Juvenile delinquency, also known "juvenile offending", is the act of participating in unlawful behavior as minors (juveniles, i.e. 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, with it being common that juvenile systems are treated as civil cases instead of criminal, or a hybrid thereof to avoid certain requirements required for criminal cases (typically the rights to a public trial or to a jury trial). A juvenile delinquent in the United States is a person who is typically below 18 (17 in Georgia, New York, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Texas, and Wisconsin) years of age 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 people under 18 to be charged and treated as adults.
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In recent years a higher proportion of youth have experienced arrests by their early 20s than in the past. Some scholars have concluded that this may reflect more aggressive criminal justice and zero-tolerance policies rather than changes in youth behavior. Juvenile crimes can range from status offenses (such as underage smoking/ drinking), to property crimes and violent crimes. Youth violence rates in the United States have dropped to approximately 12% of peak rates in 1993 according to official US government statistics, suggesting that most juvenile offending is non-violent.
However, juvenile offending can be considered to be 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. Repeated and/or violent offending is likely to lead to later and more violent offenses. When this happens, the offender often displays antisocial behavior even before reaching adolescence.
Juvenile delinquency, or offending, is often 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;
- status offenses, offenses that 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 in 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. Considering that most teenagers tend to show some form of antisocial or delinquent behavior during adolescence, it is important to account for these behaviors in childhood in order to determine whether they will be life-course-persistent offenders or adolescence-limited offenders. Although adolescence-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 financial problems, both in adolescence and adulthood, than those who were never delinquent.
The two largest predictors of juvenile delinquency are:
- parenting style, with the two styles most likely to predict delinquency being:
- "permissive" parenting, characterized by a lack of consequence-based discipline and encompassing two subtypes known as:
- "neglectful" parenting, characterized by a lack of monitoring and thus of knowledge of the child's activities; and
- "indulgent" parenting, characterized by affirmative enablement of misbehavior;
- "authoritarian" parenting, characterized by harsh discipline and refusal to justify discipline on any basis other than "because I said so";
“The authoritative child-rearing style - the most successful approach - involves high acceptance and involvement, adaptive control techniques, and appropriate autonomy granting.”
- peer group association, particularly with antisocial peer groups, as is more likely when adolescents are left unsupervised.
Other factors that may lead a teenager into juvenile delinquency include poor or low socioeconomic status, poor school readiness/performance and/or failure, peer rejection, or attention deficit hyperactivity 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. Delinquent activity, particularly the involvement in youth gangs, may also be caused by a desire for protection against violence or financial hardship, as the offenders view delinquent activity as a means of surrounding themselves with resources to protect against these threats. Most of these influences tend to be caused by a mix of both genetic and environmental factors. Some research indicates that changes in the weather can increase the likelihood of children exhibiting deviant behavior.
Individual risk factors
Individual psychological or behavioral risk factors that may make offending more likely include low intelligence, impulsiveness or the inability to delay gratification, aggression, lack of empathy, and restlessness. Other risk factors that 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.
Gender is another risk factor in regards to influencing delinquent behavior. The predictors of different types of delinquency vary across females and males for various reasons, but a common underlying reason for this is socialization. Different predictors of delinquency emerge when analyzing distinct offending types across gender, but overall it is evident that males commit more crimes than females. Across all offenses, females are less likely to be involved in delinquent acts than males. Females not only commit fewer offenses, but they also commit less serious offenses.
