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Juvenile delinquency, also known as juvenile offending, or youth crime, is participation in illegal behavior by minors (juveniles) (individuals younger than the statutory age of majority). Most legal systems prescribe specific procedures for dealing with juveniles, such as juvenile detention centers, and courts. A juvenile delinquent is a person who is typically under the age of 18 and commits an act that otherwise would have been charged as a crime if they were an adult. Depending on the type and severity of the offense committed, it is possible for persons under 18 to be charged and tried as adults.
In recent years, the average age for first arrest has dropped significantly, and younger boys and girls are committing crimes. Between 60-80% percent of adolescents, and pre-adolescents engage in some form of juvenile offense. These can range from status offenses (such as underage smoking), to property crimes and violent crimes. The percent of teens who offend is so high that it would seem to be a cause for worry. However, juvenile offending can be considered normative adolescent behavior. This is because most teens tend to offend by committing non-violent crimes, only once or a few times, and only during adolescence. It is when adolescents offend repeatedly or violently that their offending is likely to continue beyond adolescence, and become increasingly violent. It is also likely that if this is the case, they began offending and displaying antisocial behavior even before reaching adolescence.
Nearly all cultures possess a transition phase from childhood into adulthood. As the world changed, so did the transition into adulthood. Whereas before, in most now industrialized countries, this transition ranged from brief to almost non-existent, it is now a significant part of a person's development. It is known now as adolescence. In fact the popular term "teenager" wasn’t coined until the '50s to describe this new group of people living through adolescence. It is believed that this new, drawn-out transition from childhood into adulthood that is common in the western world has left many adolescents in a sort-of limbo where they must seek to define their identity and place in the world, and delinquency may provide a way to do that. This is supported by the fact that crime is committed disproportionately by those aged between fifteen and twenty-five. However, contrary to popular belief it is highly rare for teenagers to become spontaneously aggressive, antisocial or violent simply with the onset of adolescence. Also, although there is a high percentage of offending among all teenagers, the majority of offenses which violate the law are one-time occurrences and most often non-violent. Only about 5-10% of adolescents commit violent crimes. In the United States, one-third of all of suspects arrested for violent crimes are under eighteen.
The high rates of juvenile delinquency often receive great attention from the news media and politicians. The level, amounts, and types of delinquency are used by commentators as an indicator of the general state of morality and law and order in a country, and consequently juvenile delinquency can be a source of ‘moral panics’.
Juvenile delinquency, or offending, can be separated into three categories: delinquency, crimes committed by minors which are dealt with by the juvenile courts and justice system; criminal behavior, crimes dealt with by the criminal justice system, and status offenses, offenses which are only classified as such because one is a minor, such as truancy, also dealt with by the juvenile courts.
According to the developmental research of Moffitt (2006), there are two different types of offenders that emerge in adolescence. One is the repeat offender, referred to as the life-course-persistent offender, who begins offending or showing antisocial/aggressive behavior in adolescence (or even childhood) and continues into adulthood; and the age specific offender, referred to as the adolescence-limited offender, for whom juvenile offending or delinquency begins and ends during their period of adolescence. Because most teenagers tend to show some form of antisocial, aggressive or delinquent behavior during adolescence, it important to account for these behaviors in childhood, in order to determine whether they will be life-course-persistent offenders, or adolescents-limited offenders. Although adolescent-limited offenders tend to drop all criminal activity once they enter adulthood, and show less pathology than life-course-persistent offenders, they still show more mental health, substance abuse, and finance problems, both in adolescence and adulthood, than those who were never delinquent.
Juvenile offending is disproportionately committed by young men. Feminist theorists and others have examined why this is the case. One suggestion is that ideas of masculinity may make young men more likely to offend. Being tough, powerful, aggressive, daring and competitive becomes a way for young men to assert and express their masculinity. Acting out these ideals may make young men more likely to engage in antisocial and criminal behavior. Also, the way young men are treated by others, because of their masculinity, may reinforce aggressive traits and behaviors, and make them more susceptible to offending.
