- Juvenile Delinquency
- Theories of Delinquency
Throughout history, communities and experts have varying opinions when it comes to explaining why there are juveniles or minors violating rules and laws. According to Martin (2005), early experts and communities tried to explain juvenile delinquency with two theories: demonism and naturalism. Naturalism pertains to the ‘practice of linking human affairs with the natural world, justifying human behavior with the influence of nature.’ For example, if the change due to lunar and solar cycles, human behavior is also affected by these forces. Ancient civilizations in the Mediterranean use this theory to determine the outcome of wars and abnormal occurrences unexplainable in the period. People would offer tributes or sacrifices to gain knowledge on future events or to stop divine entities from affecting human affairs. Demonology, on the other hand, perceive that human behavior and a desire to do criminal acts is because of the devil or other evil entities. Criminal behavior and delinquency is then known as a result of the conflict between the forces of evil and chaos against the forces of good and order. Much like the practice in naturalism, ancient civilizations often conduct rituals or exorcism to remove the evil spirits away from people. In the Medieval and Renaissance times, Christians would burn, main or break supernatural invaders. If the ‘spirit’ does not leave, the possessed would be killed .
Aside from the classical school, modern theorists also highlighted other theories to explain delinquency. The biological theories highlight that criminals are born and not made or influenced by various factors. Hess (2009) reported that genetic mishaps can trigger a family member’s change from the typical norms of one family, becoming a deviant or delinquent in the process. Five studies indicated by biological theorists argue that biological factors influence delinquent behavior: physiognomy, phrenology, body type, and heredity. In physiognomy, delinquency is attached to the character traits assigned to one’s physical features such as a person’s face. In the Middle Ages for instance, if two suspects become suspected of the same crime, the uglier one is charged with the crime. Phrenology utilizes a person’s skull formation to determine his capacity to do evil. If an abnormality is discovered, experts believe the person is likely to commit a crime. The body type theory is somewhat similar to phrenology, using somatotypes or body types to determine a person’s personality: endomorphic are those who are easy-going, mesomorphic are the aggressive types, and the ectomorphic are the introverts. Heredity entails one’s biological origins as to how they develop, mostly used for studies regarding twins .
In terms of the choice theory, Siegel and Welsh (2009) stated that the theory stress that it is the delinquent’s decision to engage in antisocial and criminal activity because of its perceived benefits. These delinquents do not fear the possible consequences and even do the act to fulfill a fantasy. Under the psychological theories, deviant behavior is connected to various cognitive and personality disorders influenced by the environment and other critical factors. Like the biological theory of delinquency, psychological theory is divided into three parts: psychoanalytic, conditioning and psychopathology. In psychoanalytic theory, the argument raised by this theory highlights that one’s personality affects behavior, especially if traumatizing events affect one’s mindset. Conditioning, on the other hand, is affected by a person’s experiences and perceptions that influence criminal intent. Finally, psychopathology entails that criminals who commit crime do not show empathy as they do not feel the same emotions as the victims. These criminals are often called today as psychopaths .
The sociological theories, according to Siegel (2012), entails the impact of the society, one’s personal idiosyncrasies and relations with others which affected their behavior and delinquency. Sociological theorists also argue that socioeconomic conditions, alienation and cultural norms trigger one’s deviant behavior. Like the other theories of delinquency,there are also several sociological theories raised by experts pertaining to how these social issues affect delinquent behavior. The first type is the Anomie and Strain theories founded by sociologists Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton. In the Anomie theory, Durkheim argues that a delinquent becomes one if the delinquent feels detached to the norms or rules of society. Merton applied Durkheim’s anomie and found out that the delinquency occurs because of the strains people have that prevents them from attaining a desired goals legitimately. Aside from the anomie and strain theories, social ecology theory or structural theory triggers criminal deviance through social structures. Structural conditions such as poor sanitation, unemployment, poverty and low employment are some of the reasons why delinquency persists. Finally, differential association theory entails a person’s social learning through others. Delinquency, under this theory, is then developed by people based on the behaviors of others .
