However one may define juvenile delinquency, it is an indisputable fact that it is a reality in the United States. Juvenile delinquency is a term used to refer to the participation of minors [anyone below the legal age or the statutory age of majority] in illegal behavior or acts. In this light, other terms such as juvenile offending and youth crime may be used to refer to juvenile delinquency. Because of this, a juvenile delinquent may be legally defined as a person under the age of 18 who is found to have committed a crime in states where legal declarations render the minor as lacking criminal and legal responsibility and may therefore not be sentenced as an adult. States or other body politics as independent legal systems have different prescriptions and procedures for handling juveniles. Some of these provisions include juvenile court and detention centers. There are some jurisdictions where legislations have been made to lower the age of criminal responsibility even to as low as 14 years, for serious crimes or/ and for repeat offenders. Just as attaining a legal framework for tackling juvenile delinquency is difficult, so is understanding the clandestine and dark world of juvenile delinquency, as shall be seen in the discussion which ensues forthwith.
The Widespread Nature of Juvenile Delinquency
Statistical data indicate that in all parts of the globe [with the United States being the only exception] have experienced a surge in youth crime, since the 1990s. In Western Europe alone where there is plenty of data on juvenile delinquency, arrests of juvenile delinquents and under-age offenders experienced an average increase by 50% between mid 1980s and 1990s. Since 1995, the Commonwealth of Independent countries, countries in Eastern Europe and countries in transition have experienced a rise in juvenile crime levels, by more than 30%. In all these cases, it is interesting to note that the over 70% of juvenile delinquency were related to excessive alcohol use and drug abuse (Sharkey, 829).
The crux of the going shows that there is a strong nexus between states underdevelopment and juvenile delinquency. Perhaps, this is because developing or underdeveloped states have institutions to weak to entrench proper socialization and acculturation and to handle lifestyle trajectories which have become very variable varied and too fluid to be predicted.
Research on delinquency produced three key findings which are: chronic delinquency offenders make a small group and is the group that is responsible for committing majority of serious juvenile crimes or offences; two groups of youthful offenders who become distinguishable when their antisocial behavior commences; and youths who begin to dabble in juvenile delinquency at an early age have a tendency not to specialize in any specific kind of antisocial act.
Possible Causes of Juvenile Delinquency
There are different theories and schools of thoughts on the causes and conditions for the formation of juvenile delinquent trajectories.
There are those such as Avelardo who see economic and social factors as being the drivers of juvenile delinquency through their negative consequences such as political instability, economic crises and the weakening of institutions such as public education, the family, public assistance, the criminal justice system, or even the state itself. Socioeconomic instability is often concomitant with low income and persistence unemployment among young people (Avelardo, 635).
There are those who see socio-cultural factors as being behind the complex interplay which culminates into juvenile delinquency. This is because, delinquent almost always occur in socio-cultural settings wherein the norms for values [acceptable behavior or human habit] have been degraded. In this case, the values and common rules which inhibit people from engaging in vices may become less relevant to some members or subcultures of the society. A society which undergoes rapid modernization without making room for its cultural heritage exemplifies this situation aptly.
Another instance which may capture the situation above is the high customer standards which have been created in both developing and developed countries by the media. Since all population groups are not able to access essential resources such as professional training, education, health services, satisfactory employment opportunities and income and adequate ad decent housing, a criminal career easily becomes a tenable means by which this gap is sealed.
Urbanization may also further exacerbate the situation by ushering in higher demographic trends in urbanized areas and less populated peripheries. This may embolden delinquency in cities and towns than in rural areas. Dysfunctional families and broken homes also serve as a very strong catalyst for juvenile delinquency as had already been seen. Migration may further encourage juvenile delinquency by gracing core areas [centers such as cities, towns and developed countries where capital has been accumulated] with higher demography, compared to the peripheries. This may stretch the scarce resources in the core, and thereby providing n recourse to delinquency.
The media also plays a pivotal role in the entrenchment of juvenile delinquency, since television programs and movies have always popularized and glorified cult of heroes where justice is pursued and dispensed through the physical subjugation and elimination of the enemy. Young people are readily and almost incorrigibly inspired by these forms of display of violence and behave violently, especially when provoked.
In a highly stratified society, the yawning chasm between the rich and the poor may also inspire the underclass to tinker with delinquency either as a way of earning a living or protesting against the unequal system. The place of peer influence may also play an important role in entrenching juvenile delinquency, since the youth and young people are almost malleable and loyal to peer groups and this therefore makes peer groups significant force of socialization among the youth. 95% cases of initiation into criminal activities is done or facilitated by members of a peer group, according to Akiyama. All these factors fall under the arousal theory which posits that there are socioeconomic and political factors which may arouse the advent of delinquency (Akiyama, 568).
