Juvenile delinquency in the United States
This page is primarily concerned with juvenile delinquency in the United States. For information on juvenile delinquency in general, see juvenile delinquency. In addition, although the term juvenile delinquency often refers to juvenile as both the victims and the aggressors, this page only refers to juveniles as the actual delinquents. The information and statistics for juveniles as victims rather than offenders is much different. For information about juveniles as the victims of violent attacks, see trafficking of children, child abuse, child sexual abuse, or prostitution of children.
Introduction to Juvenile Delinquency
Juvenile Delinquency refers to criminal acts committed by children or teenagers, specifically anyone below the age of eighteen. Common sentiment on this issue is that the crimes they commit hurt society and hurt the children themselves. Much research and debate revolves around the problem of juvenile delinquency in the US. The research is mainly focused on the causes of juvenile delinquency and which strategies have successfully diminished crime rates among the youth population. Though the causes are debated and controversial as well, much of the debate revolves around the punishment and rehabilitation of juveniles in a youth detention center or elsewhere.
There are many factors that cause juvenile delinquency. Sometimes children want to test their parents' limits, or society's limits. Some people believe that imposing strict laws such as curfews will cause a drop in juvenile delinquency rates, but sometimes imposing strict rules merely give the children more of an incentive to break them. However, sometimes juvenile crimes do in fact occur due to the exact opposite reason, that is, a lack of rules and supervision. One example of this is that children many times commit crimes after school and while their parents are at work or preoccupied. Statistics that are mentioned below explain the peak hours of juvenile crime rates and conceptualize this very cause. Additionally, mental illness and substance abuse are large contributing factors. 15-20% of juveniles convicted of crimes have serious mental illnesses, and the percentages increase to 30-90% of convicted juveniles when the scope of mental illnesses considered widens. Also, many people believe that a child's environment and family are greatly related to their juvenile delinquency record. For example, the dynamics of a family can affect a child’s well being and delinquency rate. Crime rates vary due to the living situations of children; examples of this could be a child whose parents are together, divorced, or a child with only one parents, particularly a teen mom. This is largely due to the fact that living arrangements are directly related to increases and decreases of poverty levels. Poverty level is another factor that is related to the chances a child has of becoming a juvenile delinquent. Statistics on living arrangements, poverty level and other influential factors can be found in a later section. Others believe that the environment and external factors are not at play when it comes to crime; they suggest that criminals are faced with rational choice decisions in which they chose to follow the irrational path. Finally, another cause could be the relationships a child develops in school or outside of school. A positive or negative friendship can have a great influence on the chances of children becoming delinquents. Peer pressure is also at play. Relationships and friendships can lead to gangs, which are major contributors of violent crimes among teens. These are just some of the causes of juvenile delinquency. For a more detailed account of each of these causes, and more, please see the references below or the juvenile delinquency page.
There are roughly 75 million juveniles in The United States as of 2013. That is, one in four Americans have the potential of being labeled as juvenile delinquents (because they are considered juveniles). More specifically, in 2009 there were 74.5 million juveniles in the US, which was 2 million more than in the year 2007 which was 72.5 million due to sexual child abuse. The population of juveniles in the US is projected to increase until 2015, at least. In fact, the Federal Interagency on Child and Family Statistics reported that the number of juveniles might reach 101.6 million by 2050. If the juveniles delinquency rates were to increase with the population, or even plateau, this would translate into thousands of more juvenile delinquents. Also in 2009, the three different classifications of age groups among children, being 0-5, 6-11 and 12-17, were roughly equal. As reported in 2009 by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 57% percent of all juveniles are White, 10% Black, 1% American Indian, 5% Asian, and 22% Hispanic. Poverty, which is also directly connected to a child's chances of becoming a juvenile delinquent, varies by numerous factors. The poverty level of a child can vary by race and living arrangement (and other factors which are not mentioned here). For instance, in 2009, Black and Hispanic children were about three times more likely than White children of being poor. Additionally, in 2010, 21% of all children were living in poverty. 13% of these poverty stricken children lived in a two parent household, 40% lived with one single parent, 43% lived with just a mother figure, 22% lived with just a father figure, and 43% of the poverty-stricken children lived with no parents at all. These statistics show that poverty levels increase as the child lives with fewer parental figures. The demographic statistics mentioned above pertain specifically to juveniles, which in turn, is closely related to juvenile delinquency. Many of the demographics mentioned above change on state level; to look up state-specific juvenile delinquency rates in general, or by race/poverty level/living arrangement, visit the Office of Juvenile and Delinquency Prevention website.
