Juvenile delinquency happens for many reasons. Poverty, abuse, and family tension are a few of the major reason for a child to become a juvenile delinquent. Steps need to be in place to stop and control some of the children that are falling through the crack of society and becoming ill-adjusted adults. Life is not always pretty, but that should not be a reason to commit crime.
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Freeway is a modern take on the fairytale “Little Red Riding Hood.” The movie depicts the struggles of Vanessa Lutz in school, her home life, and then as she tries to go to her grandmother’s home after her mother and stepfather were arrested for prostitution and drug possession. Vanessa Lutz is severely, delayed academically, due to the multiple school changes that she endured because of her unstable childhood. Her years of being raised in the ghetto with her mother and stepfather added to lack of schooling she received.
Vanessa started her criminal career years ago with petty crimes but this current string of crimes started with handcuffing her social worker to the bed. She did not want to go to foster care again. Her last experience in foster care was far from beneficial to her mental as well as her emotional health and she did not want a repeat performance. Vanessa had heard of her paternal grandmother, but had never actually met her or her father, for that matter. Before leaving town, Vanessa went to see her boyfriend Chopper, an African American gang member. She wanted to tell him that she is leaving town and to ask him to go with her. Her plans are to find her grandmother, who lives in Northern California and who does not even know Vanessa exists. Vanessa dreams of a great life with her grandmother, but doesn’t even know if the grandmother is still alive or living in the same mobile park.
When the car she is driving breaks down on the freeway and leaves her stranded, the person, who stops to help Vanessa, is Bob Wolverton, a counselor at a school for troubled boys. He talks Vanessa into accepting a ride from him and revealing intimate details of her life. When she realizes “Bob” is getting sexually excited as he learns the details about her molestation and rape by her stepfather, Vanessa gets mad and wants out of the car. Bob has removed the door handle from the passenger side door and Vanessa cannot get out the car. Vanessa realizes that Bob is the “I-5 Killer”, she heard about early in the afternoon on the Channel 5 news.
Bob orders Vanessa to strip off her clothes. Vanessa says that she cannot get her pants off because of her boots. Bob allows Vanessa the freedom to get into the back seat to have room to remove her boots and pants. Once in the back seat, Vanessa pulls out a gun, the one her boyfriend gave her, orders Bob to pull off the next exit. She then asks him if he believes in God. When he says that he does, she orders him out of the car and shoots him in the head. She then vomits and shoots him three more times. Thinking that Bob is dead, Vanessa takes his money, credit cards, and car keys.
Vanessa leaves Bob for dead and continues on her trip to her grandmother’s house. After a while, she is hungry and she stops at a little truck stop style café to get something to eat. When she walks into the café, she has blood on her hands from Bob and frightens the server. Vanessa goes to the bathroom to clean up and then she eats her meal. Immediately upon leaving the café, Vanessa is arrested for the attempted murder of Bob Wolverton.
At the police station, a couple of police officers question Vanessa. Vanessa admits to shooting Bob Wolverton. She is cooperative and shocked that he did not die. She tells the police officers that Bob is the I-5 Killer, but they do not believe her. The police officers list her long list of petty crimes and tell her that Bob is a well-respected citizen with no prior criminal record or mental health issues.
One of the officers starts teasing her and Vanessa becomes violent and starts hitting him, all the while spouting racial slurs at him. She is taken away in handcuffs and placed in a holding cell until her arraignment. Vanessa refuses to show remorse for her actions at her arraignment, insisting that Bob is the I-5 Killer. Vanessa makes fun of Bob because he has physical disabilities from the shooting and taunts him about his colostomy bag. The judge orders Vanessa out of the courtroom, no one acknowledging that Bob admitted he is the I-5 killer. She is placed in juvenile detention until psychological evaluations can be done. These evaluations are to determine her status of either an adult offender or juvenile delinquent. Juvenile delinquent status would be considered if it is felt she can she be rehabilitated otherwise she will be tried as an adult, if her mental capacity allows. Vanessa becomes friends with a drug-addicted lesbian and then confronted by the toughest girl in the prison, Mesquita. Before Mesquita has a chance to hurt Vanessa, Vanessa beats her to a pulp, an act for which Vanessa receives solitary confinement.
One of the police officers, who was assaulted by Vanessa, has a gut feeling there was more to the story than he had gotten from either Vanessa or from Bob Wolverton. He returns to her hometown to find out more about Vanessa’s home life. He was surprised to find Vanessa’s boyfriend was an African American, which was interesting to him considering the racial slurs she had spouted at him. Upon returning to the crime scene, he found previously overlooked evidence collaborating Vanessa’s version of the crimes.