Alternatively, young men may actually be naturally more aggressive, daring and prone to risk-taking. According to a study led by Florida State University criminologist Kevin M. Beaver, adolescent males who possess a certain type of variation in a specific gene are more likely to flock to delinquent peers. The study, which appears in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Genetic Psychology, is the first to establish a statistically significant association between an affinity for antisocial peer groups and a particular variation (called the 10-repeat allele) of the dopamine transporter gene (DAT1).
In recent years however, there has also been a bridging of the gap between sex differences concerning juvenile delinquency. While it is still more common for males to offend then females, the ratio of arrests by sex is one third of what it was 20 years ago (at 2.5 to 1 today). This is most likely due to the combined effects of more females being arrested (for offenses which did not get them arrested before), and a drop in male offenses.
There is also a significant skew in the racial statistics for juvenile offenders. When considering these statistics, which state that Black and Latino teens are more likely to commit juvenile offenses it is important to keep the following in mind: poverty, or low socio-economic status are large predictors of low parental monitoring, harsh parenting, and association with deviant peer groups, all of which are in turn associated with juvenile offending. The majority of adolescents who live in poverty are racial minorities. Also, minorities who offend, even as adolescents, are more likely to be arrested and punished more harshly by the law if caught. Particularly concerning a non-violent crime and when compared to white adolescents. While poor minorities are more likely to commit violent crimes, one third of affluent teens report committing violent crimes.
Ethnic minority status (that is, experience as non- White) has been included as a risk factor of psychosocial maladaptation in several studies (e.g., Gutman et al. 2003; Sameroff et al. 1993; Dallaire et al. 2008), and represents a relative social disadvantage placed on these individuals. Though the relation between delinquency and race is complex and may be explained by other contextual risk variables (see, for example, Holmes et al. 2009), the total arrest rate for black juveniles aged 10–17 is more than twice that as of white juveniles (National Center for Juvenile Justice 2008)(p. 1474).
The two largest predictors of juvenile delinquency are
Other factors that may lead a teenager into juvenile delinquency include, poor or low socio-economic status, poor school readiness/performance and/or failure, peer rejection, hyperactivity, or attention deficit disorder (ADHD). There may also be biological factors, such as high levels of serotonin, giving them a difficult temper and poor self-regulation, and a lower resting heart rate, which may lead to fearlessness. Most of these tend to be influenced by a mix of both genetic and environmental factors.
Individual psychological or behavioural risk factors that may make offending more likely include low intelligence, impulsiveness or the inability to delay gratification, aggression, empathy, and restlessness. Other risk factors which may be evident during childhood and adolescence include, aggressive or troublesome behavior, language delays or impairments, lack of emotional control (learning to control one's anger), and cruelty to animals.
Children with low intelligence are more likely to do badly in school. This may increase the chances of offending because low educational attainment, a low attachment to school, and low educational aspirations are all risk factors for offending in themselves. Children who perform poorly at school are also more likely to be truant, and the status offense of truancy is linked to further offending. Impulsiveness is seen by some as the key aspect of a child's personality that predicts offending. However, it is not clear whether these aspects of personality are a result of “deficits in the executive functions of the brain” or a result of parental influences or other social factors. In any event, studies of adolescent development show that teenagers are more prone to risk-taking, which may explain the high disproportionate rate of offending among adolescents.
Family factors which may have an influence on offending include: the level of parental supervision, the way parents discipline a child, particularly harsh punishment, parental conflict or separation, criminal parents or siblings, parental abuse or neglect, and the quality of the parent-child relationship.
Children brought up by lone parents are more likely to start offending than those who live with two natural parents. It is also more likely that children of single parents may live in poverty, which is strongly associated with juvenile delinquency. However once the attachment a child feels towards their parent(s) and the level of parental supervision are taken into account, children in single parent families are no more likely to offend than others. Conflict between a child's parents is also much more closely linked to offending than being raised by a lone parent.
