Term Paper: Juvenile Delinquency Crime

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Juvenile Delinquency

Date (day, Month, year)

Pop quiz: What do the phrases "other side of the tracks" "tough neighborhood" and "the bad side of town" have in common? They indicate that specific parts of a city or other urban area are more prone to crime and criminal activity. These neighborhoods or areas tend to be run-down, poorly maintained, and have few, if any, long-term residents. Many people believe these areas are more prone to crime because of the racial or ethnic make-up of the majority of its residents. For example, many Washington, D.C. residents believe that Anacostcia, a neighborhood in the southeast quadrant of the city, has a higher rate of crime because the majority of it residents are African-American. Capital area residents are not alone in their racially biased views. For example, the Compton area of Los Angeles, the south side of Chicago and the Flatbush area of Brooklyn all have the same reputation as being rough neighborhoods because of the racial or ethnic make-up of the majority of its residents.

However, Clifford Shaw and Henry D. McKay, a pair of sociologists at the University of Chicago, came up with a different theory as to the reason behind the proliferation of crime in specific areas of town. They believed that specific places within urban areas, usually neighborhoods located within the center of the city, are more prone to crime because of their location, not because of the residents living within them. They developed a school of thought called the Social Disorganization Theory, which claims that crime, specifically Juvenile Delinquency, is caused more in response to difficult, abnormal social conditions rather than individual decisions or characteristics of its perpetrators. In short, Shaw and McKay believed it was not the juvenile delinquent that created the rough neighborhood, but the rough neighborhood that created the juvenile delinquent.

Shaw and McKay studied the rough neighborhoods of Chicago in the 1930s, which at that time were inhabited primarily by working class immigrants from Poland, Ireland, and other parts of Europe. Using data on rates of juvenile delinquency occurrences, Shaw and McKay mapped out specific hot spots of crime and showed how these areas in three time periods: 1900 -- 1906, 1917 -- 1923, and 1927 -- 1933, remained high-crime areas despite the changing ethnic and racial make up of its inhabitants (Shaw 1939). In fact, the University of Chicago sociologists pointed out that the transient nature of these areas was a contributing factor in the high juvenile delinquency rate (Wong, 2001-2009).

Shaw, McKay and other sociologists who contributed to the Social Disorganization Theory added that when people of a specific ethnic or racial background moved from the rough neighborhoods to safer areas, the rate of crime did not change in either area. Sociologists contributing toward the Social Disorganization Theory said this evidence affirmed their theory that it was the inhabitants' normal reaction to the abysmal physical characteristics of the neighborhood that caused juvenile delinquency and not the emotional, intellectual or cultural make up of the individual.

Shaw and McKay's mapped areas of Chicago based on juvenile delinquency data and found that instances of juvenile crime happened most frequently in inner city neighborhoods while the more residential neighborhoods were less prone to crime. Wong in his 2001 paper published by the Regents of University of California, Santa Barbara said that there were four assumptions in the social disorganization theory about how a specific location can contribute toward juvenile delinquency. The first cause is that delinquency is a result of the demise of community based, institutionalized controls, leaving its residents without a standard set of rules and laws to follow. Secondly, the rules and laws deteriorate as a result of rapid growth, change and urbanization of the areas. Thirdly, as an area undergoes radical changes, it is more neglected and becomes rundown and less desirable. Finally, as an area becomes less desirable, its residents care less about the place and it becomes more vulnerable to the development of criminal and traditions (Shoemaker, 1996).

Chicago Area Project

Following Shaw and McKay's studies from the 1930s, many programs and groups have been developed to combat juvenile crime. These programs work toward engaging youth in social programs, forming committees and groups that are charged with rebuilding and cleaning up areas of urban blight, and creating programs to make it easier for low-income residents to buy homes within blighted neighborhoods. However, many of these programs foundered or failed altogether as they were organized and managed by people outside of the community. Sociologists concluded that just making an effort toward cleaning up a neighborhood did not lower the crime rate or change the outlook of its youth. At the time, Shaw began to wonder if the solution to the problem was located not outside of the blighted, inner-city neighborhood but inside the neighborhood.

While conducting his study, Shaw and his colleagues in the sociology department of the Institute for Juvenile Research, noticed that one particular neighborhood in the city, Russell Square Park, had a growing crime rate despite many programs, agencies, and institutions that were established in the area to rectify the problem (Sorrentino, Whittaker, 1994). Shaw decided that this area, and others like it, needed a new approach to reduce juvenile delinquency and instead of implementing more outside programs because to seek help from its residents. This was the beginning of his then experimental Chicago Area Project (CAP), a project that remains committed to the prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency (Sorrentino, 1994).

Shaw and McKay in their study deduced that while juvenile delinquency is more the natural reaction to outside influences such as rundown properties and a lack of established community organizations, change is more likely to come from the residents making an effort to improve their depressing living conditions. Shaw focused on Russell Square Park, which was home to about 15 local gangs that frequently fought among each other, disrupting peace and safety on the streets. Shaw and his colleagues reached out to the gangs and redirected them into more conventional, community-oriented behavior. He stressed that soliciting positive cooperation from residents, rather than imposing authoritative control from outsiders, would be more effective (Sorrentino, 1994).

Ultimately, Shaw was correct. The Chicago Area Project remains in effect today and continues to bring about positive results for the youth who live in Chicago's poorer neighborhoods. Given the success of the Chicago Area Project, a successful proposal for decreasing juvenile delinquency should include significant effort, cooperation and buy-in from the people who live in these areas. They key is how to earn their trust and gain their cooperation.

Proposal

To successfully initiate a juvenile delinquency reduction program, organizers must first earn the respect and cooperation from the people juvenile delinquents are most likely to obey and that would be the leaders of local gangs. Shaw and his colleagues accomplished this by hanging around bad neighborhoods and offering gang members and leaders friendship and a sympathetic ear (Sorrentino, 1994). This approach would be effective today, but would require a lot more time because gangs have become far more powerful, violent and wary of outsiders. Adults hoping to gain acceptance from gang leaders would have to first gain the trust and be accepted by its members, starting with those at the lower end of the hierarchy and working up. Former gang members can help speed up the process if they retained ties to the group and its leadership.

Soliciting support from gang members, the primary source of juvenile delinquency in many urban areas, may seem foolish and contradictory. However, leaders of gangs often gain their positions by being charismatic, convincing and authoritative. These are the very leadership qualities that can compel a group to carry out tasks. The key is convincing them to lead their followers to positive goals.

Once a group has gained access and the trust of gang leaders, it can propose forming or creating groups, organizations and activities that benefit the community. it's important at this stage of the game to make realistic proposals. A gang that has physically attacked or killed people is not likely to leap at the change to plant a victory garden or clean graffiti off of a school wall. Such improvement plans must be couched in ways so as to benefit the gang. For example, if a gang wants to hang out in a specific municipal park, but continues to get chased out by police, proposing to do some kind of activity that benefits the community could be promoted by pointing out that the good deed may alleviate law enforcement's interference on the gang's park meetings.

Another challenge in changing the behavior of juvenile gangs is that by getting its members to carry out more positive, community oriented goals; gang members may begin to feel more self-sufficient and independent. While this is good for gang members, gang leaders may see it as a threat to their authority and ability to lead. One way of ameliorating this predicament is to put gang leaders into leadership positions in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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