Juvenile Delinquency; Causes and Possible Solutions 06/12/2011 By definition a juvenile delinquent is a young person, under the age of 18, who fails to do what is required by law. Our juvenile court system has the difficult task of finding the proper way to deal with these individuals. Unfortunately there is no perfect solution. Should juvenile delinquents be treated harshly? Should they be treated as an adult? Should they be put into a rehabilitation facility? There have been several different opinions presented to answer these important questions.
We need to learn which opinion will make the most impact on the future of our children as well as the future of our communities. Although the United States delinquency rate has declined since the mid 1900’s, it is still among the highest in the industrial countries. To reduce delinquent behavior and improve societal wellbeing, it is essential to develop effective intervention programs. (Thornberry, Huizinga, & Loeber, 2004). Many studies are being conducted to determine which method best achieves this goal. The first step to reach this goal is to determine the underlying cause of the juvenile delinquency problem.
We must answer the question; what are the factors that push a young person to commit crimes or engage in other illegal activities such as drugs and gang life? It has been found that drug, school, and mental health problems are strong risk factors, in the male population, for involvement in persistent and serious delinquency. Fewer than half of the females in this study had drug, school, or mental health problems. However, it is important to remember that females had a much smaller proportion involved in serious delinquency.
Factors such as child behavior, school performance, and neighborhood characteristics have been investigated as additionally potential leads to juvenile delinquency. (Thornberry, Huizinga, & Loeber, 2004). In a study of more than 1000 adolescents and adults it was noted that adolescents were “less responsible, more myopic, and less temperate than the average adult”. (Supreme Court of the United States, 2008). This study found that the most dramatic changes in decision-making behavior occur between the ages of 16 and 19. At age 19 the responsible decision making development plateaued. Supreme Court of the United States, 2008). A study conducted by Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology at Temple University, has shown that in a situation where an adolescent is being watched by friends their chance of risk taking doubles. This was not found to occur in adults. When the study was done in a lab while monitoring brain images it was found that a certain area of the brain is activated by peer presence in adolescents but not adults. (Dreifus, 2009). This strengthens the argument that juveniles are less capable of making good decisions when it comes to behavior in the presence of their peers.
All the studies and research show us the undeniable fact that adolescents are immature in decision making skills. The argument lies in this question; should juveniles be held less responsible for criminal behavior than adults and therefore receive less severe punishment? Some would argue the point that if a crime is committed, the criminal should pay the consequences. This is true; however, sending our children who have committed crimes to adult correctional facilities may not be the answer to the problem. Research shows that harsh punishment in adult facilities increases the probability of future violent crimes and that most youngsters who commit criminal offenses will abandon illegal behavior as they enter adulthood”. (Steinberg & Haskins, 2008). Placing youth offenders in an adult facility with harsh sentences have been shown to not only fail to deter crime but make it worse. Inmates serving life sentences at a prison in New Jersey prison, in an effort to scare delinquent children, began a program called “Scared Straight”.
This program allowed juveniles to come in the prison facility and have interaction and hold discussions with inmates. These inmates were serving life in prison for violent crimes. They talked to the youngsters about their experiences and the reality of prison life. (Petrosino, Petrosino, & Buehler, 2002). Reviews have listed the “Scared Straight” program as one which not only doesn’t work but also can be harmful to youth. Despite this finding the program continues to be used nation and worldwide. (Slowikowski, 2011).
It is known that placing youthful offenders in an adult facility with harsh sentences has been shown to not only fail in the determent of crime but also makes it worse. Knowing this fact makes it imperative for our judicial system to look for alternative measures. Studies have shown that juveniles have a much greater potential for rehabilitation. Some places to begin the journey for juvenile delinquent rehabilitation would be family intervention, increased mental health professionals in school systems to address behavior problems, as well as early and continued follow up by court services.
Overall, the continued use of early interventions that are known to be effective should be used (Thornberry, Huizinga, & Loeber, 2004). The family court in New York City developed a program called Alternative to Incarceration (ATI). The purpose of this program was to show how one on one interaction between the adolescent and the court officer greatly improved chances of being able to begin rehabilitation efforts since it made it easier to find the underlying causes of this behavior. The study also implements home and school visits as well as direct family counsel. Milton, 2007). Continued efforts must be in place to identify children who are prone to violent behavior later in life. Intervention programs for these aggressive youngsters must be established. The decision of how we deal with juvenile delinquency in our community is ultimately in the hands of our judicial system. After researching the alternatives and seeing the feedback from the professionals, one must agree that putting adolescents into an adult prison facility will not help the problem. In actuality it can make the problem worse.
If these children can be molded into productive citizens by the means of rehabilitation, then a system for rehabilitation should be established. It will be necessary to invest time and money into the detection of childhood behavior and the early intervention for children demonstrating behavior that may lead to delinquency or violent crime. The outcome of our efforts will be well worth what we will gain. Our gain should be more well-adjusted youth and a lower percentage of juvenile delinquent crimes. The children we are helping are the community leaders of our future. Page 5
Works Cited Pittman v. State of South Carolina, 07-8436 (The Supreme Court of United States February 01, 2008). Dreifus, C. (2009, November 30). New York Times. Retrieved June 11, 2011, from New York Times Web site: http://www. nytimes. com/2009/12/01/science/01conv. html. Milton, T. (2007). The Social Survival Kit: Alternative to Incarceration Program for Juveniles in New York City. Annual ASA Conference (pp 12-13). New York:EBSCOhost. Petrosino, A. , Petrosino, C. , Ruehler, J. (2002). “Scared Straight” and Other Juvenile Awareness Programs For Preventing Juvenile Delinquency.
The Campbell Collaboration (pp 8-13). Richards, K (2011). What makes juvenile offenders different from adult offenders? . Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, (pp 1-7). Slowikowski, J. (2011). Justice Department discourages the use of “Scared Straight” program. OFFDP News at a Glance, (p. 1). Steinberg, L. , Haskins, R. (2008). Keeping Adolescents Out of Prison. The Future of Children Princeton- Brookings. (pp 1-7). Thornberry, T. P. , Huizinga, D. and Loeber, R. (2004). The Causes and Correlates Studies: Findings and Policy Implications. Juvenile Justice. (pp 4-16).