Reviewing how To Prevent Juvenile Delinquency Criminology Essay

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Much has been written about juvenile delinquency in the last two decades. The problem attracts a serious interest these days because of the prevalence of delinquent behavior among adolescents in the United States throughout the country and the inability of stakeholders in containing the growing rate of juvenile delinquency. Juveniles are also a special target for those interested in rehabilitation (a) because there are greater chances of rehabilitating adolescents than adults and (b) because of the fear that without intervention juvenile delinquents are likely to carry their delinquent behavior to adulthood. So, how to tackle the problem of juvenile delinquency? There is no easy answer to this question. Different types of juvenile delinquency may require different approaches. But in general a combination of theoretical and practical prevention/intervention strategies developed in the last two decades, the use of cross-cultural expertise, and the integration of practitioner experience of dealing with juvenile delinquency can help us develop better ways of tackling the problem.

For a long time in history, juveniles were treated just like adults and were subjected to the same level of punishment for delinquent and criminal behavior. Up until the late nineteenth century, the United States followed the English tradition of employing harsh punishments as means of regulating juvenile behavior. With socio-economic changes taking place in the nineteenth century, the public interest in childcare also grew, leading some activists to realization that a special approach was needed in treating juvenile delinquents. Various institutions dealing with troubled children began to develop, and in 1874 the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was established in New York. While the SPCC's main purpose was to protect children from abusive parents, it was one of the first organizations that advocated rehabilitation programs for troubled children. However, the landmark moment came when the Illinois Juvenile Court Act was passed as the nation's first independent juvenile court in 1899. The principles that motivated the reformers who pushed for the Illinois Act were that children could not be held as accountable as adults, that the objective of the juvenile justice system should not be punishment but rehabilitation, and that the adolescents' special needs and circumstances should be taken into consideration in society's attempts to tackle juvenile delinquency (Siegel & Welsh, 2008, p. 408).

Soon after, juvenile justice system and the juvenile courts were established across the nation. Various treatment and correction models have appeared since then. The first among these was the treatment model, the philosophical basis of which was parens patriae-the idea that the state should act as a fatherly guardian to address the roots of a delinquent behavior and instill the idea of social responsibility in the minds of the youth. Another model that came out of the same philosophy was the medical model, which argued that "youth crime is caused by factors that can be identified, isolated, and treated as though they were a disease" (Bartollas & Miller, 2008,p. 23). This model suggested that punishments further exacerbated the problem of delinquency and therefore the focus should be on rehabilitation; that by properly diagnosing the delinquent behavior, the youth could be treated and prevented from delinquent behavior.

The treatment model was challenged in the 1970s because of its focus on rehabilitation. In response, the justice model emerged, arguing that both adults and adolescents should be held accountable for criminal behavior and that following the due process provisions and procedural safeguards is a better way of protecting juveniles. Architects of this model argued that there should be a principle of proportionality in sanctioning juvenile delinquents (that is, the level of punishment should be proportional to the seriousness of the crime). Another model that appeared in the same period was the crime control model, which emphasized the importance of harsh punishments as a deterring force. Advocates of this model today argue that it is effective, just, preventive, and moral, and that this approach not only corrects the delinquent youth but also is a demonstration to noncriminal citizenry of "what happens to a person who breaks the law" (Bartollas & Miller, 2008, p. 25).

All of these models have their advantages and disadvantages. The treatment model, for example, may work with many minor offenders, but may not be as effective in rehabilitating serious offenders who have caused serious harm in the community. And the failure of the justice system not to punish serious adolescent criminals may undermine the concept of justice itself. The crime control model on the other hand may be too harsh on adolescents who are troubled and are in need of rehabilitation. This approach may also lead to cruelty against the youth and may be counterproductive. Likewise, the justice model is not broad enough to address complex issues related to juvenile delinquency. The most sophisticated approach therefore today is the balanced and restorative model, which tries to combine treatment and control models in a balanced way, calling for juvenile justice administrators to "ensure that resources are allocated equally among efforts to ensure accountability to crime victims, to increase competency in offenders, and to enhance community safety" (Bartollas & Miller, 2008, p. 26). This model argues that sanctioning, rehabilitating, and community safety (which includes community participation) are equally important.