- Causes of Delinquency
- Past Landmark Research
Early research suggested that the delinquency can be attributed to the delinquent’s overall behavior, living condition and disabilities. In terms of behavior, Musick (1995) stated that this change is because of the delinquent’s relationship with his/her parents or family members and living conditions. Since Antiquity period to the present, parents had different treatment methods that affected the child’s behavior: from infanticide, abandonment, ambivalence, intrusion, socialization to helping. Infanticide was common in the Antiquity period as some families would kill a child immediately after hours of its birth. Some parents would even abandon the child in favor of male and intelligent children to lessen financial burdens. Ambivalence entails strict parenting with the use of corporal punishment as there is a lingering belief that violence can help children become moral citizens. Intrusion, socialization and helping parenting entails the involvement of parents to the child’s development even if the children have tutors to help in the development. Once this treatment gets too much for the child, it is likely delinquency would develop to escape the treatment or challenge the boundaries of their “freedom.”
Delinquent behavior is also because of the living conditions in the early centuries, especially in the era of industrialization. Some children had to commit to crime not just to escape the ire of the family or current living conditions, but also to survive as free people rather than being slaves or young workers. These children with disabilities may be unable to understand social cues and proper decorum due to disabilities, often bolstered by the incapacity of adults to understand these children. Since they are not understood, these disabled children would become alienated and be encouraged to become delinquents to gain attention. Encouragement may also come from peers who also became delinquents .
- Current Research
In recent years, experts attributed the onset of delinquency to five causes: poverty, drugs, familial status, low educational attainment and low-income capacity of the delinquent’s family or the delinquent. According to Omboto, Ondiek, Odera and Ayugi (2013), poverty is one of the major causes of delinquency as these delinquents commit crime for their continuous survival. Young delinquents would commit petty crimes like stealing to survive each day. Poverty is also considered the driving force for these delinquents to go under social decay, affecting the development of these delinquents. After poverty, drug use is also a contributing factor to delinquency. As some of today’s youth go into crime because of poverty, youth offenders are often discovered to be in possession of high-grade drugs and other contrabands. Drugs also cause delinquency due to its ability to distort one’s behavior or affect their development depending on the drug currently used by the delinquent .
Modern studies also reiterated that familial status or relations are also a major cause of delinquency today. Elrod and Ryder (2011) argued that the majority of today’s children often become delinquents due to the lack of attention from parents, who are both working to improve their economic position. Many parents today often leave their children at home with babysitters or alone, affecting what traits and attitudes these children develop. Poor familial relations attributed to child abuse and domestic violence also triggers substantial trauma and behavioral changes in children. Low educational attainment and low-income capacity also trigger delinquency in today’s youth considering the incapacities of these delinquents to improve living situation. Delinquency in today’s age is also possible depending on the child’s environment outside the child’s homes. Peer pressure and the nature of the child’s community can cause children to develop delinquency to escape possible discrimination from others .
- Juvenile Corrections (Treatment)
- Probation and Parole
In the United States, apprehended or reported delinquents are offered several types of community treatments to escape incarceration or criminal cases according to Siegel and Welsh (2010). The most notable treatment provided to American juveniles is probation. Under this treatment scheme, a juvenile under probation is monitored and supervised by an officer of the court to ensure that he or she meets the conditions set by court to remain free. Some of the conditions given to juveniles under probation include group counselling, community service and drug treatment. If the juvenile in question has fulfilled all the requirements and satisfied the court, he or she would be freed from probation. Probation can be considered a testament to a delinquent’s capacity to change especially if these juveniles are guided and helped for their recovery. When it is applied efficiently, juveniles will be able to exercise their liberties and the safety of the public is still sustained. Probation also avoids the possibilities of alienation and confinement which may affect the reintegration of the delinquent back to society .