While in solitary confinement, Vanessa constructs a shiv from a toothbrush, plastic wrap, and a lighter, a skill learned from her stepfather. After returning from solitary confinement, Vanessa learns the psychologists feel she would not be a suitable candidate for rehabilitation, so she will stand trial as an adult. She also sees Bob and his wife on television and is disgusted they have been elevated to celebrity status and praised for the way they have persevered in the face of the shooting by Vanessa Lutz.
Vanessa, Mesquita, and a pair of twin girls plan to escape from prison. The opportunity presents itself while the group is being transported in a van to the state prison. Vanessa and Mesquita use the shiv to kill one guard and seriously injure the other. They steal the van and then find Mesquita’s boyfriend, where Vanessa is given a fake ID, clothes, and a gun. Vanessa and Mesquita share of moment of sisterhood, where Mesquita explains why she tried to intimidate Vanessa the first day she was in juvenile detention. Mesquita said that she had wanted Vanessa to “put out for her” and Vanessa states that she would “put out for her” any day. They share the joke and go their separate ways.
The police officers finally conclude Vanessa was telling the truth about Bob Wolverton being the I-5 killer. They obtain a search warrant for Bob’s house and the small shed in the backyard. In the shed, they find his stash of child pornography, sex toys, and trophies from his victims is found. When confronted with some of the items, Bob’s wife, Mimi, realizes that her husband is a serial murderer and runs upstairs to commit suicide. Bob returns home from physical therapy to find his house surrounded by police cars, so he drives off to avoid capture.
Using the clothes, she received from Mesquita, Vanessa poses as a hooker and lures a john into a back alley. Vanessa robs the john, forces him into the trunk of his car, and drives to where she thinks her grandmother lives. As luck would have it, the police officers realize where Vanessa might be going and decide to drive to her grandmother’s mobile home as well.
Upon arriving at her grandmother’s home, Bob is dressed as Vanessa’s grandmother and is lying in bed waiting on Vanessa to arrive. Just like the wolf in the “Little Red Riding Hood” fairytale, Bob has killed Vanessa’s grandmother and waiting to devour Vanessa. They struggle with each other, firing a gun in the tussle. Vanessa manages to strangle Bob and emerges victorious in the battle for her life from the mobile home. The first words out of her mouth to the officers were, “Y’all got a cigarette?” (Bright, 1996).
Freeway, the movie, was directed and produced by Matthew Bright in 1996.
What causes Juvenile Delinquency?
Juvenile delinquency has increased thirty-three percent over the last decade (Loeber, Farrington, & Petechuk, 2003) Human beings are unique and multifaceted creatures. Human offspring are just as multifaceted and as resilient as they are different. While scientist do not know why or how the individual personalities are formed, every person has a different personality and handles life’s situations in a distinct individualized manner. The movie, Freeway, depicts one of the worst living situations in which a young person can be reared (Bright, 1996). The events in the movie explain one possible outcome of a child raised in the ghetto area of a town. In an attempt to understand more thoroughly the young people who become juvenile delinquents, the individual, family, cultural and media’s influence on children will be examined.
Causes of Delinquency
Delinquency is defined as an antisocial or illegal behavior or acts in violation of the law, which pertains to adults as well as young people (Encarta Dictionary: English (North America), 2007). Juvenile delinquency is conduct by a juvenile characterized by antisocial behavior that is beyond parental control and therefore subject to legal action (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2010). Some behaviors such as drinking alcohol are not deviant as long as the person doing the drinking is older than twenty-one years of age. A status offender is a juvenile, usually under the age of eighteen, which does something like smoking before the legal age to be able to participate in the particular activity. In other countries, something that is seen as deviant or delinquent in the United States may or may not be seen as deviant, but more of the norm of the country. In the United States, delinquency is determined differently in each individual state. For instance, North Carolina considers a six year old who commits a crime to be a juvenile delinquent, where a many states do not have a legally defined age to be classified as a juvenile delinquent. Risk factors are numerous depending upon the age of the child when the symptoms for delinquent behavior begins (Loeber, Farrington, & Petechuk, 2003).
The psychological development of a child is personal and individualized to each child.
A child’s behavior is influence by his/her genetic, emotional, cognitive, physical, and social aspects. A person cannot help the genes, which he/she is born with, just as they cannot control the ability to learn. Young people, who are behind others of the same age academically, have been proven prone to criminal behavior. It is thought the less intelligent a person is, the more likely to commit crime he or she will be. There are many other factors, which influence a young person to be deviant or not to be deviant. This failure to express themselves appropriately causes anger and frustration to build. Many times, anger leads to depression or can lead to other more severe forms of mental illness (Mullis, Cornille, Mullis, & Huber, 2004).