If a child has low parental supervision they are much more likely to offend. Many studies have found a strong correlation between a lack of supervision and offending, and it appears to be the most important family influence on offending. When parents commonly do not know where their children are, what their activities are, or who their friends are, children are more likely to truant from school and have delinquent friends, each of which are linked to offending. A lack of supervision is also connected to poor relationships between children and parents. Children who are often in conflict with their parents may be less willing to discuss their activities with them.
Adolescents with criminal siblings are only more likely to be influenced by their siblings, and also become delinquent, if the sibling is older, of the same sex/gender, and warm. Cases where a younger criminal sibling influences an older one are rare. An aggressive, non-loving/warm sibling is less likely to influence a younger sibling in the direction of delinquency, if anything, the more strained the relationship between the siblings, the less they will want to be like, and/or influence each other.
Peer rejection in childhood is also a large predictor of juvenile delinquency. Although children are rejected by peers for many reasons, it is often the case that they are rejected due to violent or aggressive behavior. This rejections affects the child's ability to be socialized properly, which can reduce their aggressive tendencies, and often leads them to gravitate towards anti-social peer groups. This association often leads to the promotion of violent, aggressive and deviant behavior. "The impact of deviant peer group influences on the crystallization of an antisocial developmental trajectory has been solidly documented." Aggressive adolescents who have been rejected by peers are also more likely to have a "hostile attribution bias" which leads people to interpret the actions of others (whether they be hostile or not) as purposefully hostile and aggressive towards them. This often leads to an impulsive and aggressive reaction. Hostile attribution bias however, can appear at any age during development and often lasts throughout a persons life.
There are a multitude of different theories on the causes of crime, most if not all of are applicable to the causes of juvenile delinquency.
Classical criminology stresses that causes of crime lie within the individual offender, rather than in their external environment. For classicists, offenders are motivated by rational self-interest, and the importance of free will and personal responsibility is emphasised. Rational choice theory is the clearest example of this idea.
Current positivist approaches generally focus on the culture. A type of criminological theory attributing variation in crime and delinquency over time and among territories to the absence or breakdown of communal institutions (e.g. family, school, church and social groups.) and communal relationships that traditionally encouraged cooperative relationships among people.
Strain theory is associated mainly with the work of Robert Merton. He felt that there are institutionalized paths to success in society. Strain theory holds that crime is caused by the difficulty those in poverty have in achieving socially valued goals by legitimate means. As those with, for instance, poor educational attainment have difficulty achieving wealth and status by securing well paid employment, they are more likely to use criminal means to obtain these goals. Merton's suggests five adaptations to this dilemma:
A difficulty with strain theory is that it does not explore why children of low-income families would have poor educational attainment in the first place. More importantly is the fact that much youth crime does not have an economic motivation. Strain theory fails to explain violent crime, the type of youth crime which causes most anxiety to the public.
The theory of Differential association also deals with young people in a group context, and looks at how peer pressure and the existence of gangs could lead them into crime. It suggests young people are motivated to commit crimes by delinquent peers, and learn criminal skills from them. The diminished influence of peers after men marry has also been cited as a factor in desisting from offending. There is strong evidence that young people with criminal friends are more likely to commit crimes themselves . However it may be the case that offenders prefer to associate with one another, rather than delinquent peers causing someone to start offending. Furthermore there is the question of how the delinquent peer group became delinquent initially.
Labeling theory states that once young people have been labeled as criminal they are more likely to offend. The idea is that once labelled as deviant a young person may accept that role, and be more likely to associate with others who have been similarly labelled. Labelling theorists say that male children from poor families are more likely to be labelled deviant, and that this may partially explain why there are more lower-class young male offenders.