Juveniles are generally more vulnerable to societal influence and much depends on the community's ability to help juvenile delinquents to return to normal social life. Therefore, there are many stakeholders who are involving in juvenile justice and delinquency prevention. The juvenile justice system is one of the main stakeholders as its main purpose is to tackle the problem of juvenile delinquency. For the same reason, police is another major stakeholder, as its purpose is to provide public safety to the community. Mental health organizations are involved in juvenile correctional practices because many juvenile delinquents suffer from mental problems. Child welfare organizations are also important stakeholders in juvenile justice because the principle behind child welfare is the idea that the lack of social programs for children may lead to delinquency.

The roles of three other stakeholders should be especially emphasized here. The school as a powerful agent of socialization for youth is where many correctional programs should begin. The purpose of the school is to educate and guide the youth. If the problem of delinquency is not properly addressed at school, delinquent behavior among schoolchildren may have a contagious effect, as schoolchildren are vulnerable to peer pressure. The role of the family in preventing and correcting juvenile delinquent behavior is salient. The youth imitate their parents and siblings, and sometimes abusive or neglected treatment at the hands of parents and older siblings leads to all kinds of psychological and mental problems among the youth, encouraging delinquent behavior. And since any delinquent behavior is a product of the society, the role of community organizations in preventing and treating delinquency is absolutely important. Delinquency is an anti-social behavior, and the most effective way of addressing this problem is to help delinquents realize that the society around them is not an enemy but a family. Community organizations can help juvenile delinquents to integrate better into the society and give up their anti-social activities. Cooperation and collaboration among all these stakeholders is also important because all are united by a common goal: prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency (Mears, Shollenberger, Willison, Owens, & Butts, 2010).

Before attempting to implement any prevention or treatment program, it is necessary to understand the causes of juvenile delinquency. This is a complicated task because the causes may be different and multi-faceted. There are individual risk factors such as lower intelligence, impulsive behavior, and uncontrolled aggression. There are family risk factors such as parental abuse (Ilhong, Ball, & Hyeyoung, 2010), lack of proper parental supervision, unstable parental relationships, parental disrespect for the laws and norms of the society, and the negative influences of older siblings (Craine, Tanaka, Nishina, & Conger, 2009). Other risk factors involve mental health problems (Mallett, Dare, & Seck, 2009) and the increasing level of substance abuse, both of which may lead to delinquent behavior. Studies, however, are not conclusive on these causes and there is lack of empirical research on many of these risk factors. But there is empirical evidence suggesting that peer pressure and family influence are greater risk factors than other socio-economic and environmental factors (Noyori-Corbett & Moon, 2010).

Criminologists and sociologists attempt to explain juvenile delinquent behavior through a set of theories. Criminologists focus more on the causes of delinquency but do not usually explain how to alleviate the problem, and for a long time criminological theory suggested that delinquent behavior was rooted in spiritual, biological, and psychological factors. There are also several social theories which try to explain the causes of delinquent behavior. Social strain theory, for instance, suggests that adolescents engage in illegal acts as a way of overcoming the strain. According to social learning theory, delinquent behavior is a product of cultural and group influence. This theory suggests that adolescents imitate their delinquent relatives and friends. Social disorganization theory argues that the rate of crime and delinquency increases when the normal social relationships in the society break down. There are also theories on protective factors such as social control theory, which suggests that, absent social control force coming from the individual's bonds to community members (family, peers, school), youth will commit delinquent behavior naturally. And social capital theory argues "that the community can be strengthened by investing more in social networks, communication, and an exchange of resources" (Noyori-Corbett & Moon, 2010, p. 254). A combination and an apposite use of these theories work best in explaining the causes of juvenile delinquency.

