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Theories for Juvenile Delinquency

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3173 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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 Juvenile delinquency is a huge problem in the United States, (Smith, 2019). There are millions of juveniles detained after committing minor offenses to felony offenses, (Smith, 2019). Statistic reports reveal juvenile behavior is known to turn into adult criminal behavior, (Smith, 2019). According to Smith (2019), statistical rates actually show juvenile delinquency rates are declining. Smith (2019) reported there were a total of 182 violent crimes for every 100,000 people between the ages of 10 and 17 in 2012. This rate is 38 percent below the rates in 1980 and 68 percent below ratings in 1994, (Smith, 2019). In 2016, the overall arrest rate, which includes minor offenses was 2,553 in 100,000 and that averaged to 70 percent below ratings in 1996, (Smith, 2019).

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 There has been much public attention to the juvenile justice system from the public says Smith (2019). Some public opinions agree that the juvenile justice system should be done away with and treat the adolescents like adults, (Smith, 2019). Prevention programs are funded by federal legislation and are favorable because the programs focuses on treatment instead of punishment, (Smith, 2019). The programs have been found to have effects that last for a lengthy time, (Smith, 2019). The directors include cognitive behavioral techniques, stress, and coping skills, (Smith, 2019). To continue to be successful in preventative measures with the juvenile justice system, it is necessary to attempt to understand why juveniles commit acts of crime.

Criminologist and criminal justice researchers have many theories in place as to why juveniles commit crime. Smith (2019) reported Albert Bandura, a psychologist at Stanford University formulated the social learning theory. This theory explain criminal behavior is learned behavior. It went on to include people will repeat behaviors that they receive positive recognition for, (Smith, 2019). Behaviors that does not come with any acknowledgement or recognition is avoided. The theory also explains, just as behavior can be learned, it can be unlearned by using psychological principles, (Smith, 2019).

The rational choice theory also attempts to explain adolescent criminal behavior. It discusses that juvenile delinquency should be viewed from those who engaged in criminal activity, (Smith, 2019). This theory states that individuals who engage measure the chances of succeeding, failing, and being caught by the police, (Smith, 2019). When juveniles weigh their possible punishment, they do not make rational decisions. The rational choice theory states that adolescents must be taught how to empathize, (Smith, 2019).

According to Smith (2019), the social strain theory suggests that juveniles experience mental stress and conflict that causes them to be upset and lean toward delinquent behaviors since they are being led by negative thoughts and feelings, (Smith, 2019). This particular theory argues that there are two major strain categories, which includes failing to achieve a goal and loss of positive stimuli and gain of the negative, (Strain, 2019). The wat these behaviors can be treated is through behavioral techniques, such as anger management and relaxation therapy, (Smith, 2019).

Numerous of risk factors can lead a child to crime, such as individual, family, peer, economic status, school and environmental factors. The patterns and combination of risk factors varies differently with children, (Rangel, 1976). Herrenkohl, Maguin, Hill, Hawkins, Abbott, and Catalano (2000) reported a study conducted involving a panel of youths followed since 1985 where potential risk factors for violence at the age of 18 were measured at different peak times of the youth, such as ages 10, 14, and 16. Herrenkohl et al.(200) also stated risk factors constructs in the individual, family, school, peer and community. At the different ages, violence were examined to evaluate the youth’s strength of prediction over time. The final analyses examined youths by classification based on if they had committed a crime or not at the age of 18 based on their overall level of risk at the peak ages, (Herrenkohl et al.,2000). The results concluded at each age, risk factors played significant role in relation to later violence that were distributed among the listed risk factors,  (Herrenkohl et al., 2000). Of 15 risk factors, 10 of them were measured at age 10 and were relevant to predictive violence by the age of 18, (Herrenkohl et al., 2000). 20 out of 25 factors measured when the youth was 14 and 19 out of 21 measured at age 16 were relatively predictive of later violence, (Herrenkohl et al., 200). Herrenkohl et al., reported violence could be determined from more than one developmental factor. Other measures of predicted violence were hyperactivity, low academic performance, peer delinquency and easy access to drugs in a neighborhood, (Herrenkohl et al., 2000).

According to Ryan, Williams, and Courtney (2013) a study was conducted in Washington State to determine of neglect correlates with recidivism for moderate and high risk juvenile offenders. Ryan et al. (2013) claims the juvenile justice system and adult corrections are rapidly growing with victims of child abuse and neglect. Ryan et al. (2013) report that it is difficult to learn about the offending before initial contact with law enforcement. Adolescents struggle to talk about certain offenses as these. Male victims are less likely to report victimization. Neglect plays a vital role in continued offending as parental monitoring, parental rejection, and family rejections are useful in explaining juvenile conduct problems, (Ryan et al., 2013). The Washington State study began with statewide risk assessments. Administrative records for child welfare, juvenile justice, and adult corrections were analyzed, (Ryan et al., 2013). The sample size included diverse participants, (Ryan et al., 2013). 24 percent were female, 13 percent were African American, 8 percent were Hispanic, and 5 percent were Native American. It included all moderate and high risk juvenile offenders, which were screened by juvenile probation between 2004 and 2007, (Ryan et al., 2013).