Socialization plays a key role in the gender gap in delinquency because male and female juveniles are often socialized differently. Girls' and boys' experiences are heavily mediated by gender, which alters their interactions in society. Males and females are differently controlled and bonded, suggesting that they will not make the same choices and may follow different paths of delinquency. Social bonds are important for both males and females, but different aspects of the bond are relevant for each gender. The degree of involvement in social settings is a significant predictor of male’s violent delinquency, but is not significant for females. Males tend to be more connected with their peer relationships which in effect has a stronger influence on their behavior. Association with delinquent peers is one of the strongest correlates of juvenile delinquency, and much of the gender gap can be accounted for by the fact that males are more likely to have friends that support delinquent behavior. Delinquent peers are positively and significantly related to delinquency in males but delinquent peers are negatively and insignificantly related to delinquency for females. As for females, familial functioning relationships have shown to be more important. Female juveniles tend to be more strongly connected with their families, the disconnect or the lack of socialization between their family members can significantly predict their likelihood of committing crimes as juveniles and even as adults. When the family is disrupted, females are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior than males. Boys, however, tend to be less connected to their family and are not as affected by these relationships. When it comes to minor offenses such as fighting, vandalism, shoplifting, and the carrying of weapons, differences in gender are limited because they are most common among both males as well as females. Elements of the social bond, social disorganization, routine activities, opportunity, and attitudes towards violence are also related to delinquent behavior among both males and females.
Family environment and peer influence
Family factors that 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 who develop behavioral problems early in life are at greater risk for continual life long antisocial behavior, criminal activity and violence. Some have suggested that having a lifelong partner leads to less offending.
Juvenile Delinquency, which basically is the rebellious or unlawful activities by kids in their teens or pre-teens, is caused by four main risk factors namely; personality, background, state of mind and drugs. These factors may lead to the child having low IQ and may increase the rate of illiteracy.
Children brought up by single parents are more likely to start offending than those who live with both 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; 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." Robert Vargas (2011), "Being in "Bad" Company," explains that if adolescents can choose between groups of friends, there is an insulating effect that protects them from becoming susceptible to peer influence that will lead them to commit illegal acts. The insulating effect can only take place if one of the groups is not engaged in deviant behavior. Robert Vargas (2011) also explains that some adolescents cannot choose a different group of friends due to the level of violence in their particular area. The adolescent's inability to choose between different sets of friends would mean that these adolescents are stuck with the group of friends closes to where they live. Conformity plays a significant role in the vast impact that peer group influence has on an individual. Aronson, Wilson, & Akert (2013) point to the research experiment conducted by Solomon Asch (1956), to ascertain whether the group could influence the individual. This was done by gathering a group of individuals who would pose as participants of the experiment, but in reality, they were part of the experiment, they were called "confederates." "Confederates" knew the purpose of the experiment and were direct to answer the questions they would be asked during the experiment in a particular manner. After choosing a participant, the group (actual participant and "confederates") was asked a series of questions. The questions required that the group look at a line, and then they would be shown three other lines, they had to choose which one matched the original line. Choosing the line that most closely matched the original line was not too difficult. The "confederates" answered the question before the actual participant. The "confederates" answered the first few questions correctly, as did the participant. Eventually, all of the confederates started to answer incorrectly but in unison. The purpose of the experiment was to see if the group would influence the participant to answer incorrectly. Solomon Asch's findings went against his expectations. Seventy-six percent of the participants conformed and answered incorrectly as the group had answered. The coupling of a peer group that is involved in deviant behavior with the impact of conformity would leave an adolescent in a precarious situation, almost ensuring that the group will influence them. Once the adolescent becomes part of the group, they will be susceptible to "groupthink." Aronson, Wilson, and Akert (2013) in "Social Psychology" explain that groupthink is, "a kind of thinking in which maintaining group cohesiveness and solidarity is more important than considering the facts in a realistic manner. According to Janis's theory, groupthink is most likely to occur when certain preconditions are met, such as when the group is highly cohesive, isolated from contrary opinions…"
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.
Children resulting from unintended pregnancies are more likely to exhibit delinquent behavior. They also have lower mother-child relationship quality.
Applicable crime theories
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 the 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 emphasized. Rational choice theory is the clearest example of this idea. Delinquency is one of the major factors motivated by rational choice.
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:
- Innovation: individuals who accept socially approved goals, but not necessarily the socially approved means.
- Retreatism: those who reject socially approved goals and the means for acquiring them.
- Ritualism: those who buy into a system of socially approved means, but lose sight of the goals. Merton believed that drug users are in this category.
