Term Paper: Juvenile Delincency in Urban Areas

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[. . .] Jonassen's criticisms are somewhat more reasonable in that they do not suffer from any disagreement as to the acceptability of Shaw's definition of delinquency. Jonassen are somewhat more substantial in that they do not suffer from any disagreement as to the acceptability of Shaw's definition of delinquency. For instance, Shaw believes that there are ethnic aspects to delinquency; that first and second generation immigrants clash at home, leading delinquency to manifest, and this is overcome when the family becomes more American by moving to the outermost rings. Jonasseen points to the fact that Shaw claims the rings to exist even when there are very few immigrants.

The demographics of the United States have changed markedly since the early part of the 20th century, leading us to believe that Shaw and McKay are at most partially valid in their outlook. The nineties have seen a dramatic reduction in the commission of violent crimes by people under the age of 18. Fewer juveniles were arrested in 1999 than at any time in the preceding 20 years, even as national attention was focused on high school violence by the events in Littleton, Colorado and similar events around the country. In that year, the arrest rate was 36% below its peak in 1994. The arrest rate for murder among juveniles decreased 68%, and by the 1999 was at its lowest since the 1960's.

At the same time, the nature of juvenile crime has changed significantly with the widespread use of illegal drugs and a more stringent attitude toward underage drinking. These have been accompanied by the introduction of gangs that differ from previous gangs in that they maintain a source of revenue and are extremely well-funded. The United States has seen a notable increase in gangs and gang violence. This can be blamed in part on the popularization of gangs, which were at one point limited to blighted sections of Los Angeles and other cities. Drug prohibition has provided these groups with a revenue stream; gangs have provided a more dynamic distribution system for scheduled narcotics than traditional organized crime. Unlike many traditional merchants or racketeers, teenagers from lower income families without other job prospects willingly undertake the political risks associated with the sale of these narcotics. According to a survey published by The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention,

Voluminous evidence with respect to the first objective is presented throughout the Report. On the most inclusive level, the 1998 data identify approximately 3,700 gang-problem localities -- cities, towns, villages, counties, parishes -- that reported gang problems by mid-1998. This compares with a figure of about 371 gang localities reported for the 1970's -- an increase of about 10 times.

Estimates of juvenile crime are augmented by the predominance of non-violent crimes such as drug possession, which have escalated alongside mandated sentences for these crimes over the last 15 years. According to the Economist, 220,000 juveniles were picked up for drug offences in 1997, 82% more than in 1993.

The Economist goes on to say that many of the sentences carry mandatory minimum sentences of five to ten years for possession of a few grams of drugs, due to legislation passed in Congress in 1986, which it claims was largely due to an inability of legislators to understand the metric system. Adolescents that are arrested for non-violent crimes become statistically more likely to commit violent crimes after they are released.

Reasons why adolescents resort to criminal violence are more intuitive and traditional than gang violence; wide-scale fluctuations in crime usually result from changes in the family structure, although many young delinquents are thought to be born with criminal proclivities. It is a replay of the old "nature vs. nurture argument," that takes into account the findings of both camps; both of which enjoy strong popular support among academics and policy makers. The 'nature' argument usually takes into account the children of parents with emotional problems that might not necessarily have had a direct influence on their children, and also looks at the children of drug and alcohol abusers who may have birth defects. Both of these are taken into account in Juvenile Delinquency: Concepts and Control by Robert C. Trojanowicz. The book also notes that children from model backgrounds can also be used as examples of well-socialized children developing problems. It goes on to explore the 'nurture' argument, and focuses on different environments that lead to delinquent behavior, including abusive family situations and school environments that encourage adversarial behavior. Notably, many theorists believe that the media; television and the Internet, play a minimal role in encouraging violent crimes among young people. In many cases, these play a socializing role in households that are characterized by violent, abusive, or neglectful parents.

It must be understood that the adolescent, in his or her final stage of childhood, is still developing an interpretation of standards of conduct that befit a social actor. As he or she decides upon actions that reflect his or her interests, conflict results from the way these actions contradict the mandates of society. Although such contradictions most commonly are illustrated in the transgression of mandates specific to the school or home environment, the lines between these rules and actual law are often poorly perceived. Although this is usually borne out in the commission of victimless crimes and crimes such as underage drinking, violent crimes often result when an inability to meet interests in a normal social context results in recourse to hostility. As such, the violation of rules that govern behavior, victimless criminal behavior, criminal behavior where there is a victim, and violent criminal behavior lack the accompanying sense of escalation that we feel accompanies them as adults. An adult that fails to see these distinctions would be seen as aberrant, as in the case of vigilantism. It can be demonstrated how violent or neglectful parents and the socialization of children through gangs and peers provide a context for the justification of violent behavior.

Many of these crimes we can link to certain demographics that fall into the outermost rings of Shaw and McKay and are said to be city-wide. For instance, the use of marijuana has increased markedly outside the inner-city since the 1930's. At the time of the study, smoking marijuana was legal, but this today represents what the police consider to be one of the more serious offenses. In addition, inner city environments have become institutionalized via the introduction of subsidized housing. The transitional neighborhood of the immigrants no longer remains; it has been replaced by housing projects and the culture of poverty. In such areas, crime is even more concentrated. Certain initiatives have fed the breakdown of the circles. For instance, 'new urbanism' has compelled the suburban new rich to move back into the city, creating places like Alexandria, Virginia and Hoboken, New Jersey. The culture of teenagers in such places can be said to reflect those of more suburban locations.

The introduction of charter schools and magnet schools has also challenged the rings. They effect to bring about the universal commission of crime by a finite and localized demographic. Hooliganism is often more common in the suburbs than it is in the city, as the culture of suburban kids often embraces violent messages. By contrast, the traditional culprits, the immigrants, often come from more conservative families than do Americans, and their children are compelled to do well in school.

In the end, we can say that the findings of Shaw and McKay are an oversimplification. They deny the vital role demographics play in shaping the city, and the transition of juvenile crime through the effect of drug use and the nature of immigrants. However, the concentric zones remain of interest to us, because they continue to define social development, even if the zones of today are somewhat different from the zones of the past.

Bibliography

Carlin Wong. Clifford R. Shaw and Henry D. McKay: The Social Disorganization Theory. Center for Spacially Oriented Social Science. 2002.

Terence Morris. The Criminal Area: A Study in Social Ecology Routledge & Paul, 1966

Robert C. Trojanowicz, Merry Morash, and Pamela Schram. Juvenile Delinquency Concepts and Control, 6th Edition. Prentice Hall: 2000.

Walter B. Miller. The Growth of Youth Gang Problems in the United States: 1970-98. U.S. Department of Justice: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. April, 2001.

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