Adolescent criminal behavior (Juvenile delinquency) is a major societal issue that has plagued the United States since the early 1960s. There has been much inquiry and study into the causes and triggers of juvenile delinquency and most of the studied come up with similar outcomes depending on the approach taken. Poverty has been highlighted as one major factor that leads to gradual development of juvenile delinquent behavior in all these studies. Poverty is one of the root causes of delinquency. I will seek to validate this statement through relevant arguments backed by factual statistics.
According to the Oxford dictionary, poverty is a state of not being able to the meet basic human needs including, food, shelter and clothing. However, poverty has a much broader meaning that has evolved over the decades relative to the stage and state of development of the country in question. In essence, poverty is not being able to seek for medical care when needed, lacking access to education and living under fear for the future. Poverty influences an individual’s life from childhood by affecting the environment one lives in, economic status and the kind of opportunities one is exposed to.
I believe economic leverage is essential in providing a child with a stable and suitable environment for growth and development. When a family is deprived of financial collateral or resources, the family almost always lives under strenuous conditions. Basic necessities such as food and shelter become a problem. These problems culminate towards children below the age of 18 years seeking for sources of income to either help or support the family and themselves. I believe quick-money schemes in most neighborhoods that live in poverty are almost always illegal, such as gang activities, drug peddling and prostitution.
I believe poverty affects the kind and number of opportunities that one is exposed to. It is proven fact that good education requires a large investment of capital. Poor individuals in the society can only afford basic and low quality education. This kind of education does not offer much prospect for the juvenile in the society, limiting access to future jobs. This reduces the opportunity costs of crime to the youth. Thus increasing the amount of time underage individuals spend on the streets than in schools. In the United States, 65% of all juvenile arrests were of individuals who spent little or no time in an academic institution, i.e. the basic education (elementary, junior high and senior high).
Poverty in the United States varies by race. This affects the prevalence of juvenile delinquency in neighborhoods that are mostly populated by race. In the year 2009, Hispanic and Black children were just about 3 times more likely to be born under poverty than White children. I believe this explains the high levels of juvenile delinquent behavior that exist in neighborhoods that are predominantly Hispanic and/or black. This was evident during the most recent economic downturn that saw juvenile crimes increase drastically from 2009 through 2011.
In conclusion, poverty influences a child’s environment in terms of finances, education and opportunities. These factors are crucial for the growth and development of a child into a law-abiding citizen. When poverty dominates and plagues a community, juvenile delinquency will almost always rise within the community in question. Poverty is a root cause of juvenile delinquency.
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