Chapter 1 Juvenile Justice: Myths and RealitiesMyths and Realities
It’s only me.” These were the tragic words spoken by Charles “Andy” Williams as the San Diego Sheriff’s Department SWAT team closed in on the frail high school sophomore who had just turned 15 years old. Williams had just shot a number of his classmates at Santana High School, killing two and wounding 13. This was another in a series of school shootings that shocked the nation; however, the young Mr. Williams did not fit the stereotype of the “superpredator” that has had an undue influence on juvenile justice policy for decades. There have been other very high-profile cases involving children and teens that have generated a vigorous international debate on needed changes in the system of justice as applied to young people.
In Birmingham, Alabama, an 8-year-old boy was charged with “viciously” attacking a toddler, Kelci Lewis, and murdering her (Binder, 2015). The law enforcement officials announced their intent to prosecute the boy as an adult. The accused perpetrator would be among the youngest criminal court victims in U.S. history. The 8-year-old became angry and violent, and beat the toddler because she would not stop crying. Kelci suffered severe head trauma and injuries to major internal organs. The victim’s mother, Katerra Lewis, left the two children alone so that she could attend a local nightclub. There were six other children under the age of 8 also left alone in the house. Within days, the mother was arrested and charged with manslaughter and released on a $15,000 bond after being in custody for less than 90 minutes. The 8-year-old was held by the Alabama Department of Human Services pending his adjudication.
A very disturbing video showed a Richland County, South Carolina, deputy sheriff grab a 16-year-old African American teen by her hair, flipping her out her chair and tossing her across the classroom. The officer wrapped his forearm around her neck and then handcuffed her. It is alleged that the teen refused to surrender her phone to the deputy. She received multiple injuries from the encounter. The classroom teacher and a vice principal said that they believed the police response was “appropriate.” The deputy was suspended and subsequently fired after the Richland County Sheriff reviewed the video. There is a civil suit against the school district and the sheriff’s department for the injuries that were sustained (Strehike, 2015).
One of the highest profile cases involving juvenile offenders was known as the New York Central Park jogger case (Burns, 2011; Gray, 2013). In 1989 a young female investment banker was raped, attacked, and left in a coma. The horrendous crime captured worldwide attention. Initially, 11 young people were arrested and five confessed to the crimes. These five juvenile males, four African American and one Latino, were convicted for a range of crimes including assault, robbery, rape, and attempted murder. There were two separate jury trials, and the defendants were sentenced to between 5 and 15 years. In today’s more punitive environment, the sentences would be even stiffer. Appeals were filed, but the original convictions were upheld. Then, shockingly, in 2002, another youth, Matias Ryes, confessed that he had actually committed the rape and his claim was verified by DNA evidence. Reyes claimed that he had engaged in the rape and assault by himself and was not part of the five juveniles who had already been imprisoned. At the time of his confession, Reyes was serving a life sentence for several rapes and murder. At the time of the assault, the media and many politicians used the case to frighten the public about “wilding,” allegedly involving gangs of young people who would viciously attack strangers for no apparent reason. The police violated all sorts of basic rules governing the handling of these juveniles. The names of the arrested youth were given to the media, and their names and photographs were published in local newspapers. The five youth were interviewed and videotaped, some without access to their parents or guardians. Within weeks, all the defendants retracted their confessions, claiming that they had been intimidated and coerced into their admissions. Police told the youth that their fingerprints were found at the crime scene, but as noted earlier, the DNA evidence collected at the crime scene did not match any of the Central Park youth.
The New York district attorney subsequently withdrew the charges against all of the Central Park Five but never declared that they were innocent. The youth had already served between 6 and 13 years in state prison. The convicted Central Park men filed a lawsuit against New York City for malicious prosecution and emotional distress. Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to settle the case over the next 10 years, but the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, supported a settlement and the courts approved a claim for $41 million in damages in 2014. The Central Park men are continuing to litigate against New York State for additional damages. A noted documentary filmmaker made a dramatic film about the Central Park Five, but the New York Police Department and the Manhattan district attorney fought hard to discredit the Ken Burns project and to prevent its airing by PBS.
The Central Park Five case illustrates how misinformation and outright falsehoods have played a significant role in the evolving nature of the justice system’s response to alleged young offenders. Juvenile justice policies have historically been built on a foundation of myths. From the “dangerous classes” of the 19th century to the superpredators of the late 20th century, government responses to juvenile crime have been dominated by fear of the young, anxiety about immigrants or racial minorities, and hatred of the poor (Platt, 1968; Wolfgang, Thornberry, & Figlio, 1987). Politicians have too often exploited these mythologies to garner electoral support or to push through funding for their pet projects. The general public has bought into these myths, as evidenced by numerous opinion polls illustrating the perception that juvenile crime rates are raging out of control (Dorfman & Schiraldi, 2001). Even during periods in which juvenile arrests were falling, the National Victimization Survey in 1998 reported that 62% of Americans felt that juvenile crime was rising. A 1996 California poll showed that 60% of the public believed that youths are responsible for most violent crime, although youngsters under age 18 years account for just 13% of arrests for violent offenses. Similarly, the public perceives that school-based violence is far more common than the rates reflected in official statistics. Several observers feel that these misperceptions are, in part, created by distorted media coverage of juvenile crime (Dorfman & Schiraldi, 2001).
By far, the most destructive myth about juvenile crime was the creation of the superpredator myth (Elikann, 1999). The myth began with predictions of future increases in youth violence made by James Q. Wilson (1995) and John DiIulio (1995a). Wilson claimed that by 2010 there
would be 30,000 more juvenile “muggers, killers, and thieves.” DiIulio predicted that the new wave of youth criminals would be upon us by 2000. Within a year, DiIulio's (1996) estimate for the growth in violent juveniles had escalated to 270,000 by 2010 (compared to 1990). Other criminologists such as Alfred Blumstein (1996) and James Fox (1996) suggested that the rise in violent arrests of juveniles in the early 1990s would combine with a growing youth population to produce an extended crime epidemic. Fox warned that our nation faces a future juvenile violence that may make today's epidemic pale in comparison (Fox, 1996). He urged urgent action. Not to be outdone in rhetoric, DiIulio referred to a “Crime Bomb” and painted the future horror that “fatherless, Godless, and jobless” juvenile “superpredators” would be “flooding the nation's streets” (DiIulio, 1996, p. 25).
All of these dire predictions proved inaccurate. Juvenile crime rates began a steady decline beginning in 1994, reaching low levels not seen since the late 1970s. In part, the myth was based on a misinterpretation of the research of Wolfgang, Figlio, and Sellin (1972), which found that a small number of juveniles accounted for a large number of juvenile arrests. DiIulio and his panicky friends applied this number to the entire growth in the youth population to manufacture their bogus trends. But even worse, the academic purveyors of the superpredator myth used overheated rhetoric to scare the public.
Consider that the definition of a predator is an animal that eats other animals. Perhaps only the Tyrannosaurus rex might truly qualify as a superpredator. The symbolism of the vicious youth criminal who preys on his victims is truly frightening. This is reminiscent of the Nazi propaganda that referred to Jews as vermin that spread disease and plague. Further, the imagery of the child without a conscience was reinforced by media accounts of a generation of babies born addicted to crack cocaine and afflicted with severe neurological problems. Interestingly, a recent review of medical studies of “crack babies” found no substantial evidence that in utero exposure to cocaine negatively affected the child's development more than traditional risk factors such as parental alcohol and tobacco consumption. Herrnstein and Murray (1994) completed the grotesque portrait of the superpredator by claiming to demonstrate a linkage between low intelligence and crime. They suggested that persons of low IQ would respond only to blunt punishments rather than more subtle prevention or rehabilitation programs.
The media loved the dramatic story about the “barbarians at the gates,” and the politicians soon jumped on the bandwagon. A major piece of federal juvenile crime legislation enacted in 1997 was titled The Violent and Repeat Juvenile Offender Act of 1997 (S. 10).
