crimes. The arrests were 5% for homicide, 12% for forcible rapes, 12% for aggravated assaults, and 12% for robberies. These figures were the lowest for juveniles since 1988, a trend, which persisted in the 21st century. But tainting the improving situation is the increase in female juvenile crime. Of all juvenile arrests of female juveniles in 2000, 23% were for aggravated assaults and 59% for running away (Onwudiwe).

Participants in the Problem

Radical criminologists take the position that juvenile delinquency is a social problem, which is rooted primarily in the dysfunctional family (Onwudiwe, 2004). A dysfunctional family is one where there is a teenage pregnancy, a teen-ager raising a baby, a single parent heading the household, too many school drop-outs or a lack of respect for authority. These conditions are the definite precursors of delinquency in the young. Criminologists generally agree that young people from broken families are more inclined to break the law than other young people. They point to the breakdown of the family systems in American society as the true basis of juvenile delinquency. The family is, thus, the first group of participants in the problem as it is the basic agent of social control. The first contact that the child, the would-be delinquent, has with the world is with his or her family. The imprint is indelible and substantial. It is the family, not the school or the church, which shapes adolescents' moral consciousness (Onwudiwe).

The family also establishes the economic stability and well-being of these youngsters (Onwudiwe, 2004). There is no denying that economics is important. Low-income families are already disadvantaged in providing a stable future for their children. America's Children 2001 Report called attention to the lasting negative effects of economic instability. It said that approximately 16% of all children in the U.S. lived in households with incomes below the poverty level (Onwudiwe).

Besides and next to the family as the major participant in the problem is the school. Proper education provides strong influence and foundation in developing and maintaining law-abiding lifestyles (Onwudiwe, 2004). The family still holds primary sway over the young in the benefits of a good education. Studies said that regularly reading to children at home promotes proper language and vocabulary and eventual school success. Educating and socializing the young are functions the family shares with the school and social control agencies. Complementing their efforts are government provisions for incentives to help the family. Radical criminologists, for example, suggested reducing repressive sanctions and providing community-based strategies to address juvenile delinquency. Another suggestion was for services for all children, especially in the areas of health care, domestic violence, child abuse and financing treatment facilities. Social control advocates proposed school-based programs to keep children positively active to discourage idleness and delinquent behavior. Examples of these programs are recreational programs, physical events, social groups, community clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts movements. Other authorities suggested policies and programs which would enhance the ability of families to socialize children, as a realistic and long-term state measure, which can substantially reduce crime by juveniles. Such programs included instructions on parenting, discipline of children and training children on accountability (Onwudiwe).

Alternatives to Existing Approaches

MTFC Model

Strong evidence exists that associating with delinquent peers puts a young person at risk for delinquency and substance-related activities (Leve & Chamberlain, 2005). The Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care or MTFC is a community-based alternative to incarceration of seriously delinquent boys and girls. Originally funded by the Oregon Youth Authority in 1983, the model was chosen by the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention as a national blueprint program and as an exemplary program for safe, disciplined, and drug-free school by the U.S. Department of Education. It was endorsed twice in the U.S. Surgeon General's report. Investigative studies on the effectiveness of MTFC showed that boys under the program had lower rates of official and self-reported delinquency within a 12-month follow-up than group care. They also had lower rates of violent offenses within a 24-month follow-up. Studies on girls under the program showed similar results. Girls generally had fewer days in locked-out settings, fewer parent-reported delinquent behaviors, and fewer arrests within a year's follow-up (Leve & Chamberlain).

The MTFC youth had fewer associations with delinquent peers within a year's follow-up than those in group care (Leve & Chamberlain, 2005). The delinquency levels of MTFC youth were significantly reduced. Findings of the two trials showed that peer aggregation increases in deviant peer association in those who are at-risk (Leve & Chamberlain). This condition was controlled at the MTFC.

Early Intervention

Chicago longitudinal study investigated the educational and social development of more than 1,500 low-income young people (Mann & Reynolds 2006). The purpose was to establish the relationship of preschool intervention with the severity of juvenile delinquency by age 18. The intervention included childhood classroom adjustment, special education placement for emotional or behavioral… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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