A study of Youth Crime in Society

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In the past few years, dreadfully acts perpetrated by youth's in Canada and America have highlighted prominently in newspaper headlines. On February 20th, 2009, Kenzie Houk a 26-year old; young pregnant woman was found dead level to the ground in her fiancé's home in Wampum, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. Her fiancé's 11-year old son Jordan Brown was accused of killing the young woman with a shotgun which is legally allowed for use by children for hunting purposes. Jordan is currently being tried for two homicides and if found guilty could be the youngest person in the history of United States to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Dr. Anthony N. Dobb and Dr. Jane Sprott are psychologists and two of Canada's leading researchers in the field of youth crime and justice. They are well respected in their fields and have the accolades to prove it. Dr. Dobb is a professor at the prestigious University of Toronto and holds a degree from Harvard and a PhD from Stanford University. Dr. Sprott is an Associate professor at Ryerson University and has been a part of many projects relating to youth crime. Both Dobb and Sprott believe in a similar theory in juvenile crime and think that as an alternative to severe charges, punishments such as child welfare, mental rehabilitation and other methods should be used to rehabilitate young offenders. They believe that children who commit crime do it because of the rejections they face at school, from friends and even their families. As a result, criminal punishment would add rejection from the society to their list which could eventually lead to future issues.

Alarming figures and atrocious crime linking young offenders have created public outcry in recent years, which have resulted in changes in punishment towards juvenile offenders. The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA); was put into effect in 2003 and since then the crime rate for violence by youth has been decreasing in Canada. The 2004 murder of Tanner Hopkins was a clear example of a teenage party gone wrong when some uninvited guests tried to crash the party, when Hopkins attempted to keep the would-be intruders out he was ruthlessly stabbed in the chest that proved to be fatal (Young Offender Sentenced for Senseless Murder of Teen at Party. 2006). Under the YCJA and the offender being under age he wasn't tried as an adult and received 2 ½ years in jail followed by three years in supervision. Neither Sprott nor Dobb have officially commented on the topic but according to my research of their theory I believe they would agree with the punishment saying that the deed committed was completely irrational and that it was impulsive. By hearing crime stories like the one mentioned above one is lead to believe that juvenile crime in a big problem in Canada; although,

"An average of 1,300 young people in sentenced custody on any given day is down about 16 per cent from 2003 to 2004 and down 50 per cent since the YCJA went into effect. About 700 of these individuals were in secure custody, down 14 per cent, while 600 were in open custody, a 20 per cent drop (Youth Crime down: Stats Canada, 2006)

The objective of the YCJA is to encourage young offenders to acknowledge and the repair their mistakes and the harm they have caused to their community. It also thinks of the freedom of young persons and tries to punish the offenders while staying outside of judicial measures to make them realize the seriousness of their crime and proportional prison term or penalty to any similar actions if they were to commit one in the future.

In 2009, a 11-year old youth from Pennsylvania fired his shotgun at his father's girlfriend in their home, he killed his mother-to be and the child she was expecting. Events such as this have raised serious concerns about juvenile crime despite statistics suggesting that it is at a decline. Investigation in the case of Jordan Brown were lead the officials to believe that the boy "Brown was said to have been jealous of Miss Houk and the impending birth of his brother" (Boy in U.S to be tried as an adult, 2010). Sprott and Dobb believe that a youth's relationship with his or her family and friends greatly impacts their lives, their decision and enables them to do those things that they do. According the Dobb and Cesaroni (2004), "The most aggressive 10- to 11- year olds are the children who are the likely to have negative relations with family, friends, teachers and other children" (p.66). Dobb and Sprott have done several researches which have proved that "A reason not to criminalize the misbehavior of 10 and 11 year olds is that they are much more likely to indicate that they feel miserable, left out, rejected by parents, bullied by other children's etc" (Dobb and Cesaroni, 2004, p.66). Jordan Brown's case is to a large extent similar to the statistics that Dobb and Sprott have found. Their viewpoint on the case suggests that Brown being the only boy in the family could have felt threatened that his position in the family will be different now that a new boy was to enter the family. He was also jealous of his father's girlfriend because she was receiving the attention from his father that Brown though he deserved. Many members of the community of Wampum, Pennsylvania including the victim's mother believes "The boy needs life. He needs to be tried as an adult" (Gurman, 2011). Many individuals believe these sorts of cases can be served as precedents to future juvenile offenders who commit heinous crimes like this and an appropriate punishment can be given out for a crime of such severity.

Many argue that the emphasis put onto punishing the youth is misguided and in the interest of the children. Many researchers including Dobb and Sprott believe that mental rehab and welfare program are one of a few things that can be used to prevent future increase in youth violence. Their theory suggests that "A 10-year old who is violent is not just the smaller version of a 25-year old who is violent" (Dobb & Sprott. 2000). The psychological difference between a 25- year old that commits a crime varies vastly than an 11-year old that commits a crime. Dobb and Sprott believe that there are two aspects due to which juvenile crime shouldn't be given severe punishments. Dobb believes that when a youth is found guilty; judges are told to give out a sentence that holds the person accountable for their actions but promotes rehabilitation. In his book, responding to youth crime in Canada; Dobb outline that

"There are two notable reasons why the sentence should be fair to the youth. The first is that 'protection of the public' is the consequence of just sanctions which promote rehabilitation and reintegration into the society. Secondly, the focus is on long-term protection rather than short-term protection (e.g., through incapacitation" (Dobb & Cesaroni, 224).

Dobb and Sprott are sincere believers of the fact that if youths are rehabilitated when they are young the possibility of them committing crime later on decreases significantly. The 2009 police-reported crime statistics in Canada identified that "the age specific rates for those accused of crime were highest amongst 15-22 year olds, with the peak at age 17" (Dauvergne, Turner, 2009). This upsetting statistic has a clear reference to the amount of illegal activities that youth's were involved in their early years. A survey of "5,935 grade 8 students from 11 U.S cities states that 17 percent were involved in gangs, 8 percent were involved in gangs that did delinquent things and 2 percent admitted to being 'core' members of organized gangs" (Esbensen, Winfree, He, & Taylor,2001). When a youth is involved in organized crimes at such a young age and if they are not given helped to better their life it could lead the person to believe that he is an outsider to this world which could only lead to aggression towards the society which could prove to be fatal once someone reaches adulthood. Dobb and Sprott suggest that the root cause to reduce youth crime is to identify and focus on methods to control it in early childhood, (Yoshikawa, 1994) suggest that,

"The focus of intervention programs should be on 'chronic delinquency', rather than delinquency in general' for a number of reasons, including the fact that a disproportionate number of serious offences are committed by chronic delinquents. But equally important is that chronic delinquency is associated with social and psychological problems" (p. 28).

Dobb and Sprott are focusing their research in long-term prevention for juvenile crime and what measures need to be taken to ensure that youth crime stays at a decline and that future youths do not get involved in the this trend.

The policy of imposing harsher sentences is almost certainly the most popular yet the most ineffective quick fix attempt to reduce youth crime. Dobb and Sprott point out that addressing the problem of youth crime and shaping a youth justice system are two different things. Our society jumps into conclusions very steadily and tries to amend the youth justice system to better youth crime, although the problem in that we have made many amends to our justice system to improve youth crime but we have not had maximum success due to the fact we are not trying to identifying the root cause of the issue and ignoring the main question, what leads a youth to commit a crime?

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