At the state level, the superpredator myth played an important role in 47 states amending their laws on juvenile crime to get tougher on youthful criminals (Torbet et al., 1996). Legislators modified their state laws to permit younger children to be tried in adult criminal courts. More authority was given to prosecutors to file juvenile cases in adult courts. Judges were permitted to use “blended sentences” that subjected minors to a mixture of juvenile court and criminal court sanctions. Legislators also weakened protection of the confidentiality of minors tried in juvenile courts, allowing some juvenile court convictions to be counted later in adult proceedings to enhance penalties. State laws were amended to add punishment as an explicit objective of the juvenile court system and to give victims a more defined role in juvenile court hearings. Prior to these revisions, victims of juvenile crime had no formal participation in juvenile court proceedings. During the 1990s, rates of juvenile incarceration increased, and more minors were sentenced to adult prisons and jails. This social and legal policy shift and its consequences are discussed further later in this chapter.
The movement to treat ever younger offenders as adults was aided by other myths about juvenile justice. First, it was asserted that the juvenile court was too lenient and that it could not appropriately sanction serious and violent youthful offenders. Second, it was argued that traditional juvenile court sanctions were ineffective and that treatment did not work for serious and chronic juvenile offenders. Neither of these myths is supported by empirical evidence.
An analysis of juvenile court data in 10 states found that juvenile courts responded severely to minors charged with homicide, robbery, violent sex crimes, and aggravated assaults (Butts & Connors-Beatty, 1993). This study found that juvenile courts sustained petitions (the juvenile court equivalent of a conviction) in 53% of homicide cases, 57% of robbery cases, 44% of serious assaults, and 55% of violent sex crimes. By contrast, a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics of adult felony cases in state courts found that the odds of an arrested adult being convicted for violent offenses ranged from a low of 13% for aggravated assaults to a high of 55% for homicide (Langan & Solari, 1993). Figure 1.1 compares the odds of conviction for a violent crime in criminal versus juvenile courts (Jones & Krisberg, 1994). Other data also suggest that the sentencing of juveniles is not more lenient in juvenile courts compared to criminal courts. Data from California reveal that minors convicted and sentenced for violent crimes actually serve longer periods of incarceration in the California Department of Juvenile Justice than do adults who are sent to the state prison system (Jones & Krisberg, 1994).
Figure 1.1 Odds of an Arrested Adult Being Convicted in Criminal Court vs. Odds of Conviction for Delinquency Referrals in 10 States
Juvenile Felony Defendants in Criminal Courts: Survey of 40 Counties, 1998 http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/ascii/jfdcc98.txt
* In criminal court juveniles (64%) were more likely than adults (24%) to be charged with a violent felony.
SOURCE: Jones and Krisberg (1994, p. 25).
Another study compares the sentences of 16- and 17-year-olds in New York and New Jersey. These two states have very different responses to youthful offenders. Whereas New York prosecutes most 16- and 17-year-olds in its criminal courts, New Jersey handles the vast majority of these youths in its juvenile courts. The researchers found that for youngsters who were accused of burglary and robbery, there were little differences in the severity of case dispositions in the juvenile courts of New Jersey compared to the criminal court proceedings in New York. Moreover, the study found that similar youths had lower rearrest rates if they were handled in the juvenile system rather than the adult court system (Fagan, 1991).
There is an impressive body of research that refutes the myth that nothing works with juvenile offenders. There are many studies showing the effectiveness of treatment responses for young offenders (Palmer, 1992). Gendreau and Ross (1987) have assembled an impressive array of studies showing the positive results of correctional interventions for juveniles. Others, such as Greenwood and Zimring (1985) and Altschuler and Armstrong (1984), isolated the critical components of successful programs. More recently, Lipsey and Wilson (1998) and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD, 2000) have summarized the promising treatment responses for serious and violent juvenile offenders. More details about these successful interventions are reviewed in Chapter 8. For now, it is important to see how the myth that juvenile offenders cannot be rehabilitated misguides policy changes that restrict the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and that impose harsher penalties on children.
A related myth that dominates political discourse on youth crime is that longer mandatory penalties of incarceration would reduce juvenile crime. This recommendation rests on the notion that there is a small number of offenders who are responsible for the vast majority of violent crime. Thus, if we could lock away these “bad apples” for a long period of time, the immediate crime problem would be greatly reduced. This idea has some natural intuitive appeal, since incarcerated offenders cannot commit offenses in the community. However, incarceration does not guarantee cessation of delinquent behavior. Further, there are several studies that point to the “dangerous few”—the small number of chronic
offenders, in particular, gang members, who contribute to a disproportionate amount of violent crime (Loeber & Farrington, 2001).
There are several flaws in the argument that longer mandatory sentences would reduce violent youth crime. Presently, the vast majority of youngsters who are incarcerated in juvenile and adult correctional facilities have been convicted of nonviolent offenses (Jones & Krisberg, 1994). Broad-based policies mandating longer periods of confinement are most likely to increase the extent of incarceration for property offenders, drug offenders, and youths who are chronic minor offenders. Further, high-risk juvenile offenders do not remain high risk forever. Using incapacitation as a crime-control strategy assumes that criminal careers, once begun, will increase and include more violent behavior over time. Research studies on juvenile crime careers reveal a different picture. The prevalence of serious violent crime peaks between the ages of 16 and 17, and after age 20 the prevalence drops off sharply (Elliott, 1994). The likelihood that individuals will commit violent crimes during the ages of 21 to 27 is approximately the same as for children ages 12 and 13 (Elliott, 1994). Haapanen's (1988) long-term follow-up studies of youths released from the California Department of the Youth Authority show that longer sentences for youthful offenders would have little or no impact on overall societal rates of violent crime. In addition, the youth population is projected to increase substantially over the next 20 years. Thus, for every current juvenile offender that is taken out of circulation, there are increasing numbers entering their peak crime-committing years.
Juvenile justice professionals generally reject the notion that the incarceration system by itself can exert a major effect on reducing crime rates (NCCD, 1997). There is a growing body of knowledge that shows prevention and early intervention programs to be far more cost-effective than incapacitation in reducing rates of youth crime (Greenwood, Model, Rydell, & Chiesa, 1996). And there is some evidence that secure confinement of youngsters at early ages actually increases their subsequent offending behavior (Krisberg, 2016).
These are just some of the major myths that continue to confuse and confound the process of rational policy development for the juvenile justice system. There are others that claim to offer “miracle cures” for juvenile delinquency. Citizens are fed a regular diet of these miracle cures by the entertainment media and local news broadcasts, politicians, and entrepreneurs. Many communities have implemented programs such as Scared Straight that claimed that brief 1-day visits by youngsters to prison to be yelled at by inmates can cure emotional and family problems—despite compelling research that the program was not effective (Finckenaur, Gavin, Hovland, & Storvoll, 1999). Juvenile justice officials quickly jumped on the bandwagon to start up boot camps with scant evidence that these efforts could reduce recidivism (MacKenzie, 2000). Programs such as Tough Love and Drug Abuse Resistance Education have garnered media attention and significant funding without possessing solid empirical foundations. Perhaps the most destructive miracle cure to surface in recent years has been the mistaken belief that placing youths in adult prisons would advance public safety (Howell, 1998; Krisberg, 1997).
To achieve the ideal goal of juvenile justice, which is to protect vulnerable children and at the same time help build safer communities, these myths must be debunked. If the emperor indeed has no clothes, we need to acknowledge this fact and move to sounder social policies. The following chapters show how to assemble the evidence on which effective responses to youth crime can be built. We review the best research- based knowledge on what works and what does not. There is a path out of the morass of failed juvenile justice policies, but we must look critically at current policy claims, and we must apply high standards of scientific evidence to seek new answers.
