Juvenile Homicide Term Paper

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Juvenile Homicide: Incidence and Causes

Although the number of high-profile school shootings by juveniles appears to be on the rise, the overall rate of juvenile homicides has been tapering off after a record high in 1993. Nevertheless, teen-on-teen and teen-on-adult killings continue to occur at an alarming rate, and researchers are scrambling to identify the causes of these incidents. To this end, this paper provides an examination of the causes of juvenile homicide, the types of weaponry or violence that is typically employed, various socioeconomic factors and relevant ethnicity considerations as well as the impact of family violence on the incidence of juvenile homicide in general and in the State of New York in particular. A discussion of the correctional facilities used for juvenile offenders in New York is followed by an analysis of the social problems that are associated with juvenile homicide. A summary of the research and salient findings are presented in the conclusion.

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Term Paper on Juvenile Homicide Assignment

Concern over juvenile homicides is certainly not new, and as early as 1642, juvenile offenders have been committed to death in the United States for such extreme acts of violence (Crespi & Rigazio-Diglio, 1996). As defined by Moeller (2001), juvenile homicide is the "murder or nonnegligent manslaughter committed by an individual under the age of 18" (p. 235). As Horowitz notes, "All states but two have established a uniform age of majority of eighteen or above" (p. 133). According to Black's Law Dictionary (1991), though, a juvenile is "a young person who has not yet attained the age at which he or she should be treated as an adult for purposes of criminal law. In some states, this age is seventeen. Under the federal Juvenile Delinquency Act, a 'juvenile' is a person who has not yet attained his eighteenth birthday" (p. 867). Black's also defines homicide as "the killing of one human being by the act, procurement, or omission of another. A person is guilty of criminal homicide if he purposely, knowingly, recklessly or negligently causes the death of another human being. Criminal homicide is murder, manslaughter or negligent homicide" (p. 734). Therefore, for the purposes of this study, juvenile homicide is considered to be any act of homicide committed by an individual who is a juvenile under the laws of his or her state. Just as the age of which a person is considered a juvenile under the criminal justice system varies, so too do the causes of juvenile homicide and these are discussed further below.

Causes and Incidence of Juvenile Homicide.

As anyone who has survived the experience can well attest, adolescence can be a trying period in people's lives and it is reasonable to assume that the individual causes of juvenile homicide are as numerous as the perpetrators involved. A seminal study by Bender and Curran (1940) examined both preteen and adolescent homicides from psychoanalytic perspective. These researchers maintained that when competition for the attention of a parental figure is exacerbated by familial, organic, or educational issues, juvenile become more likely to commit homicidal acts. To substantiate these claims, Bender and Curran cited the case histories of an 8-year-old female and a 9-year-old male who were "instrumental in the death of another child" (i.e., the exact intentions of the perpetrator were not determined), nine highly aggressive children (seven of whom were preteens), and four adolescents charged with homicide (cited in Heckel & Shumaker, 2001 at p. 4).

Unlike a number of subsequent studies, the research by Bender and Curran examined the factors the contributed to the incidence of preteen and adolescent homicides, maintaining that the preteen lacks a real understanding of the "immutability of the death of his victim," whereas adolescents "accept the deed as final and make an attempt to accept upon their lives and give the superficial impression of not being emotionally affected" (quoted in Heckel & Shumaker, 2001 at p. 4). Moreover, despite the fact that a number of therapeutic interventions are available for juveniles that have been shown to be as effective as that conducted with adults, juvenile offenders condemned to death for homicidal acts in the United States typically fail to receive the clinical services necessary to uncover their vulnerabilities and psychiatric symptomatology (Crespi & Rigazio-Digilio, 1996).

Likewise, Walker and Roberts (2001) place the cause of juvenile homicides in a psychological context: "In the juvenile justice system in New York," they report, "juvenile delinquents do not specialize in a particular type of violent or nonviolent crime: They tend to get involved in a variety of illegal behaviors and therefore demonstrate a characterological way of relating to other people and to their own social responsibilities" (p. 783). These authors cite a number of professionals working in the juvenile justice system in New York who report that, "Juvenile delinquents, particularly violent ones, are fully responsible for their own actions and that their actions are a function of choices they make. These conscious, deliberate choices result from their using a set of rules that completely disregards the rights of other people" (Walker & Roberts, 2001, p. 784). Although there remain some gaps in the literature concerning the specific individual causes of juvenile homicide, drugs, alcohol, gang activity, a history of family violence (discussed further below) (Horowitz, 2000) and a fear of being viewed as "weak" by their peers have contributed significantly to the existing incidence of juvenile homicides in the United States (Walker & Roberts, 2001).

According to Moeller (2001), the incidence of juvenile homicide arrest remained relatively stable during the period 1972 to 1982, then declined to a record low in 1984 only to spiral upward again to a peak in 1993. Indeed, between 1984 and 1991, the number of juvenile homicide arrests more than doubled, compared to a 20% increase for adults (Moeller, 2001). This author adds that there is some good news, though: "Since 1993, the number of juvenile homicides has again begun to decrease. Moreover, 85% of all counties in the United States recorded no juvenile homicides in 1997; only about 3% of U.S. murders consist of a person under 18 killing another person under 18; and just 7% of U.S. counties experienced two or more juvenile homicides in 1997" (Moeller, 2001, p. 235). Although there are some solid statistics concerning the numbers of juvenile homicidal acts committed each year, less is known about the types of weaponry used in such acts, and these issues are discussed further below.

Types of Weaponry Typically Employed.

There remains a paucity of timely statistical data concerning the types of weapons used by juvenile offenders when they commit acts of homicide. In this regard, Heckel and Schumaker (2001) report that the statistical sources characteristics of the victim to the offender "are not presented according to the relationship of the victim and the offender" (p. 3). Despite this dearth of information, it is possible to discern some relevant information by combining existing data, but some gaps will nevertheless remain. According to Heckel and Shumaker (2001), "White and African-American youth also preferred to use the same type of weapon to commit homicide. Specifically, guns were by far the weapon of choice for all races, with African-Americans using guns slightly more frequently (83% of all murders) than their white counterparts (72%)" (emphasis added) (p. 10). In addition, knives and other weapons commonly classified as dangerous are typically used in juvenile homicides (Phipps, 1999). While there are some gaps in the literature concerning the precise causes and incidence of juvenile homicide, an increasing body of evidence suggests that there are some relevant socioeconomic and ethnicity considerations involved, and these issues are discussed further below.

Impact of Socioeconomic and Ethnicity Considerations.

Just as there are some gaps in the literature concerning the types of weaponry used by juveniles in homicidal acts and their individual reasons for committing such acts, there remains a dearth of timely information concerning the specific socioeconomic and ethnic factors involved in such criminal actions. Despite these gaps, an analysis of extant data by Heckel and Shumaker (2001) found that:

Preteen homicide is rare;

Incidence rates have remained stable over the past 15 years; and,

Males and African-Americans are overrepresented in this population.

Some evidence suggests that females in this age group may commit a higher rate of intrafamilial homicides and use guns to a lesser extent than do their male counterparts.

According to Horowitz (2000), "Poverty is another factor that often contributes to the violent behavior of children who kill. Living in poverty reduces the amount of parental supervision that a child receives. Parents cannot provide the supervision and guidance that families with better resources have if their attention is monopolized by finding money for rent, food, doctor's bills, and other necessities" (p. 133). Families in low socioeconomic settings are also at higher risk of suffering from depression or substance abuse, both of which can exacerbate the likelihood that a juvenile will ultimately take another's life. According to Horowitz, "In addition to consuming a large percentage of the family income, these habits create ineffective,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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