Social control theory proposes that exploiting the process of socialization and social learning builds self-control and can reduce the inclination to indulge in behavior recognized as antisocial. The four types of control can help prevent juvenile delinquency are:
Direct: by which punishment is threatened or applied for wrongful behavior, and compliance is rewarded by parents, family, and authority figures. Internal: by which a youth refrains from delinquency through the conscience or superego. Indirect: by identification with those who influence behavior, say because his or her delinquent act might cause pain and disappointment to parents and others with whom he or she has close relationships. Control through needs satisfaction, i.e. if all an individual's needs are met, there is no point in criminal activity.
Juvenile delinquents are often diagnosed different disorders. Around six to sixteen percent of male teens and two to nine percent of female teens have a conduct disorder. These can vary from oppositional-defiant disorder, which is not necessarily aggressive, to antisocial personality disorder, often diagnosed among psychopaths. A conduct disorder can develop during childhood and then manifest itself during adolescence.
Juvenile delinquents who have recurring encounters with the criminal justice system, or in other words those who are life-course-persistent offenders, are sometimes diagnosed with conduct disorders because they show a continuous disregard for their own and others safety and/or property. Once the juvenile continues to exhibit the same behavioral patterns and turns eighteen he is then at risk of being diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder and much more prone to become a serious criminal offender. One of the main components used in diagnosing an adult with antisocial personality disorder consists of presenting documented history of conduct disorder before the age of 15. These two personality disorders are analogous in their erratic and aggressive behavior. This is why habitual juvenile offenders diagnosed with conduct disorder are likely to exhibit signs of antisocial personality disorder early in life and then as they mature. Some times these juveniles reach maturation and they develop into career criminals, or life-course-persistent offenders. "Career criminals begin committing antisocial behavior before entering grade school and are versatile in that they engage in an array of destructive behaviors, offend at exceedingly high rates, and are less likely to quit committing crime as they age."
Quantitative research was completed on 9,945 juvenile male offenders between the ages of 10 and 18 in the 1970s[where?]. The longitudinal birth cohort was used to examine a trend among a small percentage of career criminals who accounted for the largest percentage of crime activity. The trend exhibited a new phenomenon amongst habitual offenders. The phenomenon indicated that only 6% of the youth qualified under their definition of a habitual offender (known today as life-course persistent offenders, or career criminals) and yet were responsible for 52% of the delinquency within the entire study. The same 6% of chronic offenders accounted for 71% of the murders and 69% of the aggravated assaults. This phenomenon was later researched among an adult population in 1977 and resulted in similar findings. S.A. Mednick did a birth cohort of 30,000 males and found that 1% of the males were responsible for more than half of the criminal activity. The habitual crime behavior found amongst juveniles is similar to that of adults. As stated before most life-course persistent offenders begin exhibiting antisocial, violent, and/or delinquent behavior, prior to adolescence. Therefore, while there is a high rate of juvenile delinquency, it is the small percentage of life-course persistent, career criminals that are responsible for most of the violent crimes.
Delinquency prevention is the broad term for all efforts aimed at preventing youth from becoming involved in criminal, or other antisocial, activity.
Because the development of delinquency in youth is influenced by numerous factors, prevention efforts need to be comprehensive in scope. Prevention services may include activities such as substance abuse education and treatment, family counseling, youth mentoring, parenting education, educational support, and youth sheltering. Increasing availability and use of family planning services, including education and contraceptives helps to reduce unintended pregnancy and unwanted births, which are risk factors for delinquency.
It has been noted that often interventions may leave at-risk children worse off then if there had never been an intervention. This is due primarily to the fact that placing large groups of at risk children together only propagates delinquent or violent behavior. "Bad" teens get together to talk about the "bad" things they've done, and it is received by their peers in a positive reinforcing light, promoting the behavior among them. As mentioned before, peer groups, particularly an association with antisocial peer groups, is one of the biggest predictors of delinquency, and of life-course-persistent delinquency. The most efficient interventions are those that not only separate at-risk teens from anti-social peers, and place them instead with pro-social ones, but also simultaneously improve their home environment by training parents with appropriate parenting styles. Parenting style being the other large predictor of juvenile delinquency.