One disorder, which could indicate the possible beginnings to juvenile delinquency, is oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Oppositional defiant disorder is defined as “a psychological disorder in childhood and adolescence characterized by excessive oppositional to tendencies to refuse requests from parents and others” (Nevid, Rathus, & Greene, 2008). Once a child adds to his/her defiance stealing, truancy and/or even rape, the child is considered to have Conduct Disorder (CD). Conduct Disorder is defined as “a psychological disorder in childhood and adolescence characterized by disruptive, antisocial behavior” (Nevid, Rathus, & Greene, 2008).
Antisocial behavior is inheritable (Nevid, Rathus, & Greene, 2008). Antisocial behaviors is when a individual does not want to be around others, with draws from physical contact and does not behavior appropriate for the situation. Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASP) is defined as has been linked to a defect in a person’s frontal lobes in a study of children who had committed deviant acts. (Wallace, Hesselbrock, & Bauer, 2006). ASP is the mental illness linked with serial killers such as Jeffery Dahmer and Ted Bundy. An individual early in life usually displays symptoms of ASP, but the true manifestation is in the teen years.
A problem some may over look as a predictor of future delinquency is sleeping problems as a child. If a child does not receive adequate sleep during his/her formative years, cognitive as well as neuropsychological problems may appear during adolescence (Gregory, Caspi, Moffitt, & Poulton, 2009). When a child does not get adequate sleep, behavioral problems emerge as a symptoms that something is wrong. Cognitive and brain development depend upon getting enough sleep as well as enough good sleep. Good sleep is defined as sleep that includes several cycles of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
REM sleep is important for the processing of memories as well as a time for the body to rejuvenate itself. Short-term memory is converted into long-term memory during the REM sleep cycles. A person cycles through four stages of sleep, which takes approximately ninety minutes per cycle. REM sleep happens at the end of the fourth cycle and gets progressively longer as the night goes on. Dreaming occurs during REM sleep. Many times dreams are a way for our minds to process the day’s events and to sort through the emotions that a person has had. REM is also the time in which the body is in a coma like state so that most of the blood flow is concentrated in the body’s core and head. It is a time for the muscles to relax and rejuvenate. A child without adequate sleep is a child without adequate cognitive function, which may influence his/her emotional and psychological health in the future and lead to delinquent behavior (Catrett, & Gaultney, 2009).
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Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavior disorder characterized by excessive motor activity and n ability to focus one’s attention. The child is described as having ants in his/her pants, but cannot keep his/her mind on the subject at hand. The other element to ADHD is impulsivity. The child cannot make rational decisions due to the need to move and forgetting what is going on around him/her. These symptoms begin at an early age, sometimes as young as six or seven. Medications to combat the symptoms of ADHD can cause a child become zombie like. Vanessa, in the movie Freeway, may have been diagnosed with ADHD because of her inability to behave while in class at the beginning of the movie (Bright, 1996). This inability to be able to concentrate can lead to decrease intelligence if not caught in its early stages.
As portrayed in the movie Freeway, children who grow up in a violent, drug-infested home do not learn the correct manner in which to express themselves or the extent of their actions has on their future. Children model their parents. If parents are doing deviant behaviors, child do not perceive anything wrong with doing the same behaviors. Just as Vanessa saw her mother working the streets in order to get money for the family, Vanessa posed as a streetwalker in order to be able to go to her grandmother’s at the end of the movie. She learned how to make a shiv from her stepfather in order to escape from prison.
Sometimes children have good parents, but still go astray from social norms. Family is important in forming a child’s character. A child needs responsibilities, duties, and close family relationships as well as some privileges.
Communication in a family is very important as well. Children notice the tension in a family no matter the cause and open communication is paramount to stop the children from blaming themselves for it. Parents want their children to talk to them about any problems that may arise, but often do not feel the need to allow the children to be information about family situations that affect the children.
Children who do not have adequate parental supervision are more likely to be party to criminal activity. Single mothers working can be stressful for the entire family, because she is responsible for all the chores, childcare, discipline, and financial success in the home. Being a parent is hard enough when a couple shares the responsibility, doing an adequate job alone is nearly impossible.
The more siblings a child has the less individual attention the child will receive from his/her parents. As a society, we spend less time with our offspring than most any other generation in history. Divorce has become an epidemic and many women are single mothers by choice more than ever before. Most children do not have a father in the home. Almost of as many children, do not even know who their father is or never see them on a regular basis. Women want to have it all, career, children, and freedom. The family unit appears to play the most important role in preventing as well as causing juvenile delinquency.
A child that has been sexually abused is more likely to run away than any other child (Widom, 1996). This sexually abused child runs away thinking he/she will have a better life away from the abuser, but more often than not, the runaway becomes a prostitute to survive (Widom, 1996). Sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect are three ways that a family can assist a child into becoming a juvenile delinquent. A person is more likely to be abused by a loved one or someone know to the person than by any other group of people (Thio, 2010).