Chapter 3 gives an important historical context to the ongoing quest for the juvenile justice ideal. The history of juvenile justice has not been a straightforward march to the more enlightened care of troubled youths. There have been race, class, and gender biases that have marked some of the contours of this history. Learning how we have arrived at the current system of laws, policies, and practices is a crucial step in conceiving alternatives to the status quo.
Figure 1.1 compares the odds of conviction for a violent crime in criminal vs. juvenile courts (Jones & Krisberg, 1994).
Case Study: Juvenile Justice: Myths and Realities
A 17-month-old girl was found dead in her crib from blunt force trauma and internal injuries. An 8-year-old boy was charged by the police as the murderer. The boy had been left to take care of the baby as the infant's mother went out dancing with her friend. There were four other very young children in the house ages 2, 4, 6, and 7. There were no adults in the house when the crime occurred. The 8-year-old admitted that he shook the infant and threw her against the crib to stop her from crying. He was taken into custody by the local child welfare agency pending the disposition of the manslaughter charge. The boy was charged with manslaughter, and his case will be heard in the family court. The infant's mother was arrested and charged with child endangerment, but the charges were soon dismissed.
Summary Sadly, too much of what passes for public policy on juvenile justice has been founded on misinformation and mythology. Throughout our history, fear of the young, concern about immigrants, gender bias, and racial and class antagonism have dominated the evolution of juvenile justice. The media and politicians exploit these prejudices and fears for their own purposes.
The most powerful myth in the mid-1990s was the alleged wave of young superpredators. Some suggested that America would face an unprecedented increase in juvenile violence at their hands. This myth fueled a moral panic that shaped many public policies designed to get tougher with juvenile offenders. There were a large number of new laws that made it easier to try children in criminal courts and that increased the number of young people in prisons and jails. Critics of the juvenile court argued that it was too lenient in its sentencing practices, although there was little evidence backing these claims. Calls for longer periods of incarceration were also part of this moral panic. The research did not support the assertion that more incarceration would lead to lower juvenile crime rates.
Review Questions 1. What was the superpredator myth? How did its proponents support their claims? Did the predicted juvenile crime wave occur, and if not,
what did affect juvenile crime trends in the late 1990s? 2. What unsubstantiated claims are used to support harsher sentencing for juveniles? 3. Does increased incarceration reduce rates of juvenile crime? How has this conclusion been reached?
Internet Resources The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is the leading government resource on information and has the latest research on juvenile crime and the juvenile Justice system.
The National Council on Crime and Delinquency is the oldest and most respected nonprofit research and policy group in the criminal justice and juvenile justice systems. The council is an excellent resource of research and policy options.
The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice is the preeminent group on the current issues facing the juvenile justice system in California and many other states.
2 Defining and Measuring Offenses by and Against Juveniles
Chapter Learning Objectives On completion of this chapter, students should be able to do the following:
Understand and discuss the importance of accurately defining and measuring delinquency Understand the impact of differences in definitions of delinquency Discuss legal and behavioral definitions of delinquency Discuss official and unofficial sources of data on delinquency and abuse and the problems associated with each
What Would You Do?
Tommy could hear his mom sobbing and crying through the thin wooden door in the mobile home. He looked up at his older brother, Robbie, and asked him, “When do you think he will stop?”
Robbie said in a low voice, “Shhh . . . she will apologize and then he will eventually calm down and they will go to the bedroom. After that, it will be okay.”
But this time it was different. Both Tommy and Robbie heard a loud yelp that made their blood run cold. Tommy looked under the crack of the door and could see his father’s boots moving, apparently kicking his mother in the ribs as she struggled to get away on all fours.
“He’s kicking her really bad, Robbie. . . . I’m afraid he might kill Momma this time.” Robbie listened to the shrieks and groans of his mother in misery and looked down at his 5-year-old brother.
“Tommy, you gotta stay in here, okay? Don’t come out after me, and don’t get between me and Dad. I don’t wanna hurt you by accident, okay?”
“But . . .” Tommy tried to argue, but Robbie quickly put a hand over the child’s mouth.
“We can’t argue about this. There’s no time. . . . You don’t want Momma to die, do you?”
Tommy shook his head no.
“Then you do as I tell you, until the coast is clear, okay?”
“Okay,” said Tommy.
“Promise!” demanded Robbie.
“I promise,” said Tommy.
In a flash, Robbie went to the back of the room and reached up high in the closet to pull out a.22 Winchester rifle that his grandfather had given him for squirrel hunting a few years back. The 15- year-old motioned for his little brother to get on the bed against the wall.
“But Robbie . . .” said Tommy.
“Shhh! Be quiet, dammit! Don’t go getting scared on me. Just hide behind the bed,” said Robbie, heart pounding, sweat already building on his forehead.
Robbie opened the door, held the rifle up against his shoulder, and, with it pointed forward, walked down the cheaply paneled hall of the mobile home, arriving in the living room in five quick long gaits. He stood there, gun pointed at his father, who, for a moment, was surprised but then started grinning.
Robbie’s mother, still on the ground in the corner of the living room, said faintly, “Robbie, no.”
His father then said, “Yeah, Robbie, why don’t you stud up? It’s about that time now, huh?” as he moved slowly toward Robbie.
“You stay there or I’ll shoot!” said Robbie.
His mother said, “Frank, please leave him alone; he’s just worried about me,” at which point Frank quickly turned, pointed a finger at her, and said, “You both should be worried. I’m gonna kill both of your asses!”
Frank turned back and faced Robbie. Robbie’s hands were sweating and he was shaking a little. He only had this .22, not exactly a powerful gun, and no hollow points at that. Robbie was terrified. If he did not shoot, he knew Frank would likely put him in the hospital, might kill his mom, and might even hurt Tommy as well. If he did shoot, he would need to do so more than once because one shot would not be enough to stop him.
Frank took another step, saying, “You ain’t got it in ya! Yer yella, just like your mommaaaa. . . .”
The gun went off. The clip that Robbie had loaded the day before let him fire rounds as fast as he could repetitively pull the trigger. The first shot went right through Frank’s right eye; the second went into the front of his neck at an angle, as did the third. The fourth went into his heart. The others missed, for the most part, but Frank was on the ground, heaving.
A few minutes later, the police arrived on the scene of a homicide.
While they took down the information from all parties at the house as well as others who lived in the trailer park, they were compelled to put Robbie in cuffs and take him into booking.
What Would You Do? 1. Judging by the circumstances, would you define this crime as one committed by a
juvenile, or should Robbie be waived to adult court? Explain your answer. 2. How would you identify and measure the various crimes committed at this scene? 3. How could victim blaming become a problem in a case such as this? 4. What would you have done if you were in Robbie’s position?
One of the major problems confronting those interested in learning more about offenses by and against juveniles involves defining the phenomena. Without specific definitions, accurate measurement is impossible, making development of programs to prevent and control delinquency and offenses against juveniles extremely difficult.
There are two major types of definitions associated with delinquency. Strict legal definitions hold that only those who have been officially labeled by the courts are offenders. Behavioral definitions hold that those whose behavior violates statutes applicable to them are offenders whether or not they are officially labeled. Each of these definitions has its own problems and implications for practitioners and leads to different conclusions about the nature and extent of offenses. For example, using the legal definition, a juvenile who committed a relatively serious offense but was not apprehended would not be classified as delinquent, whereas another juvenile who committed a less serious offense and was caught would be so classified.