According to the attachment theory, one of the reasons why these gangs or peer groups are extremely effective is because of the sense of affiliation or belonging which an individual may feel towards his group. This is especially the case if the person in point was raised in a disjointed family or if he person experienced emotional or actual abandonment.
There are those who use the choice theory to explain that people may get into delinquent habits by choice. While this theory is rendered worthy of credence by the fact of man being a free moral agent, it is still an indisputable fact that no choices are made outside the influence of the environment. Delinquency has to be made manifest in the society for someone to choose it as a way of life. This renders the choice theory too inadequate to satisfactorily explain the phenomenon that is juvenile delinquency.
There are others such as DeLisi who maintain that there are those who are naturally predisposed to crime and delinquency. This is to the effect that even in the time preceding their life in crime, they are merely latent delinquents. The genetic predisposition to crime is the anteceding factor which may be detonated by other triggering factors such as the “right” age, a ruffian gang, and an awakened mind. Again, people who have antisocial, psychopathic or sociopathic personality may also be predisposed to crime (DeLisi, 611).
According to Egan and Beadman, there are those who are likely to join juvenile delinquent gangs and groups for status symbol. This is because those who join these groups are likely to be teenagers who are likely to be swayed with the lure of the gangster feel (Egan and Beadman, 752).
Recruitment into Juvenile Delinquency
Recruitment of young people or the youth into juvenile delinquent gangs always varies depending on the preferences of such gangs. In most cases, the victim’s peers are used to lure him into the gang. In many instances, money and financial or material gains are used to entice the victim into gang activities. In other instances, the victims may be kidnapped before they are compelled to become members of the gang or criminal group.
The victim may be forced to endure pain, through the exaction of painful acts such as ritual beatings, tattoos, inflictions of a wound, the issuance of a psychological arduous exercised such as victimizing or even killing a nonmember. All these tasks are meant at: emboldening the recruit’s resolve to be a member of the gang; identifying the same individual with the gang; creating a near permanent barrier between the new recruit and the rest of the world; and extinguishing all the humaneness which may still have been resident within the recruit’s psyche and thereby still serving as an impediment to the execution of the gang’s policies, mission and plans.
Manifestations of Juvenile Delinquency
As already mentioned, there are different manifestations of juvenile delinquency, as shall be seen in this discussion. In fact, there are latent delinquents who may have a proclivity towards crime, without the knowledge of a casual observer. All that is needed are the right motivators such as adolescence and proper radicalization to have this person become a full-blown delinquent.
With continuity in crime, it becomes possible for the individual to graduate into more serious criminal activities. Hardcore delinquents may be marked with tendencies of chronic recidivist, whereby the individual appears impervious to correctional measures. The height of juvenile delinquency would be familicide.
Correctional Measures That Can Be Used To Deter Manifestations of Juvenile Delinquency
Despite the setbacks and the serious implications that juvenile delinquency breeds, there are several measures which can be applied to stem its tide.
Stimulating the Aging-Out Process
Also known as desistance or spontaneous remission, the age-out process refers to the tendency for youths or younger people to tone down the frequency of their criminal or offending behavior as they continue to age. The government and its non-organizational agencies can engage the youth and the young ones in constructive community practices as a way of stimulating and entrenching a sense of responsibility among age groups which may be susceptible to juvenile delinquency. Psychologists such as Sela-Shayovitz are poignant that there is a direct relation between an earlier sense of responsibility on one hand, and self respect and resistance to offending behavior and crime, on the other hand. Thus, the development of an early sense of self-responsibility and collective responsibility among the youth is bound to trigger and strengthen the aging-out process, and thereby helping in the abatement of the extent of juvenile delinquency (Sela-Shayovitz, 402).
Age of Onset
It is also important that all respective governments dealing with juvenile delinquency make measures to determine and work with the age of onset. The age of onset refers to the age at which an individual first experiences, acquires and develops participation in juvenile delinquency. It will help if the government aims at increasing or postponing the age of onset. A postponement of the age of consent means that possible candidates are likely to dabble in criminal or offensive behavior as adults, and not as juveniles. Governments may need to restructure their policies so as to significantly lower of age of onset.