Poor families struggle to put food on the table and many times children feel neglected or that the plight of the family is their fault. Doing without the necessities makes a child want the things he/she does not have, which can lead to shoplifting and other such deviant acts. Poverty in this great nation is rampant. We are the greatest nation on this earth and yet we have children that are going hungry and in need of clothing. The cheap food is not the healthiest of choices in most cases. Money worries cause many families to separate in order to receive assistance from the government. Divorce is often a cause for children to become deviant.
Peer pressure has long been seen as a reason for deviant behavior in children. Groupthink is where adults as well as young people seem to lose their ability to speak or act in the correct manner the more people are in the group. The term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment”(Coon & Mitter, 2010). Conforming to the crowd and acting as a whole instead as the sum of many parts is what happens to when young people give in to peer pressure. Peer pressure is one of the hardest delinquencies to avoid.
Children with physical and learning disabilities are often taunted, which can often lead to anger. Young people, who are behind others of the same age academically, are prone to criminal behavior. It is thought the less intelligent a person is, the more likely to commit crime he or she will be. Cognitive function is necessary to rationally think about the consequences in situations and realize what will happen if you are caught doing a “bad” deed.
Sleep quality has been linked to obesity in a chicken and the egg type scenario. Some say obesity is caused by a lack of sleep quality and other say the lack of sleep quality causes an increase in obesity. Obesity can be a reason for a teenager or adolescent to buckle under peer pressure to “fit” in with the group and participate in delinquent activities. Young people who are obese have a higher rate of depression, which can lead some to a feeling of helplessness (News to use, 2003). Helplessness can result in deliqency because the child doesn’t feel that anything he/she does is worth while any way. Obesity has increased rapidly and some even call it an epidemic. President Obama signed a bill into law giving the United States Department of Agriculture the to set standards for public school lunches in order to combat obesity (Jalonick, 2010). Evidence has shown children are heavier now than at any other time in the history of the United States. The chart below is a little old, but it shows that in 2002, obesity was approximately sixteen percent in both children and adolescences.
(Buggey, T. (2007).
Social and Community Factors
Teachers have to “worry” about their jobs, because of the “No Child Left Behind” policies. If students are not able to pass a certain percentage of test questions, the school will find teachers, who can make the students pass. The United States Government is mandating every one must pass in order for the teacher to keep her job. This is a lot of pressure on the teachers, who then pass the pressure on to the students. Some students aren’t able to handle the pressure and drop out of school. School dropouts cannot get a driver’s license in many states until age eighteen. Many states do not allow dropouts to work, so getting into “trouble” is what is available to these young people. The teenagers are not in school, working or doing anything productive with their lives. Some have joined gangs as way of “fitting” in and having some “status” they have not otherwise achieved. Chopper, Vanessa’s boyfriend in the Freeway movie, was a member of a gang. She did not see anything odd about him being in a gang, it was just a way of life for her and him.
Teenagers, who are loners, in recent years started committing crimes at their schools. Columbine High School shooting is a prime example of the dangers juvenile delinquents can participate in. They have nothing to live for and just want to have some excitement.
Video games have taken over the children in this country. A child can play war games, running from law enforcement as well as shooting games. Their minds are not developed to be able to separate fact from fiction and many times, they think the person will stand back up if they shoot them.
Teenagers working while in school has been encouraged throughout the last few decades. Currently, working teenagers have disposable income, which affords them the opportunity to commit deviant acts. The teenagers are more likely to smoke, drive recklessly, and engage in other deviant behaviors when they work while going to school (Thio, 2010). There is more of an opportunity to lie to parents and have time with other people the same age or older in order to commit these deviant acts.
Music such as Rap has been blamed for violence, crime, and juvenile delinquency among black as well as other populations of youth. (Mahiri & Conner, 2003). Television shows such as Jerry Springer have done more damage to America’s youth by exposing them to the most deviant and sexually explicit material than ever before in history. Our collective values have declined since the 1950s in the United States.
An increase of in the number of juvenile delinquents has been observed. A thirty-three percent increase has been noted in the last decade (Loeber, Farrington, & Petechuk, 2003). Gangs are more prevalent in local cities than ever before. Drug related crimes are increasing. Violence depicted in movies such as Freeway, is common place to our young people.
Schools need to have in place programs to help alleviate some of the “baby sitting” that is done by teachers. As a country, we need to stop worrying about everyone else around the world and take care of our children. Studies have been done to determine why we have so many juvenile delinquents and we need to so something to stop the progression. Deviant acts leads to juvenile delinquents as well as other criminals. Our young people need to be taught the importance of staying in school as well as a criminal record can follow them for the rest of their lives. Babies should come home with parents who have had parenting classes as well as CPR and first aid classes. Changes need to be made in our country to insure our most valuable resource is protected and taken care of properly.
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