Adolescent criminal behaviour (juvenile delinquency) is by far one of the most discussed social issue in the United States since the early 1960s. This was attributed to the fact that at the time, the United States was transitioning into another stage of development. This growth and development however caused social and economic stratification where most neighbourhoods were divided according to ethnic background and economic leverage. This raises the issue as to whether poverty is an influence to adolescent criminal behaviour. Indeed poverty influences adolescent criminal behaviour.
In 1997, New York City experienced a surge in juvenile delinquency cases reported and booked by the NYPD (New York Police Department). A fact that is of particular interest is the fact the 73% of these reported crimes took place or involved individuals from the projects and other low income areas. These residential areas where most of the residents live under the poverty line.
Poverty deprives an individual of the freedom and ability to get access to basic living commodities such as food, shelter and clothing. Children born into these conditions tend to develop and learn how to fend for themselves and/or their families with the aim of achieving the American dream. This leads these children to quick money schemes that are almost always linked to illegal criminal activity such as robbery, drug peddling and prostitution.
One disconcerting fact from a study conducted by the National Centre for juvenile justices showed that most criminals who indulge in drug peddling and distribution prefer to use children under the age of 16 as transporters and channels through which they move their contraband products. This is evident from the number of drug trafficking arrests involving minors from low income families. 67% of all juvenile drug trafficking arrests involved children from low income families.
In conclusion, poverty plays a huge role in determining the opportunities and challenges that an underage individual is exposed to. Poverty is a major influence on the development and prevalence of adolescent criminal behaviour.
Bartollas, C., & Schmalleger, F. (2011). Juvenile Delinquency (8th ed.). Prentice Hall.
National Center for Juvenile Justice. (2012). Juvenile Arrest Rates by Offense, Sex, and Race (1980 - 2010). National Center for Juvenile Justice. Retrieved July 15, 2013, from http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/crime/excel/JAR_2010.xls