Ryan et al (2013) stated youth who were involved in a continuous case of neglect were more likely to continue offending compared to youth without a history of neglect. The study revealed these findings continued even after controlling for a wide range of family, peer, academic, mental health, and substance abuse covariates, (Ryan et al., 2013).

According to Brown (2009) most children are law abiding and actually want to live successful lives. They struggle because they attempt to live ideally in not so easy circumstances. Brown (2009) reported most data shows only a small number of young people who are committing more and more violent crimes. The number of arrest for violent offenses increased by two-thirds in the past ten years and the data for children who committed murder has doubled in the past ten years, (Brown, 2009). It is almost a guarantee that someone who has been a repeat criminal offender by their 18th birthday will more than likely be a lifetime criminal and will be considered a permanent threat to society instead of a productive citizen, (Brown, 2009). Brown (2009) stated youth are not learning the alphabet anymore, they’re learning about firearms and weapons. He went on to say instead of reading, writing, and arithmetic, youth are rapping, robbing, and murdering and instead of shooting hoops, they are shooting each other, (Brown, 2009). 

Walther, Dunker, Franzen-Castle, and Krehbiel (2018) agreed if at risk youth were involved in after school care it would reduce the risk of youth getting involved with crime. After school programs have the potential to reduce youth crime and later adult crimes, (Newman, Fox, Flynn & Christeson, 2000). Between the hours of 3pm and 6pm are usually peak hours for children to easily get into trouble. Most parents are still working during these hours. Boredom alone increases youth’s engagement in drugs and alcohol. Newman et al. (2000) claimed youth that are unsupervised during the peak hours after school are at risk for becoming victims, causing an automobile accident or being in one,  or engaging in other risky behavior after school. Adolescents who are not active in after school care are three times more likely to skip classes and use alcohol and drugs than a teen who attends after school programs, (Newman et al., 2000). The risk is also increased for smoking cigarettes and sexual intercourse, (Newman et al., 2000). After school programs, such as the boys and girls club of New York in poverty neighborhoods observed a significant decrease in drug use, presence of crack cocaine and other drug activities, (Newman et al., 2000). Drug activity decreased by 22 percent, juvenile arrests decreased by 13 percent and vandalism decreased by 12.5 percent, (Newman, 2012). “After-school programs have been suggested as a promising strategy that can increase the social and academic wellness of young urban Black males”, (Woodland, 2008, para 1).

Gottfredson, Gerstenblith, Soule, Womer, and Shaoli (2004) stated after school programs provide youth development and skill building activities that could possibly reduce delinquent behavior. The most positive influences were programs that encourage students not to use drugs and promote positive peer associations. “Effects on these outcomes were strongest in programs that incorporated a high emphasis on social skills and character development”, (Gottfredson et al., 2004, para 1).

As crime increases in the juvenile justice system in the United States, the system has undergone radical changes. One of the biggest debate is if juvenile offenders should be tried as adults for the more serious violations, (Aliprandini & Walter, 2018). There are conflicting viewpoints regarding the primary aim of the criminal justice system. On one end of the spectrum, the criminal justice system is supposed to rehabilitate an individual so that they will return to society a productive citizen, (Aliprandini & Walter, 2018). When it comes to juvenile offenders, rehabilitation is vital, (Aliprandini & Walter, 2018).  According to Aliprandini and Walter (2018) when it comes to juveniles, rewarding good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior is more effective.

On the other hand, some believe the criminal justice system is to punish those who do not abide by the laws. The punishment is given out by the severity of the crime, (Aliprandini & Walter, 2018). The goal by punishing is to stop the offender from reoffending, discipline the individual, and deter other members of a society from committing crimes, (Aliprandini & Walter, 2018).

This debate carries over into the handling of adolescent offenders. The felony crimes of juveniles is the main issue, rather than minor offenses. Aliprandini and Walter (2018) stated the issues in the current debate involves the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs, the fairness of adult sentences imposed on juveniles and the best approach to reducing juvenile crime.

 “The Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act, passed by Congress in 1968, aimed to address some of the root causes of juvenile delinquency”, (Alpradini & Walter, 2018, para 14). It was followed by the more comprehensive Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. To receive federal funding, correctional facilities had to meet certain criteria that would include the separation of adults and juveniles and the deinstitutionalization of adolescent offenders that were already in the system. The act also initiated offices responsible for discouraging juvenile delinquency and gaining a better understanding of the problems typically faced by juvenile offenders, including unstable or non-existent homes, (Aliprandini & Walter, 2018).