Extending higher remunerations for telecommuters and promoting companies which allow telecommuting; revisiting the educational curriculum for the youth and young ones; and encouraging child and adolescent developmental programs such as competitive games and interschool academic challenges. The use of telecommuting as a way of reinforcing nurturant parenting will help parents build and maintain close-knit relations with their children, and thereby deferring the age of onset. Parents in this case will be able to accord children with more material, informational assistance and emotional support. The crux of the matter herein is that the more the age of onset is deferred, the higher the chances that these children or youths will commit crime as adults, not juveniles. Revisiting educational curriculum will help inculcate awareness on the implications of criminality or offensive behavior. Interschool and adolescent development programs such as academic challenges are bound to keep the youth and the young ones occupied with constructive matters.
At the same time, this approach will help motivate children to excel academically. Low scores on children’s cognitive abilities in intelligence quotient [IQ] and school achievements have also been found to be closely associated with juvenile delinquency. Particularly, a longitudinal study of 837 on the Kauaian Island of Hawaii indicated that age-appropriate language and motor development between 2 and 10 years cushioned high-risk children against falling into juvenile delinquency at a later time. Conversely a parallel longitudinal study of 1,037 children from New Zealand showed that IQ deficits had a penchant for preceding the development of antisocial behavior, and that secondly, the effects of IQ deficit were independent of the effects of other factors such as ethnicity, academic attainment, socioeconomic status and motivation.
It is also important to note that since there are multiple factors which underpin juvenile delinquency, then there has to be a multipronged approach in curtailing juvenile delinquency. Childhood programs which abate multiple risks may be more successful in thwarting chronic juvenile delinquency and should also therefore feature this list.
The foregoing is clearly underscored by the fact that longitudinal evidence from several studies such as those conducted by Gerald Petterson at the Oregon Social Learning Center indicate that lack of parental supervision, hostile or rejected parenting is directly related with children’s predisposition to later antisocial behavior and juvenile delinquency. In this light, parents of antisocial children first set up and reinforce commonplace, low-level aversive mannerisms such as tantrums, noncompliance and teasing. As the oppressed child learns to respond and adjust through aversive counterattacks, coercive interchanges continue to manifest. Children who have hailed from oppressive parenting are therefore more susceptible to disruptive behavior disorders, even if it such a child may appear normal.
In a closely related wavelength, children who have experienced abandonment or/ and witnessed intra-family violence may are also likely to have greater propensity towards crime, compared to their counterparts who have experienced parental love. This is because abandonment wilts a child or an individual’s humaneness and psychosocial being.
Again, according to Tolan and Thomas, the gravity of the matter is underscored by the fact that the age of onset in the level of involvement in delinquent behavior is underpinned by seriousness and chronicity of involvement. This means that there has to be the reexamination of key causal contentions on the dynamism of involvement and the validity which is ascribed to a developmental model of antisocial behavior. The age of onset is best explained through the use of peer variables for males and school, and family variables for females. The interactions of involvement among the target groups and their predictors have to be noted, in order for the dynamic model of risk to be established (Tolan and Thomas, 157).
According to Sharkey, it may also be prudent to teach the youth, the young ones to have street efficacy: the perception of his desire to prevent aggressive confrontations and ensure his neighborhood’s protection. There is also the need to go past the preemptive stage, and to become progressive in the fight against juvenile delinquency instead (Sharkey, 827).
- Akiyama, Cliff. “Understanding Youth Street Gangs.” Journal of emergency nursing: JEN: official publication of the Emergency Department Nurses Association, 38.6 (2012): 568.
- Avelardo, Valdez. “Juvenile Gangs.” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 44.5 (2010): 635.
- DeLisi, Matt, et al. “Half in, Half Out: Gang Families, Gang Affiliation and Gang Misconduct.” American Journal of Criminal Justice, 38.4 (2013): 602 – 615.
- Egan, Vincent and Beadman, Matthew. “Personality and Gang Embeddedness.” Personality and Individual Differences, 51. 6 (2011): 748 – 753.
- Sela-Shayovitz, Revital. “Gangs and the Web: Gang Members’ Online Behavior.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 28. 4 (2012): 389 – 405.
- Sharkey, T. Patrick. “Navigating Dangerous Streets: The Sources and Consequences of Street Efficacy.” American Sociological Review, 71.5 (2006): 826-846. Print
- Tolan, P. H. & Thomas, P. “The Implications of Age of Onset for Delinquency Risk II: Longitudinal Data.” Institute for Juvenile Research, 23.2 (1995): 157-81. Print