An Analysis of Juvenile Delinquency

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Abstract

There are many factors which can help to explain juvenile delinquency. The most prevalent factors include how the individual juvenile was raised with respect to parenting techniques, living environment, as well as access education and exposure to criminal behavior on the part of parents themselves or perceived role models. The current system to manage juveniles who exhibit criminal behavior is convoluted at best, mixed between family courts, criminal courts and even school discipline policy. In an effort to better identify problem juveniles, especially those whose behavior is a result from poor parental conduct, the author suggests a separate and exclusive entity specifically for identifying and mitigating familial issues which results in delinquent or criminal behavior is juveniles.

An Analysis of Juvenile Delinquency as a Result of Negative or Non-Existent Parental Conduct and a Legal Policy to Manage it

Children’s behavior is often modeled after that of the parent or guardian. When the parent’s behavior is criminal or antisocial in nature, the child is often times negatively affected manifesting itself in delinquent behavior which can evolve into criminal activity and ultimately an irreversible life of crime. There are several criminological theories which are attributed to the causes of juvenile delinquency resulting from negative parental conduct. Further, without positive behavior reinforcement by someone (or a group) there is little or no chance the juvenile in question will avoid development of negative behavioral traits. To combat this, the author proposes a policy which puts the identification and mitigation of juvenile delinquent behavior in the hands of a single group of individuals rather than several different systems of government trying to matter.

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It has been widely researched, and generally accepted, that those who live or grow up in socioeconomically depressed areas are more prone to deviant or criminal behavior as explained in Clifford Shaw and Henry D. McKay’s Social Disorganization Theory. As a result of being exposed to the stresses and difficulties of financial hardship, individuals begin to feel pressures from not “achieving the American dream” which is the basis for General Strain Theory. The pressures manifest themselves in criminal behavior often resulting in violence or crimes for financial gain like burglary or robbery. One possible causal explanation for violent the behavior on the part of those exposed to violence is social learning theory, which suggests that children learn or model the behavior that they observe specifically within the home or neighborhood. A second explanation is a variant of the frustration-aggression hypothesis. Frustration when combined with highly salient aggression cues may result in violence. Frustration, television violence, interpersonal violence in the home, or community violence provide the arousal and stimulation (Falk, 1995).

Above all else, it is a parent’s responsibility to ensure the safety of their children. One important way to do this is to instill upon them the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. During childhood, the family environment constitutes the basic social ecology in which the child’s behavior is manifested, learned, encouraged or suppressed. A trajectory towards delinquency or criminal behavior can be molded in both positive and negative ways by implementing different parenting styles. Research shows that neglectful parenting and delinquency during childhood can only partially predict development in delinquency over longer periods of time (i.e., after age 13). Changes in life circumstances are able to effect change in an individual’s delinquent trajectory, notwithstanding the individual’s rearing environment. Moreover, delinquency during adolescence is governed not only by bonds to the family, but also by bonds to peers, school and later work and romantic partners. Changes in any of these bonds continue to affect delinquent development (Hoeve, Blokland, Dubas, Loeber, Gerris, & van der Laan, 2008). Hoeve et al (2008)went on to state that parenting styles were differentially linked to delinquency with neglectful parenting linked to moderate and serious delinquency trajectories and authoritarian parenting was linked to mostly serious persistent delinquency. It goes without saying that poor, non-existent parenting skills leads to high potential for delinquency or criminal behavior.

When the delinquency or criminal behavior manifests itself because of familial issues, the juveniles can have negatively altered developmental paths. Moffitt’s Developmental Theory identifies two separate developmental paths with respects to delinquent behavior. One path is that of the adolescent-limited offender. This is the offender whose criminal or antisocial behavior begins later in life (usually during adolescence) and is short-lived in the sense that by the age of majority, the behavior is self-corrected when opportunities that are more rewarding arise. Those opportunities may include a full-time job, relationship with a prosocial person or higher education. While the behavior for this offender can be extreme, it is generally brief. The other path is what is known as a life-course-offender. This is the offender whose behavior begins early on usually with status offenses that graduate to more serious crimes throughout the offender’s lifetime (Bartol, & Bartol, 2011).

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The exhibited behavior can take many forms including aggression or violence. Aggression comes in many forms and can manifest itself in different behaviors and is defined as behavior that is designed to cause intended targets harm, either physical, mental or emotional (Bartol & Bartol, 2011). It is accepted by many scholars that aggression is a genetically programmed behavior that we as Homo sapiens learn based on social and environmental influences. These influences are stronger within family environments and learned during child-rearing years, which gone unchecked can evolve into future dysfunctional behaviors.