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 Drug related offenses has been on the rise in the juvenile justice system. A dramatic increase in the number of girls in the U.S. increased by 201 percent for drug abuse violations, (Nissen, 2007). For males, the increased rates were by a total of 121 percent, (Nissen, 2007). Unfortunately, treatments and successful programs are limited. Nakhaee and Jadidi (2009) performed a qualitative research to explore why some teens turn to drugs. There were 32 male participants, who had been at the therapeutic center from two days to six months, (Nakhaee & Jadidi, 2009). They were interviewed by groups with six to eight participants. Nakhaee and Jadidi (2009) proclaimed in order to create preventative strategies, personal characteristics, family factors, and social influences must be approached. Also, there should be an emphasis on parents and peer influences, (Nakhaee & Jadidi, 2009).

When teens make the decision to try drugs initially, it is usually in an easy place. Some times, the child has witnessed a close relative use drugs or the child is stressed and like the strain theory implies, the coping to the strain is poor. Some times strain leads to anger and aggression and later criminal activity. Peers could also have a large influence on other teens trying drugs and alcohol.

There are several potential risk factors for child delinquency, such as individual factors, family factors, peers, academics, neighborhoods and the media. Some studies has revealed predictive factors are noticeable at an early toddler age. The likelihood of juvenile offending increases as the risk factors increases. In some cases, juveniles are crying out for attention and in other cases, a repeat juvenile offender is likely to become an adult offender. 

There are a few criminal justice theories to help explain the root cause of juvenile crime. The general strain theory suggest when an adolescent is stressed, frustrated or angry, they turn to crime because they have poor coping skills to dealing with stress. The social learning theory explained youth involvement in violence is because of behaviors they have witnessed directly. It states that crime is a learned behavior. The rational choice theory is also beneficial to explaining crime. It claims teens do think about their decisions, but when they weigh it out, they do not choose the most logical choice.

Adolescents who have been victims themselves, too, will engage in criminal activity. The correctional facilities are constantly filled with child abuse or neglect victims. Anything that happened before the police contact usually stay not reported.

Preventative measure begin by first understanding the root causes. It is an ongoing process to stop children from engaging in criminal activity and it must be attempted by every adult around. Risk factors must be noted and worked upon. Having someone to encourage good behavior, and having positive role models are great protective factors.


  • Aliprandini, M., & Walter, A. (2018). Debate on sentencing for juvenile offenders. Salem Press Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=89158128&site=eds-live&scope=site
  • Brown, E. (2009). Crime, Governance, and Knowledge Production: The “Two-Track Common-Sense Approach” to Juvenile Criminality in the United States. Social Justice, 36(1), 102–121. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=47569160&site=eds-live&scope=site
  • Choi, C., Hums, M. A., & Bum, C.-H. (2018). Impact of the Family Environment on Juvenile Mental Health: eSports Online Game Addiction and Delinquency. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 15(12). https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/10.3390/ijerph15122850
  • Gottfredson, D. C., Gerstenblith, S. A., Soulé, D. A., Womer, S. C., & Lu, S. (2004). Do after school programs reduce delinquency?. Prevention Science, 5(4), 253-266.
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  • Nakhaee, N., & Jadidi, N. (2009). Why do some teens turn to drugs? a focus group study of drug users’ experiences. Journal of Addictions Nursing, 20(4), 203-208.
  • Nissen, L. B. (2007). Reclaiming Futures: Communities Helping Teens Overcome Drugs, Alcohol and Crime–A New Practice Framework for Juvenile Justice. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 39(1), 51–58. https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/10.1080/02791072.2007.10399864
  • Ryan, J. P., Williams, A. B., & Courtney, M. E. (2013). Adolescent neglect, juvenile delinquency and the risk of recidivism. Journal of youth and adolescence, 42(3), 454-465.
  • Shaw, C. R., & McKay, H. D. (2016). Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas: A Study of Rates of Delinquency in Relation to Differential Characteristics of Local Communities in American Cities (1969). In Classics in environmental criminology (pp. 103-140). CRC Press.
  • Smith, C. S. (2019). Juvenile delinquency. Salem Press Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=95342930&site=eds-live&scope=site
  • WALTHER, A., DUNKER, T., FRANZEN-CASTLE, L., & KREHBIEL, M. mkrehbiel2@unl. ed. (2018). Increasing At-Risk Youth Self-Reported and Objectively Measured Physical Activity in an Afterschool Program. Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences, 110(1), 59–63. https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/10.14307/JFCS110.1.59
  • Woodland, M. H. (2008). Whatcha doin’after school? A review of the literature on the influence of after-school programs on young Black males. Urban Education, 43(5), 537-560.


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