Term Paper: Juvenile Delinquency What Is Delinquency? In Legal

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Juvenile Delinquency

What is delinquency?

In legal terminology Juvenile Delinquency refers to "...behavior of children and adolescents that in adults would be judged criminal under law. "("Juvenile Delinquency," 2004)

However, the definition of what constitutes a juvenile vary in the United States, "...the maximum age being set at 14 years in some states and as high as 21 years in others. " ("Juvenile Delinquency," 2004) Crimes committed by juveniles range from theft, which is the most common, to more serious offences such as rape and murder.

In general there has been an increase in the rate of juvenile crime in recent years which is a cause of concern among various authorities and social workers. For example, the figures for 1994 indicated that 18.6% of all people arrested nationwide for a crime were under the age of 18..." (Parenting Education 2004) In a study of juvenile crime, Psychosocial variables associated with recidivism among adolescent males: a 3-year investigation, the authors state that, "In 1997, juveniles accounted for 37% of all burglary arrests. 30% of robbery arrests, 24% of weapon arrests... 14% of murder attempts and 14% of drug arrests." (Katsiyannis et al., 2004) In another study entitled School violence: prevalence and intervention strategies for at-risk adolescents, it was found that "Violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny / theft, and arson) are at some of the highest levels in history for adolescents. (Cirillo et al., 1998, p. 319)

There are various surveys and reports that show clearly that the number of juvenile offenders is increasing. "The increased volume and changing composition of juvenile delinquency caseloads have overloaded the juvenile justice system...The juvenile justice system must be equipped to address the full range of juvenile problem behaviors. Often the presenting offense is merely the tip of the iceberg..." (Provide Immediate Intervention..) This has also brings to the fore the question of solutions to this problem and the increasing need to find ways of means of reducing the incidence of this social and psychological phenomenon.

There are various research studies which indicate the seriousness of juvenile delinquency in the United States. For example, the following quotation from Onwudiwe (2004) illustrates some of the issues at stake in the increasing incidence of juvenile delinquency in America. "Although progress has been made in past decades, the plight of youths in contemporary American society is still one of this country's most ominous dilemmas, conspicuously different from the decadence that their predecessors faced a century ago. (Onwudiwe, 2004, p.153) This study also states that the increase in violence among the youth has resulted in problems for the authorities and with regard to the methods of dealing with the issue.

Today, American youths experience violence, both as victims and perpetrators, at alarming rates. At the same time, authorities are quick to recommend retribution -- in the form of punishment -- in order to control the trends in juvenile offending. In some cases, adolescents charged with offenses are even transferred from juvenile courts to adult criminal courts or to other major diversionary systems, even as study after study shows that incarcerating youths in adult facilities may lead to further victimization and exposure to more serious criminal careers. (Onwudiwe, 2004, p.153)

The implications of the above research are that the increase in delinquency can also lead to a concomitant increase in later crime in adulthood. Another enlightening fact is that, "... scholars have noted that most chronic juvenile offenders start their delinquent careers before the age of 12, that murder rates for American teens are six times higher in the United States than in Canada, and that females are more likely than males to be murdered by a friendly associate." (Onwudiwe, 2004, p.153)

The literature also indicates various aspects that characterize the violent juvenile offender. The offender is more often male and, often "displays early minor behavior problems before age 12 that lead to more serious delinquent acts, such as authority conflicts, stubborn behavior, defiance or disobedience and authority avoidance." (Loeber, R. 2000) Other demographics are that violent juvenile offenders tend to be more often encountered among African- American youth than among other cultural and ethnic groups. These factors may also be related to socio-economic background. (Loeber, R. 2000) However it must also be noted that these demographics are open to debate and are often a source of controversy,

The importance of this topic.

The above views and statistics are a growing cause of concern among social workers as well as criminologists and indications are that the incidents and the concomitant effects of juvenile delinquency are set to increase in the future. This is outlined by Onwudiwe (2004) and reflects similar reports for many other studies on the subject.

A the turbulence and tribulations that juveniles face today constitute major concerns for criminologists and the criminal justice system. Considering that 72.6 million Americans were under the age of 18 in 2001 -- an increase of about 300,000 from 2000 -- this fact is rendered even more important. If this growth trend continues, the U.S. population under the age of 18 will climb to 80.3 million by 2020. Although about two-thirds of arrested juveniles are referred to courts that have jurisdiction over them, the solutions to their problems probably do not lie solely in either law enforcement or court systems.


The study of delinquency is therefore important for a number of reasons. One of these is that the adult criminal often has a history of juvenile delinquency. ("Juvenile Delinquency," 2004) Identifying and dealing with juvenile delinquency therefore becomes an important aspect of dealing with the later development of criminal tendencies.

The above point relates especially to the development and implementation of intervention strategies. This is especially the case when it comes to violent offenders who have been found to start their criminal activities at an early age. This important point is stressed in various studies on the subject. " For example, youth who are brought to court for "...offenses at age 14.5 typically began to have minor behavioral problems at age seven, progressed to moderately serious behavior problems at age 9.5 and committed serious delinquent offenses before age 12." (Loeber, R. 2000)

Another reason for the importance of this topic is that the study of juvenile delinquency has implications in terms of our school system and educational process. This refers to the fact that there are numerous reports which indicate that there has been an increase in violent crimes in our schools. For example one study indicates that, "Every year, 3 million young people in the United States fall victim to crimes at school. Almost 2 million of these incidents involve violence." (The Challenge of School Violence)

There are also figures which suggest that there has been an alarming increase in serious violent crime at all levels of schooling in the country; which obviously has a negative impact on the school atmosphere and learning environment. "...in two recent academic years, a total of 85 young people died violently in U.S. schools. Seventy-five percent of these incidents involved firearms." (The Challenge of School Violence) One study entitled: School violence: prevalence and intervention strategies for at-risk adolescents

(Cirillo et al., 1998) found that "Violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny / theft, and arson) are at some of the highest levels in history for adolescents.

(Cirillo et al., 1998, p. 319) In a report from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) It was stated that "...57% of public elementary and secondary school principals stated that one or more incidents of crime or violence were reported to the police " and " "...10% of all public schools had one or more serious violent crimes (murder, rape, sexual battery, suicide, physical attack or fight with a weapon, or robbery)" (Kelly M.)

General Causes and Conditions of Juvenile Delinquency

There are many causes and suggested reasons for the problem of juvenile delinquency. These cover a wide range of factors and include "....a complex of psychological, social, and economic factors." ("Juvenile Delinquency," 2004) There are also numerous studies that refer to social environmental and economic factors as central precipitative elements in the development of delinquent behavior in the youth. This usually refers to substandard or poor environments. On the other hand, as will be discussed in this section, delinquency is also prevalent in more affluent neighborhoods and environments. This fact also points to the importance of cultural and psychological aspects which must also be included in the overall understanding of the causes of juvenile delinquency.

The important issue in terms of solutions to delinquency is that the underlying problems that engender delinquency and criminal behavior in the young have to be addressed before any real intervention programs or social work strategies can be implemented.

Environmental, social and cultural issues.

As mentioned above, there is a general perception that juvenile delinquency is closely related to social and economic conditions. This is true to a certain extent and the "culture of poverty" has been seen as breeding ground for delinquent behavior.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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