- Conformity: those who conform to the system's means and goals.
- Rebellion: people who negate socially approved goals and means by creating a new system of acceptable goals and means.
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 that causes most anxiety to the public.
Differential association is another theory that deals with young people in a group context, and it 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 offenders may 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 initially became delinquent.
Labeling theory is a concept within Criminology that aims to explain deviant behavior from the social context rather than looking at the individual themselves. It is part of Interactionism criminology that 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 working 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 with 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 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the 1970s. 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 among 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 among 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. Education is the great equalizer, opening doors to lift themselves out of poverty.... Education also promotes economic growth, national productivity and innovation, and values of democracy and social cohesion. Prevention through education aides the young people to interact more effectively in social contexts, therefore diminishing need 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. A well-known intervention treatment that has not increased the prevention of juvenile delinquency is the Scared Straight Treatment. “The harmful effects of Scared Straight and boot-camp programs may be attributable to juvenile offenders’ vicarious exposure to criminal role models, to the increased resentment engendered in them by confrontational interactions, or both”. This suggests that exposure to criminals could create a sense of idealization and defeat the entire purpose of scared straight treatment. Also, this treatment doesn’t acknowledge the psychological troubles that the teenager may be experiencing. 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.
Critique of risk factor research
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:
- 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, and assuming that risk factors apply to individuals on the basis of aggregated data.
- Reductionism, e.g., over-simplfying complex experiences and circumstances by converting them to simple quantities, relying on a psychosocial focus while neglecting potential socio-structural and political influences.
Juvenile sex crimes
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, and/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. In the Arab Gulf states [sic], homosexual acts are classified as an offense, and constitute one of the primary crimes for which juvenile males are charged.
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.
Official record data
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention indicates that 15% of juvenile arrests occurred for 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. This trend has declined throughout the years with forcible rape from 1997–2006 being −30% and from 2005 to 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. All types of crime rates fell in the 1990s. 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 to 2006 being −16% and from 2005 to 2006 being −9%.
Males who commit sexual crimes
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. In one case in a foster home a 13-year-old boy raped a 9-year-old boy by having forced anal sex with him, in a court hearing the 9-year-old boy said he has done this multiple times, that the 13-year-old boy was charged for sexual assault.
Juvenile sex crimes internationally
Sexual crimes committed by juveniles are not just an issue in the United States. Studies from the Netherlands show that out of 3200 sex offenders recorded by police in 2009, 672 of those were juveniles, approximately 21 percent of sexual offenders. The study also points out the male to female ratio of sexual predators.
In 2009, a U.S. congressman proposed legislature that would create an International Sex Offender Registry. The bill was introduced due to the fact that because laws differ in different countries someone who is on the sex offender registry in the U.S. who may be barred from living certain places and doing certain activities has free range in other less developed countries. This can lead to child sex tourism, when a sexual predator will go to less developed countries and prey on young boys and girls. Karne Newburn in his article, The Prospect of an International Sex Offender Registry, pointed out some serious flaws in the proposed bill, such as creating safety issues within the communities for the sex offenders placed on the registry. Newburn suggested instead of creating an International Sex Offender Registry from the U.S. model the U.S. join other countries in a dialogue on creating an effective model. As of now no registry exists. Despite this there is still interest in creating some sort of international registry.
- Age of onset (criminology)
- Anti-social behaviour order
- Deviance (sociology)
- Juvenile delinquency in the United States
- Kazan phenomenon
- Minor (law)
- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
- Person in need of supervision
- David Morgan (psychologist)
- Sex offender registries in the United States
- Solitary confinement of juvenile offenders
- Status offense
- Teen courts
- Youth court
- Young offender
- Banchō (position)
- Public criminology
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Juvenile Offenders.|
- Delinquency Prevention - Clearinghouse of juvenile delinquency prevention information
- Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime - major study at Edinburgh Law School
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- 5 Facts About Child on Child Sexual Abuse (COCSA) from Defend Innocence.