The one exhibiting aggressive behavior generally is motivated by one of two factors; either the aspiration for a perceived reward or simply an act of hostility. Countless studies have shown that, statistically speaking, adolescent and young adult criminal/antisocial behaviors are clearly offshoots of childhood aggressive behavior. Further, the more aggressive the child is, the more likely that child is to develop into a more aggressive adult prone to criminality (Huesmann & Eron, 1992, p. 138). Huesmann (1992) states in his research that the behavior if gone unimpeded by either a parental figure or social/environmental correction, that child will most likely accept the behavior as a way of life, metastasizing into increased dysfunctional behaviors. Other research has shown that most children have used physical aggression as early as infancy, and generally, will learn to use substitute behaviors in the following years before they enter formal schooling. It has been concluded that toddlers learn to control the use of aggression during the preschool years however, those who do not, seem to be at highest risk of serious violent behavior during adolescence and adulthood (Tremblay, et al., 2004).

One proposal to address juvenile behavioral issues arising from negative parental conduct is to have a streamlined organization of professionals tasked with identifying juveniles who display delinquent behavior and mitigating it before more serious behaviors are exhibited requiring police or criminal court involvement. The proposed organization with be comprised of individuals already employed from various agencies all dealing with juveniles. Think of the organization as a “task force” in the sense that the individuals who make up the team come from different agencies brought together to accomplish a common goal; in this case the handling of juvenile offenders. The importance of the designation will be explained later in this proposal.

The first member of the team will be a juvenile police officer to better help with the criminal aspect of the juvenile’s behavior. This officer can take the form of a school resource officer, D.A.R.E. officer, juvenile officer/detective, etc. Ideally, this individual will have experience within the juvenile justice system. The next member of the task force will be a juvenile psychologist, preferably one employed at the school or educational facility where the target juveniles attend. Next, there will need to be a representative from the family court system. To better condense the team (to save resources and lessen authoritative overexposure to the juvenile) a probation officer will fit best in this position. Given that probation officers report directly to family court in cases involving juveniles, this seems like a rational placement. Finally, a member of Child Protective Services (as it is known in New York, Department of Family Services or Children and Family Services elsewhere) is necessary in order to expedite any matters with juvenile removal or investigations into child abuse/neglect by a parent or guardian.

The effort proposed is a local initiative which cuts back on the amount of “red tape”, so to speak, to go through. The fact that this is a “task force” (even though it is not combating drugs, terrorism or human trafficking) opens up the availability of federal aid in the forms of grant money which can used to offset the costs incurred by participating agencies. Since this initiative is locally based, approvals need only go up to the county level eliminating the need for federal or state intervention. Consolidating police, probation/family court and the school district into one entity to help handle juvenile delinquency will free up resources elsewhere in these various systems of government showing the value of the task force. Since the individuals that make up the task force will already come from local agencies, there will be no need to hire additional personnel which helps keep costs down.

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Once approved, this task force will be charged with first, identifying potential juveniles that may require intervention resulting from negative parental conduct. Once identified, the juvenile will meet with the task force members (either individually or as a group depending on the circumstances). The members of the task force will make a determination as to what course of action is necessary to facilitate the necessary change. Those actions may include, home visitation, meeting with parents, siblings and friends, and introduction to extra-curricular activities or sports. In severe cases where the individual (or their parents) refuse assistance, probation and police officers can intercede and get the courts involved if necessary forcing the affected into rehabilitation programs or even removing the vulnerable juvenile from the damaging environment. The continuing intervention will ensure the juvenile is afforded the ability to succeed in school, access to non-criminal activities and should it be necessary, law enforcement intervention if the juvenile recidivates.

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, the old saying goes but given the right intervention and group of individuals willing to help, a juvenile’s chances at being a productive member of society increases drastically. Neglect and abuse by parents has serious long term effects on juveniles which has been linked to delinquency and eventually criminal behavior. By having a support system in place for these vulnerable juveniles will not only produce better adult individuals, but could in turn produce a more positive atmosphere for other at risk juveniles.

References

Bartol, C.R. & Bartol, A.M. (2011). Criminal behavior: A psychological approach, Ninth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Falk, P. J. (1995). Novel theories of criminal defense based upon the toxicity of the social environment: Urban psychosis, television intoxication, and black rage. NCL Rev., 74, 731.

Hoeve, M., Blokland, A., Dubas, J. S., Loeber, R., Gerris, J. R., & van der Laan, P. H. (2008). Trajectories of delinquency and parenting styles. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 36(2), 223-235.

Huesmann, L. R., & Eron, L. D. (1992). Childhood aggression and adult criminality. Facts, figures, and forecasts: Advances in criminal theory, 3, 137-156.

Tremblay, R. E., Nagin, D. S., Séguin, J. R., Zoccolillo, M., Zelazo, P. D., Boivin, M., ... & Japel, C. (2004). Physical aggression during early childhood: Trajectories and predictors. Pediatrics, 114(1), e43-e50.