Changing Definitions A basic difficulty with legal definitions is that they differ from time to time and from place to place. An act that is delinquent at one time and in one place might not be delinquent at another time or in another place. For example, wearing gang colors or using gang signs may be a violation of city ordinances in some places but not in others. Or the law may change so that an act that was considered delinquent yesterday is not considered delinquent today. For instance, the Illinois Juvenile Court Act of 1899 defined as delinquent any juvenile under the age of 16 who violated a state law or city or village ordinance. By 1907, the definition of delinquency had changed considerably to include incorrigibility, knowingly associating with vicious or immoral companions, absenting oneself from the home without just cause, patronizing poolrooms, wandering about the streets at night, wandering in railroad yards, and engaging in indecent conduct. Definitions of delinquency have changed and expanded over the years. Alabama’s
current Juvenile Court Act defines a delinquent act as “an act committed by a child that is designated a violation, misdemeanor, or felony offense pursuant to the law of the municipality, county, or state in which the act was committed or pursuant to federal law” (Alabama Code, 208, Title 12, Chapter 15, Section 12:15:102, 2013). The definition continues to exclude 16- and 17-year-olds who violate nonfelony traffic or water safety laws, commit a capital offense, commit crimes classified as Class A felonies in Alabama or that involve using a deadly weapon or cause death or serious physical injury, engage in drug trafficking, and commit serious felonies involving certain authority figures such as teachers and court or law enforcement personnel. As Alabama demonstrates, legal definitions are limited in their applicability to a given time and place because of inconsistencies throughout the states. You will note as we proceed through this text that examples provided are from the Illinois Juvenile Court Act (Illinois Compiled Statutes [ILCS], ch. 705, 2013). Illinois has been a national leader in the field of juvenile justice (Fanton, 2006), and other states such as Missouri and Georgia are providing leadership as well. Although it is impossible to cite all of the statutes from the 50 states in the confines of the text, we have included examples of statutes from other states throughout and strongly encourage you to access online recent court cases and the statutes of the state in which you reside to compare and contrast them with the sample statutes cited in the text. This is important because statutes and court decisions relating to the juvenile justice system are in a constant state of change.
Age Ambiguity Another problem with legal definitions has been the ambiguity reflected with respect to age (age ambiguity) (as noted in In Practice 2.1). What is the lower age limit for a juvenile to be considered delinquent? At what age are children entitled to the protection of the juvenile court? Although custom has established a lower limit for petitions of delinquency at roughly 7 years of age, some states set the limit higher and a few set it lower. For example, some states have statutes that set the minimum age of juvenile court delinquency jurisdiction. In other states, the minimum age is not specified in statute but is governed by case law or common law. One state sets the minimum age at 6 years, three states set the minimum age at 7 years, one state sets the minimum age at 8 years, and 11 states set the minimum age at 10 years (Sappenfield, 2008).
Thinking with respect to the minimum age at which children should be afforded court protection changed with the emergence of crack cocaine and methamphetamines, both of which may have serious prenatal effects (Wells, 2006). According to Illinois statutes, for example, any infant whose blood, urine, or meconium contains any amount of a controlled substance is defined as neglected (ILCS, ch. 705, art. 2, sec. 405, 2013).
In Practice 2.1: Juvenile Prostitution, Age Ambiguity, and Distinguishing Victims From Offenders: New Developments In Associated Definitions and Response During the early months of 2016, police in the state of Wisconsin apprehended a victim of sex trafficking who was 16 years old; she had been trafficked since the age of 13. At the time of her abduction, she was sexually assaulted and, shortly thereafter, manipulated through coercion, threat, and intimidation into prostitution. Through brainwashing, threats followed by make-up periods, and other techniques both overt and subtle, an emotional attachment was developed between the girl and her pimp. He became, in essence, her boyfriend.
Unexpected amid this victimization was that this girl, according to Wisconsin law, was considered a criminal for her acts of prostitution.
As a result of this and other similar cases, lawmakers and various advocacy groups pushed for these laws to change so that individuals in these circumstances would be seen solely as victims and in the future would be shielded from criminal charges.
Social movements like the one in Wisconsin have emerged in a number of states throughout the nation. In fact, this push for social change in how prostitution in general, and underage prostitution in particular, is viewed is so widespread that a term has emerged to describe the proposed legal changes among state legislatures: safe harbor. These so-called safe-harbor proposals call for legislation that would prohibit charging any person under 18 years of age with prostitution. Whereas this is the most common form of safe-harbor law, other states have implemented versions that decriminalize minors who are 16 or younger, holding those 17 and older culpable and therefore chargeable for prostitution.
Whereas it would seem, on the face of it, that these laws would get automatic support, this has not been the case. Indeed, many states have encountered opposition to such blanket laws to decriminalize prostitution among underage youth because this would undermine the ability of police to intervene and exert their authority over the youth. In other words, law enforcement needs to have the legal ability to detain the underage prostitute for a period as a means of separating her from her pimp, stepping up efforts to charge the pimp, and to arrange for services for the underage individual in their custody. With no criminal violation from which to operate, the power of the police is much more limited.
Currently, there are about a dozen or so states that have decriminalization statutes in place for minors involved in prostitution (Aslanian, 2016). However, this has proven to be no panacea for this issue because many of these youth involved in prostitution do not see themselves as in need of help. Many come from horrible backgrounds and see their pimps as boyfriends and the other women with whom they work as part of their family. There are a multitude of social, emotional, and economic challenges that keep these youth working in prostitution.
Further, though most states do not yet have safe-harbor laws, this does not necessarily mean that these states simply turn a blind eye to this issue. Rather, many of these states have diversion programs or other forms of alternative assistance available. The line of thought is that whereas youth may still be charged with prostitution, they will be able to benefit from more solid law enforcement intervention and follow-up assistance that will, at least in theory, be more successful in permanently removing youth from prostitution.
This In Practice brings to light how age ambiguity affects public views of at least one type of crime. Many states provide no distinction between prostitutes under the age of 18 and those over the age of majority. In other states, the bar is set at 16, holding girls 17 and older as guilty of their activity in prostitution.
Further, this In Practice also aligns with what is discussed in the next subsection of this chapter dealing with inaccurate images of offenders and victims. As has been shown, states have typically had a difficult time delineating between those who are victims and those who are offenders with underage prostitution. In some cases, states may view these individuals as one or the other, but in other cases they may view them as both.
The fact that many of these victims will outright lie to law enforcement and/or courthouse officials to protect their pimp and/or defend their lifestyle makes these determinations even more difficult. Simply put, some of these youth do not see themselves as victims and do not want assistance from law enforcement or otherwise. For those youth who come from abusive or neglectful families, the unwillingness to disclose this prior abuse means that individuals may not be recognized as in need of services. In addition, official statistics related to child abuse and neglect will continue to have inaccuracies in the data that could have been otherwise remedied. Finally, the willingness of both youth and the justice system to reframe the view of this activity can contribute to various potential sources of error in official statistical counts. In addition, justice might also be served in a manner that is more appropriate for each actor involved.
S o u rc e s :S o u rc e s : Aslanian (2016); Speckhard (2016).
Questions to Consider 1. True or False: Some youth drawn into prostitution view their pimp as their friend or family
member. 2. Multiple Choice: Proposed legal changes among state legislatures regarding underage
prostitution have been referred to as what kind of proposals? a. Antivictimization b. Sexual racketeering reformation c. Anti–sexual trafficking d. Safe harbor
3. Explain the advantages and disadvantages to the decriminalization of juvenile prostitution statutes.
There is also considerable diversity with respect to the upper age limit in delinquency cases. Three states set the maximum age at 15 years, 10 states set the maximum age at 16 years, and 37 states (and the District of Columbia) set the maximum age at 17 years (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention [OJJDP], 2013). Some states set higher upper age limits for juveniles who are abused, neglected, dependent, or in need of intervention than for delinquents in an attempt to provide protection for juveniles who are still minors even though they are no longer subject to findings of delinquency. Illinois recently changed its maximum age limit depending on whether the offense
committed by the juvenile would be a felony (17 years of age) or a misdemeanor (18 years of age) (ILCS, ch. 705, 405/5 , 2013). And in most states, juvenile court authority over a juvenile may extend beyond the upper age of original jurisdiction (frequently to the age of 21).