Two UK academics, Stephen Case and Kevin Haines, among others, criticized risk factor research in their academic papers and a comprehensive polemic text, Understanding Youth Offending: Risk Factor Research, Policy and Practice.
The robustness and validity of much risk factor research is criticized for:
- Reductionism - e.g. over-simplfying complex experiences and circumstances by converting them to simple quantities, relying on a psychosocial focus whilst neglecting potential socio-structural and political influences;
- Determinism - e.g. characterising young people as passive victims of risk experiences with no ability to construct, negotiate or resist risk;
- Imputation - e.g. assuming that risk factors and definitions of offending are homogenous across countries and cultures, assuming that statistical correlations between risk factors and offending actually represent causal relationships, assuming that risk factors apply to individuals on the basis of aggregated data.
|The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with USA and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (July 2010)|
Juveniles who commit sexual crimes refer to individuals adjudicated in a criminal court for a sexual crime. Sex crimes are defined as sexually abusive behavior committed by a person under the age of 18 that is perpetrated “against the victim’s will, without consent, and in an aggressive, exploitative, manipulative, or threatening manner”. It is important to utilize appropriate terminology for juvenile sex offenders. Harsh and inappropriate expressions include terms such as “pedophile, child molester, predator, perpetrator, and mini-perp” These terms have often been associated with this group, regardless of the youth’s age, diagnosis, cognitive abilities, or developmental stage. Using appropriate expressions can facilitate a more accurate depiction of juvenile sex offenders and may decrease the subsequent aversive psychological affects from using such labels.
Examining prevalence data and the characteristics of juvenile sex offenders is a fundamental component to obtain a precise understanding of this heterogeneous group. With mandatory reporting laws in place, it became a necessity for providers to report any incidents of disclosed sexual abuse. Longo and Prescott indicate that juveniles commit approximately 30-60% of all child sexual abuse. The Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports indicate that in 2008 youth under the age of 18 accounted for 16.7% of forcible rapes and 20.61% of other sexual offenses. Center for Sex Offender Management indicates that approximately one-fifth of all rapes and one-half of all sexual child molestation can be accounted for by juveniles.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention indicates that 15% of juvenile arrests occurred for forcible rape in 2006, and 12% were clearance (resolved by an arrest). The total number of juvenile arrests in 2006 for forcible rape was 3,610 with 2% being female and 36% being under the age of 15 years old. This trend has declined throughout the years with forcible rape from 1997-2006 being -30% and from 2005-2006 being -10%. The OJJDP reports that the juvenile arrest rate for forcible rape increased from the early 1980s through the 1990s and at that time it fell again. The OJJDP also reported that the total number of juvenile arrests in 2006 for sex offenses (other than forcible rape) was 15,900 with 10% being female and 47% being under the age of 15. There was again a decrease with the trend throughout the years with sex offenses from 1997-2006 being -16% and from 2005-2006 being -9%.
Barbaree and Marshall indicate that juvenile males contribute to the majority of sex crimes, with 2-4% of adolescent males having reported committing sexually assaultive behavior, and 20% of all rapes and 30-50% of all child molestation are perpetrated by adolescent males. It is clear that males are over-represented in this population . This is consistent with Ryan and Lane’s research indicating that males account for 91-93% of the reported juvenile sex offenses. Righthand and Welch reported that females account for an estimated 2-11% of incidents of sexual offending. In addition, it reported by The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention that in the juvenile arrests during 2006, African American male youth were disproportionately arrested (34%) for forcible rape. Although while African American male youth are being disproportionately arrested, the most common ethnic group comprising juvenile sex offenders is Caucasian males.