Parole, on the other hand, is different with probation as parolees would need to get a recommendation from a correctional facility that would prove that the parolee can be treated or rehabilitated. According to Hess, Orthmann and Wright (2012), delinquents charged with parole would be required to complete a period of incarceration, which differs depending on which state the criminal act occured. In Minnesota, for example, the Department of Corrections is tasked to watch juveniles in a correctional facility and determine if they can re-enter the community or how long would the incarceration take. A hearing officer would determine if the offense was severe and if the delinquent has done the same act in the past. Once these juveniles are removed from the correctional facility, these delinquents would be supervised by a parole or probation officer to monitor the juvenile until they have done the conditions set by the court. Parole officers regularly check the residency of these delinquents in order to assure they have re-entered society. However, parolees often find it difficult to re-enter society due to the stereotypes now placed towards these delinquents and the lack of facilities or opportunities provided for parolees. States also varied when it comes to re-entry requirements .
- Treatment Programs
- Ineffective Treatment or Failed Strategies, Processes and Programs
Aside from probation and parole, there are several policies, programs and procedures that had been proposed to aid in treating juvenile delinquency. On the one hand, not all of these strategies were effective in countering the problem. One of the ineffective delinquency prevention programs used by the US is D.A.R.E or the Drug Abuse Resistance Education. According to Howell (2009), D.A.R.E was launched in 1983 by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Unified School District to support then-First Lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” to drugs advocacy. The program had a budget of $227 million each year and employed 50,000 police officers who would conduct lectures regarding substance abuse. While the lectures can be considered the most frequently used substance abuse curriculum in the country, it is not very effective. Twenty evaluations were done throughout the 1990s to determine the effectiveness of the program; however, in the majority of the evaluations plus the U.S. Surgeon General stated that the program does not work. D.A.R.E. was revised in order to improve the curriculum, especially for the later years, but it has yet to be evaluated by the Surgeon General. Experts perceive that D.A.R.E. remains a modern prevention approach for delinquency because many believe that the repressive deterrence is an effective way to stop delinquency. Others also argue that the strategy is not complicated to teach to children in comparison in using scientific data or social sciences.
Aside from D.A.R.E, punishments are also considered to be ineffective strategies for juvenile offenders because one pertains to punishment as a penalty or a form of justice. Experts believe that the punishment would only increase criminality and delinquency, especially if it is not done properly. Others even think that sanctions or punishments would only inspire delinquents to commit more offenses. Some of the punishment programs done which failed to establish the dangers of juvenile delinquency are the scared straight programs, boot camps and long-term confinement. The scared straight programs are adopted in the late 70s after a group of inmates from the New Jersey Railway State Prison created the program. The program was intended to bring boys and girls to the prison and subject them to “shock” treatment – from threats to persuasion – to stop them from becoming delinquents. The group proposed that if children or teenagers are scared of the consequences of being a delinquent, these children will not become delinquents. The idea of the program was well-commended by experts, charming the media and experts alike to the idea’s belief and effectiveness. However, when some experts tried to assess the effectiveness of the program, they discovered that it had triggered additional recidivism to those included in the program. Like D.A.R.E., the scared straight programs remained active because of the current political environment as it believes that getting tough would solve delinquency.
Boot camps and long-term confinement are also ineffective in solving delinquency despite the idea of using these areas to re-educate delinquents. Boot camps became popular in the 1980s as a “shock” treatment for offenders. Many supported boot camps especially after the growing concerns on juvenile delinquency in the 90s. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention was established to evaluate and monitor these boot camps. Three boot camps are created under the OJJDP located in Cleveland, Denver and Mobile, Alabama. While there were reports that inmates within these camps found the place therapeutic, evaluations reveal that delinquency continues to be a problem given reports of staff abuses and other types of abuse. Some abuses were done towards children with histories of abuse. On the other hand, long-term confinement became familiar with the idea “the longer the punishment, the lower the likelihood of subsequent reality.” While the idea seems promising, research stressed that it is better to define the period of confinement to reduce possibilities of negative influences from others to affect the juvenile. There is a high possibility that more prolonged incarceration would trigger gang involvement, violent victimization and further abuse. A shorter incarceration would permit juveniles to recover and reintegrate back into society without fearing a stigma, while a longer incarceration would limit opportunities back for reintegration .