An example of the confusion resulting from all of these considerations is the Illinois Juvenile Court Act (ILCS, ch. 705, 2013). This act establishes no lower age limit; establishes the 17th birthday as the upper limit at which an adjudication of delinquency for serious offenses may be made while setting the limit at the 18th birthday for misdemeanors; makes it possible to automatically transfer juveniles over the age of 15 years to adult court for certain types of violent offenses; and sets the 18th birthday as the upper age limit for findings of abuse, dependency, neglect, and minors requiring intervention. Adding to the confusion is the distinction made in the Illinois Juvenile Court Act between minors (those under 21 years of age) and adults (those 21 years of age and over). This raises questions about the status of persons over the age of 18 but under 21 years. For example, a 19-year-old in Illinois is still a minor (although he or she may vote) but cannot be found delinquent, dependent, neglected, abused, or in need of intervention. Such ambiguities with respect to age make comparisons across jurisdictions difficult.
Are race and ethnicity really major factors in delinquency? Official statistics point to higher crime rates among minorities; however, self-report studies claim otherwise.
© iStockphoto.com/Mercedes Lorenzo Finotti
Inaccurate Images of Offenders and Victims
Yet another difficulty with legal definitions is that they may lead to a highly unrealistic picture of the nature and extent of delinquency, abuse, neglect, and dependency. Because these definitions depend on official adjudication, they lead us to concentrate on only a small portion of those actually involved as offenders and victims. This means that a substantial amount of illegal behavior committed by youth is not detected.
Similar problems arise when considering abuse and neglect because only a small portion of such cases are reported and result in official adjudication. In short, most juvenile offenders and victims never come to the attention of the juvenile court, and a strict legal definition is of little value if we are interested in the actual size of offender and victim populations. It may well be, for example, that females are more involved in delinquent activities than official statistics would lead us to believe. It may be that they are not as likely to be arrested by the police as their male counterparts. Not infrequently, we have seen police officers search male gang members for drugs and/or weapons while failing to search females who are with the gang members. It does not take long for the males involved to decide who should carry drugs and weapons. Similarly, blacks and other minority group members may be overrepresented in official statistics simply because they live in high-crime areas that are heavily policed and, therefore, are more likely to be arrested than those living in less heavily policed areas. For example, of all juveniles (individuals under the age of 18) arrested in 2011 in the nation, 65.7% were white, 32.0% were black, and 2.3% were of other races. Juveniles who were black accounted for 51.4% of juvenile arrests for violent crimes, although black youth accounted for about 16% of the youth population ages 10 to 17. Table 2.1 shows the proportion of arrests for black juveniles in 2011.
Table 2.1 Proportion of Black Juvenile Arrests in 2011
Most Serious Offense Proportion of Black Juvenile Arrests in2011
Murder/nonnegligent manslaughter 54.3%
Aggravated assault 43.4
Motor vehicle theft 43.6
Weapons carrying/possession 38.1
Drug abuse violation 24.4
Curfew and loitering 44.8 S o u rc e :S o u rc e : Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (2015). Adapted from Table 43B. N o t e :N o t e : Whether these official statistics accurately reflect levels of black juvenile participation in the crimes listed depends on factors such as disproportionate impact discussed throughout this chapter (see especially the forthcoming section on official statistics) and in Chapters 3 and 8.
A final difficulty with legal definitions also characterizes behavioral definitions and results from the broad scope of behaviors potentially included. Does striking a child on the buttocks with an open hand constitute child abuse? What does beyond the control of parents mean? How is incorrigible to be defined? What does a “minor requiring authoritative intervention” (MRAI) look like? Although all of these questions may be answered by referring to definitions contained in state statutes, in practice they are certainly open to interpretation by parents, practitioners, and juveniles themselves. It should be noted that the broader the interpretation, the greater the number of victims and offenders.
Behavioral Definitions In contrast to legal definitions, behavioral definitions focus on juveniles who offend or are victimized even if they are not officially adjudicated. Using a behavioral definition, a juvenile who shoplifts but is not apprehended is still considered delinquent, whereas that juvenile would not be considered delinquent using a legal definition. The same is true of a child who is abused but not officially labeled as abused. If we concentrate on juveniles who are officially labeled, we get a far different picture from that if we include all of those who offend or are victimized. Estimates of the extent of delinquency and abuse based on a legal definition are far lower than those based on a behavioral definition. In addition, the nature of delinquency and abuse appears to be different depending on the definition employed.
We might assume, for example, that the more serious the case, the greater the likelihood of official labeling. If this assumption is correct, relying on official statistics would lead us to believe that the proportion of serious offenses by and against juveniles is much higher than it actually is (using the behavioral definition). Finally, relying on legal definitions (and the official statistics based on such definitions) would lead us to overestimate
3 Characteristics of Juvenile Offenders
Chapter Learning Objectives On completion of this chapter, students should be able to do the following:
Recognize differences between delinquency profiles based on official statistics and behavioral profiles Recognize and discuss the multitude of factors related to delinquency Discuss the impact of social factors (e.g., family, schools, social class) on delinquency Discuss the effects of physical factors (e.g., gender, age, race) on delinquency
What Would You Do?
You are a juvenile probation officer for youth referred through the court system. Recently, the Mendez family was referred to you at the time of Isabella’s third arrest, this time for drug possession. Isabella is a 15-year-old Latina who lives with her mother, Juanita, and younger brother, Gustavo. Juanita is a single parent whose husband is currently locked up in a medium-security prison for a robbery charge. Gustavo is 12 years old and loves his sister but views her as trouble for her mother. Juanita is upset about her daughter’s behavior and because she is afraid of losing custody of her daughter to the state.
Recently, the family was referred to the regional office of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Because Juanita only speaks Spanish, the family was assigned to a Latina bilingual case worker who made a point to call the family. When she called, she noted that there was screaming and fighting in the house during the call. The caseworker noted that the mother, Juanita, sounded overwhelmed. When the caseworker tried to arrange a session for the family, Juanita explained that she could not ever get Isabella to attend.
You indicate to Juanita that you plan to visit the home but would like to time it so that Isabella would be there when her mother was also there. Juanita works during the day as a domestic worker in a hotel, and Isabella is seldom home unless it is later at night, if at all. You set the time for about 8:30 p.m. the next evening. When you arrive, you find Ms. Mendez at home alone with Gustavo. Juanita explains that Isabella came to the house for a few brief moments and, without warning, left with her friends, giving no explanation. Juanita indicates that she has no idea when her daughter would be home. Young Gustavo also confirms his mother’s story and states that Isabella is always causing problems for his mother. He feels that because she does not want to be with them, she should just go away.
What Would You Do? 1. In today’s multicultural society, how important is it to have multilingual abilities in juvenile justice agencies? 2. In your opinion, do you think that because Isabella’s father is in prison that this is, perhaps, affecting her current behavior? 3. How likely do you think it is that Isabella’s behavior will affect Gustavo’s behavior when he is a teenager? 4. Do you believe that Juanita is a responsible parent?
The complex shown in this picture processes juvenile offenders, taking into consideration their various characteristics and their circumstances when determining the outcome for these young offenders.
Rampart Police Station by Ucla90024, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rampart_Police_Station.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en
In any discussion of the general characteristics of juvenile offenders, we must be aware of possible errors in the data and must be cautious concerning the impression presented. In general, profiles of juvenile offenders are drawn from official files based on police contacts, arrests,
and/or incarceration. Although these profiles may accurately reflect the characteristics of juveniles who are or will be incarcerated or who have a good chance for an encounter with the justice system, as we saw in Chapter 2, they might not accurately reflect the characteristics of all juveniles who commit offenses.
Studies have established that the number of youthful offenders who formally enter the justice system is small in comparison with the total number of violations committed by juveniles (Langton, Berzofsky, Krebs, & Smiley-McDonald, 2012). Hidden-offender surveys, in which juveniles are asked to anonymously indicate the offenses they have committed, have indicated repeatedly that far more offenses are committed than are reported in official agency reports. In addition, even those juveniles who commit offenses resulting in official encounters are infrequently formally processed through the entire system. The determination of who will officially enter the justice system depends on many variables that are considered by law enforcement and other juvenile justice personnel. It is important to remember that official profiles of youthful offenders might not actually represent those who commit youthful offenses but rather represent only those who enter the system.