In developing strategies for preventing and correcting delinquent behavior among the youth, it is also important to know what strategies do not work and thus should be avoided. For example, zero tolerance policies implemented in schools and by the justice system remind a martial law, which is likely to be counterproductive in dealing with adolescents. Punishment-that is, exacting penalty for crimes committed against others-alone will not work with adolescents either. Some serious juvenile offenders deserve punishment as a deterring measure but it should be coupled with rehabilitation. But even in dealing with severe juvenile offenders, they should not be placed in adult correctional institutions, although very often adolescents in the United States are sentenced in adult criminal courts (Kurlychek & Johnson, 2010; Mlyniec, 2010). Similar harsh methods such as the scared straight programs are counterproductive. The scared straight program was developed in the 1970s which brought male and female juveniles "into the prison and subjected them to shock therapy consisting of threats, intimidation, emotional shock, loud and angry bullying, and persuasion. The idea was to literally scare them away from delinquency, to scare them straight" (Howell, 2009, p. 260).

Juvenile delinquency prevention should be as sophisticated and comprehensive as possible. Some strategies may work within a specific social context but may not be as effective in other social settings. Cross-cultural studies in juvenile justice may be helpful here. For example, according to Lelekov and Kosheleva (2008), the general measures of prevention in Russia are providing jobs for the youth and their parents, raising living standards, offering protection for troubled families, and developing extracurricular activities such as sports clubs (free of charge). It is clear that these measures reflect the situation and recent political turmoil as well as low standards of living in Russia. The measures proposed by Lelekov and Kosheleva are most fitting in the Russian context, but even there Lelekov and Kosheleva developed regional and individual prevention methods to better address specific problems. Likewise, China's Delinquency Prevention Law of 1999 was a reflection of a traditional Chinese philosophy and thinking. The effectiveness of the law is still in question but the law also seems to be more fitting to the Chinese society (Lening & Jianhong, 2007). Any strategies in the United States should be developed with the American context in mind.

There are nonetheless general measures which may be adopted presently in the United States. As Noyori-Corbett and Moon (2010) suggest, delinquency prevention strategies should be multi-faceted, targeting several delinquent behaviors simultaneously since they are often interrelated. Noyori-Corbett and Moon found relations among tobacco smoking, substance abuse (including alcohol), and violent behavior. They argue: "programs attempting to lower delinquency behavior among adolescents need to have multifaceted and psychosocial assessments to see the eco-systems at work around them. Looking only at certain dimensions of the world of juvenile delinquency any practitioner might easily fall into any fallacy such as selective observation and, as a result, create problems in empirical base practice" (p. 263). Many practitioners working for the juvenile justice system and in correctional institutions also support such a comprehensive approach in addressing the problem (Mears, Shollenberger, Willison, Owens, & Butts, 2010).

As complicated the juvenile delinquency problem seems to be today, it is likely that the challenges awaiting us in the next several decades are going to be even greater. As a policy, it is important that grassroots community participation in preventing juvenile delinquency is in place. The juvenile justice system should also uphold the rights and dignity of adolescents. Research shows that denying adolescents' constitutional rights in the courts, for example, makes rehabilitation process much harder, while upholding their rights may convince them that the laws are functioning and the system of justice is in place (Henning, 2010). Ethical considerations should also be integrated into the system. Cooperation and collaboration among all the stakeholders in juvenile justice is very important. There should be more emphasis on meeting young people's basic needs.

Considering the social and demographic changes that will take place in the next several decades, however, it is likely that the American juvenile justice system will place greater emphasis on crime control model. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of juveniles will dramatically increase in the next decades. "Many members of this increased population of juveniles will come from impoverished homes headed by single mothers," Bartollas and Miller (2008) explain. "With this population of poor juveniles, the rate of juvenile violence, including homicide, may again grow, as it did in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The widespread feeling today that there are more troubled teenagers than in the past will be even more pronounced in the next twenty years" (p. 420). So, while it would be best for the United States to adopt a balanced and humanitarian juvenile justice system, the American public, trying to mitigate the aftereffects of socio-demographic changes, will pressure the justice administrators to employ harsher measures in preventing juvenile delinquency in the decades to come.

Juvenile delinquency is a complicated problem. There are different forms of delinquent behavior and no single approach can address all of them. A sophisticated, multi-faceted approach, combining different theoretical and practical strategies can help us better address the problem of adolescent delinquency. Cross-cultural approach to this problem is also important, as causes and factors influencing delinquency may be culturally based or subject to a specific social setting. And while adopting these strategies would be helpful in tackling the problem of delinquency in the United States, socio-demographic changes in the coming decades will motivate the American public to pursue harsher measures in tackling juvenile delinquency.