- Most Effective or successful programs
Although there are a few treatment programs that failed, there were also effective and successful programs in the country directed to helping and treating delinquents. Greenwood (2008) highlighted that preventing delinquency must begin with pregnant teens or at-risk children in their early childhood. One of the programs successful in reducing delinquency is the David Olds’ Nurse Home Visitation Program and the Prenatal/Early Infancy Project in New York. The Nurse Home Visitation Program utilizes several strategies that would allow home visitors or nurses to help families, especially children on childcare and social skills development. Visitation occurs twenty times with declining frequency to give confidence to the home patients. The Prenatal/Early Infancy Project also follows the same format and has reported a reduction of child abuse and neglect rates in participating families since the beginning of the program. Evaluations for either program have been positive and has its program done in 200 countries.
There are also numerous school/classroom-based programs that have aided the reduction of delinquency in the country, utilizing collaborator problem-solving techniques with teachers, parents and children. One of the most popular programs using this method is the Bullying Prevention Program, which was done in Norway. Under the program, teachers and parents meet up to discuss ground rules against bullying before intervention. After two years of the program, bullying has reduced significantly of up to 50%. The Surgeon General identified the program as one of the eleven most promising intervention programs for delinquency. Aside from the Bullying Prevention Program, the School Transitional Environmental Program (STEP) is also an effective program according to the Surgeon General to combat delinquency. STEP aims to reduce the complex environment of schools and improve student-teacher relations to allow openness and trust. The program targets students at risk to delinquency as teachers act as guidance counselors for these children. Evaluations to the system reflected a decrease in student absences and drop-outs and reports of positive improvements in school performance on children.
There were also community-based interventions that were successful against delinquencies such as the Functional Family Therapy and the Multisystemic Therapy. Both programs were commended by the Surgeon General for the focus on family interactions and improving child-parent relations. The FFT targets teenagers with issues on delinquency, substance abuse and violence and support families in improving problem-solving skills and relations. On the other hand, the MST also concentrates on family relations but it helps parents in understanding the child’s behavior. MST helps parents determine the barriers for easier parenting and improve treatment. Aside from these community-based programs, institutional facilities such as foster care facilities and group homes also offer similar programs to help delinquency prevention. One example of institutional programs is the Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care which employs selected community families to help youths develop better practice and provide a therapeutic living environment, aiding treatment .
Elrod, P., & Ryder, R. S. (2011). Juvenile Justice: A Social, Historical and Legal Perspective. Burlington: Jones and Bartlett Learning.
Greenwood, P. (2008). Prevention and Intervention Programs for Juvenile Offenders. The Future of Children, 18(2), 185-210.
Hess, K. (2009). Juvenile Justice. New York: Cengage Learning.
Hess, K., Orthmann, C., & Wright, J. (2012). Juvenile Justice. Belmont: Wadsworth.
Howell, J. (2009). Preventing and Reducing Juvenile Delinquency: A Comprehensive Framework. New York: SAGE Publications.
Martin, G. (2005). Juvenile Justice: Process and Systems. London: SAGE Publications.
Musick, D. (1995). An Introduction to the Sociology of Juvenile Delinquency. Albany: SUNY Press.
Omboto, J. O., Ondiek, G., Odera, O., & Ayugi, M. E. (2013). Factors influencing youth crime and juvenile delinquency. International Journal of Research in Social Sciences, 1(2), 18-21.
Shoemaker, D. (2009). Theories of Delinquency: An Examination of Explanations of Delinquent Behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Siegel, L. (2012). Criminology. Stamford: Cengage Learning.
Siegel, L., & Welsh, B. (2009). Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice and Law. Belmont: Wadsworth.
Siegel, L., & Welsh, B. (2010). Juvenile Delinquency: The Core. Belmont: Wadsworth.