It is common practice to use official profiles of juveniles as a basis for development of delinquency prevention programs. Based on the characteristics of known offenders, prevention programs that ignore the characteristics of the hidden and/or unofficial delinquent have been initiated. For example, there is official statistical evidence indicating that the major proportion of delinquents comes from lower socioeconomic families and neighborhoods. The correlates of poverty and low social status include substandard housing, poor sanitation, poor medical care, high unemployment, and exposure to violence (Zahn et al., 2010). It has been suggested that if these conditions were altered, delinquency might be reduced. However, as Harcourt and Ludwig (2006) found out in their study of broken-windows policing, changing the disorder does not necessarily reduce or eliminate criminal behavior. (Recall our comments on middle-class delinquency in Chapter 2.)
The factors causing delinquency seem to be numerous and interwoven in complex ways (Tapia, 2011). Multiple factors must be considered if we are to improve our understanding of delinquency. For example, Mallett (2008), in a study using a random sample of all adjudicated delinquent youths who received probation supervision from the Cuyahoga County (greater Cleveland) Juvenile Court in 2004 and 2005, found that over 57% of delinquent youths on probation supervision had either a mental health disorder or a special education disability. Thornberry, Huizinga, and Loeber (2004) found that drug, school, and mental health problems are strong risk factors for male adolescents’ involvement in persistent and serious delinquency, although more than half of persistent serious offenders do not have such problems. Still, more than half of the males studied who did have persistent problems with drugs, school, or mental health were also persistent and serious delinquents. Fewer than half of persistent and serious female delinquents studied had drug, school, or mental health problems, but these problems alone or in combination were not strong risk factors for serious delinquency. However, Zahn and colleagues (2010, p. 11) concluded that “attachment to school has protective effects against delinquency for both genders, although several recent studies find a stronger effect for girls.” Mitchell and Shaw (2011) also noted that adolescent offenders have high levels of mental health problems, many of which go undetected and lead to poor outcomes. Most criminologists contend that a number of factors combine to produce delinquency (see In Practice 3.1). Further, at least some research indicates that risk factors for delinquency may be different for boys and girls (Carbone-Lopez, Esbensen, & Brick, 2010; Martin, Golder, Cynthia, & Sawning, 2013; National Girls Institute, 2013; Zahn et al., 2010).
In Practice 3.1: Ending Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System Issues related to racial disparity in the treatment of youth processed through the juvenile justice system are still problematic, despite efforts to eliminate this problem. Evidence that this problem still warrants substantive attention exists when one considers that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) continues to allocate funds for grant-funded projects to address disparity problems in processing youthful offenders in the juvenile justice system. The Smart on Juvenile Justice: Technical Assistance to End Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System is one such project initiated by the OJJDP to do this. The overall goal of this project is to establish, operate, and maintain OJJDP’s initiative to end racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile system, serving as a comprehensive clearinghouse on issues related to eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice and to strategically focusing DMC reduction efforts.
This project supports the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which requires participating states to address the disproportionate number of minority youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. Disproportionate minority contact (DMC) exists if the rate at which a specific minority group comes into contact with the juvenile justice system significantly differs from the rate of contact for non-Latino Caucasians or other minority groups. Research indicates that various contributing factors cause DMC, including but not limited to implicit bias; racial stereotyping; and laws, policies, and procedures that can have a disparate impact. As a result, racial and ethnic disparities throughout the juvenile justice system can occur.
The OJJDP has found that African American youth are arrested more than twice as often as non-Latino Caucasian youth and are diverted from the juvenile justice system less often than Caucasian youth. Going further, Native American youth are diverted less often and are transferred to adult court at more than 1.5 times the rate of Caucasian youth. National estimates from state data through the OJJDP show that Latino youth are placed in secure detention more than 1.5 times as often as Caucasian youth, with similar rates of transfers to adult court as Native American youth. Data such as these provide clear evidence from valid government sources that there is still work to be done to establish consistency in the justice system’s response to our youth who run errant of the law.
S o u rc e :S o u rc e : Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2017).
Questions to Consider 1. True or False: Latino youth, but not Native American youth, are transferred to adult court more frequently than Caucasian youth. 2. Multiple Choice: The OJJDP has found that African American youth are arrested more than _____________ as often as non-Latino Caucasian youth:
a. twice b. three times c. four times d. None of the above
3. What reasons do you think are likely to explain the disproportionate minority contact noted in In Practice 3.1?
Unfortunately, simplistic explanations are often appealing and sometimes lead to prevention and rehabilitation efforts that prove to be of very little value. With this in mind, let us now turn our attention to some of the factors viewed as important determinants of delinquent behavior. It must be emphasized once again that most of the information we have concerning these factors is based on official statistics. For a more accurate portrait of the characteristics of actual juvenile offenders, we must also concentrate on the vast majority of juveniles who commit delinquent acts but are never officially labeled as delinquent.
Social Factors As they grow up, children are exposed to a number of social factors that may increase their risk for problems such as abusing drugs and engaging in delinquent behavior. Risk factors appear to function in a cumulative fashion—that is, the greater the number of risk factors, the greater the likelihood that youth will engage in delinquent or other risky behavior. There is also evidence that problem behaviors associated with risk factors tend to cluster. For example, delinquency and violence cluster with other problems, such as drug abuse, mental health issues, teen pregnancy, and school misbehavior.
Shown in Chart 3.1 are a number of factors experienced by juveniles as individuals, as family members, in school, among their peers, and in their communities. For further information concerning the indicators of these risks and data sources associated with such indicators, visit the website from which the chart was adapted.
Chart 3.1 Risk Factors for Health and Behavior Problems
Antisocial behavior and alienation, delinquent beliefs, general delinquency involvement, and/or drug dealing
Gun possession, illegal gun ownership, and/or carrying
Favorable attitudes toward drug use and/or early onset of alcohol and other drug (AOD) use
Early onset of aggression and/or violence
Intellectual and/or developmental disabilities
Victimization and exposure to violence
Poor refusal skills
Early sexual involvement
Mental disorder and/or mental health problem
Family history of problem behavior and/or parent criminality
Family management problems and poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
Poor family attachment or bonding
Child victimization and maltreatment
Pattern of high family conflict
Having a young mother
Sibling antisocial behavior
Parental use of harsh physical punishment and/or erratic discipline practices
Low parent education level and/or illiteracy
Low academic achievement
Negative attitude toward school, low bonding, low school attachment, and/or low commitment to school
Truancy or frequent absences
Dropping out of school
Inadequate school climate, poorly organized and functioning schools, and/or negative labeling by teachers
Identified as learning disabled
Frequent school transitions
Gang involvement and/or gang membership
Peer alcohol, tobacco, and other drug (ATOD) use
Association with delinquent or aggressive peers
Availability or use of ATOD in neighborhood
Availability of firearms
Low community attachment
Economic deprivation, poverty, and/or residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood
Neighborhood youth in trouble
Feeling unsafe in the neighborhood
Social and physical disorder or disorganized neighborhood
S o u rc e :S o u rc e : Adapted from youth.gov.
Family One of the most important factors influencing delinquent behavior is the family setting. It is within the family that the child internalizes those basic beliefs, values, attitudes, and general patterns of behavior that give direction to subsequent behaviors. Because the family is the initial transmitter of the culture (through the socialization process) and greatly shapes the personality characteristics of the child, considerable emphasis has been given to family structure, functions, and processes in delinquency research. Although it is not possible to review all such research here, we concentrate on several areas that have been the focus of attention.
Homelessness and poverty have been linked to delinquent behavior, although not all homeless youth or those living in poverty commit crimes.
A great deal of research focuses on the crucial influence of the family in the formation of behavioral patterns and personality. Contemporary theories attach great importance to the parental role in determining the personality characteristics of children. More than half a century ago, Glueck and Glueck (1950) focused attention on the relationship between family and delinquency, a relationship that has remained in the
spotlight ever since (see In Practice 3.2).
To young children, home and family are the basic sources of information about life. Thus, many researchers and theorists have focused on the types of values, attitudes, and beliefs maintained and passed on by the family over generations. Interest has focused on the types of behavior and attitudes transmitted to children through the socialization process resulting in a predisposition toward delinquent behavior. For example, the New Jersey Parents’ Caucus (2013) said the following:
In Practice 3.2: The Prevent Delinquency Project “These days, our lives are busier than ever. It’s difficult for families to find time to be together. Yet, never before has it been more important. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University released a 2011 report stating that simply having dinner together as a family, five to seven times each week, substantially lowers your child’s risk of experimenting with drugs, including using tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.
“Studies also cite that children, including teenagers, whose parents provide little or no emotional support or involvement in their lives, and fail to monitor the child’s activities, are at far greater risk to become bullies. It’s sobering to discover that 60 percent of boys who have been classified as bullies ages 12 to 15 have at least one criminal conviction by the time they reach age 24, according to the US Dept. of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.”
The Prevent Delinquency Project is a group of dedicated volunteers who subscribe to one simple notion—that the majority of juvenile delinquency cases are preventable, through the implementation of proactive parenting techniques. Unfortunately, many parents, despite being well intentioned, don’t adequately supervise and guide their children toward leading healthy, happy, and productive lives. And those who do often lack an understanding of the threats their children face until it is too late. The goal of the Prevent Delinquency Project is to assist parents in improving their knowledge in each of these areas, so that they will be in a better position to safeguard their children from harm, and intervene at the first sign that trouble exists.
Some parents express discomfort with the idea of monitoring what their kids are up to. We ask them to consider the following: After September 11, 2001, few would argue against the merits of noninvasive intelligence programs, carefully constructed to protect civil liberties, in gathering information necessary to identify our enemies and safeguard us against outside forces. After all, we were, and continue to be, under the threat of constant attack, on our own soil and abroad. In a smaller and more personal sense, so are our families. Gangs, drugs, reckless sexual practices, and violence have taken footholds in our communities and represent increasing threats to the health and safety of our children. Is it wrong to educate ourselves, identify what may harm our kids, and take proactive measures to protect them?
The present juvenile justice system supports this level of intervention. By far the most common court-ordered disposition in delinquency matters is probation supervision. Few cases warrant the removal of children from the community and placement in more restrictive settings. The majority of wayward youth can be turned around and put back on track with supervision that monitors their adherence to curfews, mandates that they attend school, and ensures compliance with other reasonable terms and conditions, such as counseling, deemed in their best interests. If thought of in its simplest form, probation supervision is the court acting as a surrogate parent. In a lot of instances, this would not be necessary if parents knew what to do early on. Through the Prevent Delinquency Project, that is exactly what volunteers attempt to teach, by meeting with parent/teacher associations, community organizations, and individual parents who seek out our assistance.
S o u rc e :S o u rc e : Prevent Delinquency Project (n.d.). © Carl A. Bartol.
Questions to Consider 1. True or False: Most juvenile sanctions would not be needed with youth if their parents knew what to do early on when raising their child. 2. Multiple Choice: About ___________ of boys ages 12 to 15 who have been classified as bullies have at least one criminal conviction by the time they reach age
24. a. 40% b. 50% c. 60% d. 70%
3. What are some of the interventions mentioned that can be used to reform juvenile offenders who are on community supervision?
The NJPC Parents’ Empowerment Academy is a comprehensive training and education program that enables parents of children with emotional and behavioral challenges to appropriately and collaboratively negotiate with government agencies and other system partners . . . [and] professionals and providers in the child-serving arena to strengthen their knowledge of family engagement and provides practical tools and strategies which they can implement in their local organizations. (n.p.)
The primary objectives of the academy include the opportunity for parents to
1. Enhance their skills 2. Provide valuable input toward the development and implementation of services for their children 3. Build their capacity to serve as keepers for the vision of “effective and timely services for children with emotional and behavioral
challenges” 4. Empower other parents through the use of education, advocacy, and supportive services 5. Better serve their local communities
The primary objectives of the academy include the opportunity for professionals and providers to
1. Explore engagement strategies and barriers, history and principles of family involvement, and specific strategies for high-risk families 2. Develop additional skills focused on building consensus and collaboration with parents and family members, the critical elements of
family engagement, the impact of community in family engagement, family-specific strategies, and recruitment and retention
Further support for this argument comes from Worthen (2012), who found that both parent–child bonding and friend relationships affect delinquency and that these relationships differ by both gender and stage of adolescence. And, using data from a sample of 18,512 students in Grades 6, 8, 10, and 12, Fagan, Van Horn, Antaramian, and Hawkins (2011, p. 150) found the following:
Across grades, parents treated girls and boys differently, but neither sex received preferential treatment for all practices assessed, and younger children reported more positive parenting than older students. Family factors were significantly related to delinquency and drug use for both sexes and for all grades. Their findings suggest that “complexities in parent/child interactions that must be taken into account when investigating the causes of adolescent offending and when planning strategies to prevent the development of problem behaviors.” (p. 150)
Considerable research indicates a relationship between delinquency and the marital happiness of the children’s parents. Official delinquency seems to occur disproportionately among juveniles in unhappy homes marked by marital discord, lack of family communication, unaffectionate parents, high stress and tension, and a general lack of parental cohesiveness and solidarity (Davidson, 1990; Fleener, 1999; Gorman-Smith, Tolan, & Loeber, 1998; Wright & Cullen, 2001). In unhappy familial environments, it is not unusual to find that parents derive little sense of satisfaction from their child-rearing experiences. Genuine concern and interest are seldom expressed except on an erratic and convenient basis at the whim of the parents. Also typical of this familial climate are inconsistent guidance and discipline marked by laxity and a tendency to use children against the other parent (Simons, Simons, Burt, Brody, & Cutrona, 2005). It is not surprising to find poor self-images, personality problems, and conduct problems in children of such families. Families are primary venues for identity disruption, loss, and inner turmoil. The effects of troublesome family circumstances such as separation or divorce, illness, and death are well known and might be summarized by the concept family trouble (Francis, 2012). If there is any validity to the adage “chip off the old block,” it should not be surprising to find children in unpleasant family circumstances internalizing the types of attitudes, values, beliefs, and modes of behavior demonstrated by their parents.
It seems that in contemporary society, the family home has in many cases been replaced by a house where a related group of individuals reside, change clothes, and occasionally eat. It is somewhat ironic that we often continue to focus on broken homes (homes disrupted through divorce, separation, or desertion) as a major cause of delinquency rather than on unbroken homes where relationships are marked by familial disharmony and disorganization. There is no doubt that the stability and continuity of a family may be shaken when the home is broken by the loss of a parent through death, desertion, long separation, or divorce. At a minimum, one half of the potential socializing and control team is separated from the family. The belief that one-parent families produce more delinquents is supported both by official statistics and by numerous studies. Canter (1982), for example, indicated the following:
Youths from broken homes reported significantly more delinquent behavior than youths from intact homes. The general finding of greater male involvement in delinquency was unchanged when the focus was restricted to children from broken homes. Boys from broken homes reported more delinquent behavior than did girls from broken homes. (p. 164)
Canter concluded, “This finding gives credence to the proposition that broken homes reduce parental supervision, which in turn may increase involvement in delinquency, particularly among males” (p. 164). In the Pittsburgh Youth Study, Browning and Loeber (1999) found that the demographic variable most strongly related to delinquency was having a broken family. According to the Forum on Child and Family Statistics (2006), when children live with two parents who are married to each other, they tend to have more favorable life course outcomes.
There is also, however, some evidence that there may be more social organization and cohesion, guidance, and control in happy one-parent families than in two-parent families marked by discord. It may be that the broken family is not as important a determinant of delinquency as are the events leading to the broken home. Disruption, disorganization, and tension, which may lead to a broken family or may prevail in a family staying intact “for the children’s sake,” may be more important causative factors of delinquency than the actual breakup (Browning & Loeber, 1999; Emery, 1982; Stern, 1964; Texas Youth Commission, 2004). According to Rebellon (2002), broken homes are strongly associated with a range of delinquent behaviors, including minor status offenses and more severe property or violent offenses. According to Brown (2004), adolescents in single-parent families are significantly more delinquent than their counterparts residing with two biological, married parents. Further, “Seven of the eight studies that used nationally representative data, for example, found that children in single-parent or other non-intact family structures were at greater risk of committing criminal or delinquent acts” (Americans for Divorce Reform, 2005). However, as just noted, several factors, including divorce or separation, recent remarriage, gender of parent, and the long-term presence of a stepparent, appear to be related to different types of delinquency.
Not all authorities agree that broken homes have a major influence on delinquency. Wells and Rankin (1991), reviewing the relationship between broken homes and delinquency, concluded that there is some impact of broken homes on delinquency, although it appears to be moderately weak, especially for serious crime. Bumphus and Anderson (1999) concluded that traditional measures of family structure relate more to criminal patterns of Caucasians than to those of African Americans. Rebellon (2002) found that single parenthood per se does not appear to be associated with delinquency; rather, certain types of changes in family composition appear to be related to delinquency. Schroeder, Osgood, and Oghia (2010), using data from the National Youth Study, determined that the process of family dissolution is not associated with concurrent increases in delinquency.
Demuth and Brown (2004), using data from the 1995 National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, extended prior research investigating the effects of growing up in two-parent versus single-mother families by also examining delinquency in single-father families. The results indicate that juveniles in single-parent families are significantly more delinquent than their counterparts residing with two
biological married parents. However, the authors found that family processes fully account for the higher levels of delinquency exhibited by adolescents from single-father versus single-mother families.
In 2011, 69 percent of …
Behavioral Theories of Juvenile Crime
Juvenile Delinquency and Justice
Dr. Danielle McDonald
November 1, 2020
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Behavioral Theories of Juvenile Crime
Explanation of Juvenile Crime
Juveniles commit crimes for a variety of reasons varying from a troubled home life and
the lack of adult attention to the common issue of peer pressure. Whatever the reason may be,
their behavior is a conscious decision that they make, risking the possibility of being held
responsible for their choices and consequences (Justice, 2020). Behavioral theories are necessary
to explain juvenile crime because there are so many things to take into consideration when
attempting to understand one’s behavior, especially juveniles; given the fact that they’re not fully
mentally developed yet. For example, if a child chooses to act out using bad behavior because
their sibling or family member exposes them to that sort of behavior, then they’re exemplifying
characteristics of learning theory. They’re continuously witnessing bad behavior; therefore,
they’re acquiring those same bad tendencies. Behavioral theories allow professionals to provide
these assessments to find the root or underlying cause of the behavior, which helps correct the
unwanted bad behavior.
Addressing Juvenile Behavior Through Theories
Many behavioral theories that can be used to explain juvenile crime; some being more
valuable and applicable than others. For instance, the biological theory is based upon the idea
that criminal behavior, or delinquency, is inherited genetically. Ideally, most people’s first
thought is “well there isn’t a gene you can pass down to a child that could put them more at risk
to be a criminal?”, but it’s more complicated than that. It’s based on a chemical science. In this
sense, many imbalances can cause a young person to act out which could potentially result in
delinquent behavior. Learning disabilities, glandular malfunctions, nutrition, to racial heritage
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can all be factors to be considered in biological theories (Cox, 2018). This has been proven to be
scientifically applicable to understanding juvenile delinquency while also continuously being
studied and improved.
Deterrence theory is also relative when explaining and understanding juvenile
delinquency as it explains the relationship between bad behavior and punishment. This is another
extension of the classical approach. When a juvenile (and most likely adults as well) commits a
crime no matter big or small, they will weigh the risk of the punishment before committing the
act (Cox, 2018). When doing so, if they are aware that little to no punishment is a likely result of
the act they’re going to make, the will to do it increases. So, if a parent is strict, enforces the
rules and punishment, and they’re mostly certain their actions will result in stiff consequences,
the likelihood to commit the crime or repeat a committed crime, decreases. Overall, this can be
drawn back to the parent’s and their level of authoritativeness when disciplining their children.
While there are many theories that can be applied to numerous juvenile behavioral
patterns that correlate with the commission of a crime, there was one that did not seem to fit any
modern-day explanation; this being demonology. Demonology is a theory that was used in the
late 14th century that focused on explaining the reason for juvenile crime or mental illness
through the possession of an evil spirit, or demon (Cox, 2018). With no criticism of any religious
faith, the argument is not that it is not possible or does not exist, instead, it merely does not apply
to the reasoning or explanation of why juveniles commit a crime. People in the late 1590’s
believed that individuals who violated social norms and committed crimes were possessed by an
evil spirit or higher power and the only way to end this unwanted behavior was to drive the
demon out of their body through spiritual rituals and trephining (drilling holes in the brain) (Cox,
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2018). Scientists have proven many valuable theories that contradict demonology and its beliefs
Reference on Case Study
In this week’s case study, a 15-year-old boy was arrested at his local high school. The
school faculty, students, and family members described this young boy as a “loner”. It seems like
this student is disassociated with the social norms of day to day high school, friends, and
relationships. Another student disclosed information about the boy’s website where he would
provide information and tips on how to hack official government websites. This was also the
reason he was arrested. He hacked into multiple government websites, including the Department
of Defense and other highly secured areas.
After gathering information about this boy and analyzing common behavioral theories,
the theory of neurocriminology seems to best fit this case. “Neurocriminology is based on the
idea that criminal behavior is only partially explained by social issues and that physiological
factors, particularly neurological factors, play a more important role in determining criminality”
(Cox, 2018). Scientific studies indicate that people who exhibit antisocial or criminal behavior
tend to have structural neural abnormalities that can affect brain functions that regulate emotional
reactions and/or analytical reasoning (Cox, 2018). Additionally, there have also been research
findings on people who are diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder usually have an
impaired amygdala, which is an area of the brain that regulates emotional response (Cox, 2018).
If this boy does in fact have some sort of antisocial personality disorder, it could lead to the
understanding of why he thinks and acts the way he does, including what drives him to commit
these crimes that have now cost him his freedom.
Neurocriminolgy theory best fits this case because it is most commonly seen in people
who have some sort of personality disorder. Being antisocial is a psychosocial derivative of
having a personality disorder. The fact that this boy was a “loner” with not many friends or
acquaintances stuck out as a red flag. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is the part of the brain
that is responsible for behavior, which could indicate that this child was lacking certain
neurotransmitters; causing his behavior to be antisocial (Cox, 2018). Thus, explaining the crime
due to his mental state and chemical imbalance.
If an intervention were to be set up and approached with caution, the series of events
leading up to his arrest could’ve been avoided. Because he didn’t have many friends, his family
likely interacted with him the most on a daily basis, so the intervention should’ve started at
home. His mother or father should’ve recognized his withdrawn behavior and voiced their
concern before sitting down and discussing the possibility of seeing a psychotherapist for a
mental evaluation. If diagnosed early enough, this boy could’ve been treated with medication to
balance the chemicals and neurotransmitters in his brain. If this approach was successful, his
desire to commit these crimes could’ve diminished, changing the series of events leading to his
Cox, S. M., Allen, J. M., Hanser, R. D., & Conrad, J. J. (2018). Juvenile justice: A guide to
theory, policy, and practice (9th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Justice, C. (2020). Juvenile Delinquency - Criminal Justice - IResearchNet. https://criminal-
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