Juvenile Delinquency Statistnd Delinquency Prevention, the juvenile violent crime rate index dropped for the second consecutive year in 2010, and is now 5% lower that it was in 2006. Additionally, the Children's Defense Fund communicates that boys are five times more likely than girls to become juvenile delinquents (this statistic is further explained below). Also on the Children Defense Fund website are statistics pertaining to Black and Latino boys and their juvenile delinquency rates. 1 of every 3 Black boys is at risk of incarceration, as well as 1 of every 6 Latino boys. Traveling back to the statistics provided by the OJJDP, their website also says that in 2008, juveniles were the offenders in 908 cases of murder, which constitutes 9% of all murders committed that year. Also related to homicides, in the 1980s 25% of the murders that involved juvenile delinquents as the offenders also involved an adult offender. This percentage rose to 31% in the 90's, and averaged at 37% between 2000 and 2008. The time of day juvenile delinquents commit their crimes is the times they are not in school. On average, juvenile crimes begin occurring most frequently after the school is let out, peaking from 7 pm to 9pm (usually night time), after dark. Violent juvenile crimes involving a firearm follow the same peak a little later, from 8pm to 10pm. According to the OJJDP, the time of day that a crime occurs does not differ greatly on a non-school day (for example, if the children have a day off school, the crimes will not occur any earlier). This could be related to the fact that many of the days that children are out of school are national holidays, so their parents or parent might be home from work and supervising them. This is assuming that their parents are employed and that all children are in school and never skip school, which is in fact not true. For more statistics, please visit the OJJDP website.
The Male Phenomenon
The male phenomenon refers to the fact that a large majority of juvenile delinquents are men, or boys. In the United States, boys are five times more likely than girls to become juvenile delinquents. Moreover, there are many suggested explanations as to why it is that boys commit more crimes than girls. One comes from theorists who believe men and boys are naturally more aggressive than women and girls. Another theory communicates the idea that men and boys commit more crimes because of societal pressures to be masculine and aggressive. A third theory suggests that the manner in which boys are treated by their families calls for more criminal action. The crime rates vary across boys of different races. They are mentioned in the 'juvenile delinquency statistics' section above, as well as in the 'cradle to prison pipeline' section below, but to review,African-American boys are more likely to become juvenile delinquents than White and Latino boys. Latino boys are more likely to become juvenile delinquents than White boys are. One clear way to explain this difference in crime rates among different races of boys is by looking at their poverty rates.
Changes in Statistics
Changes in these statistics can be attributed to many fluctuations. Negative changes in the economy greatly affect all crime rates because people are more likely to find themselves in pressing situation like unemployment. Changes in population affect juvenile delinquency rates as well because changes in population translate into more or less juveniles. Shifts in population could also mean more general societal shift, like a wave of immigration. An influx of new people who are unfamiliar with the legal system could negative affect the juvenile crime rates. Other social changes, such as educational or health reforms, could have a large impact on juvenile crime rates if they create a larger population of at-risk children.
Cradle to Prison Pipeline
This term refers to the population of boys and girls who live in conditions that cause them to be channeled into prison from birth. The pipeline suggests that there are factors such as a lack of parental supervision, poverty, and a lack of education that makes these people helpless and unable to change their situations. Though this idea might not be appealing to the those that believe crime is solely the failure of a rational choice decision, this phenomenon has caught the attention of many Americans. This pipeline, so to speak, disproportionately affects minority children living in under-served community, such as Blacks and Latinos. According to the Children's Defense Fund, 1 out of every 3 Black boys and 1 out of every 3 Hispanic boys are at risk of becoming delinquents in their lifetime, and therefore at risk of being sucked into this pipeline in which prison is the only option at the end of the tunnel. Of course some people that are affected by the pipeline commit crimes and are imprisoned when they are older, say 20. However, if the delinquency cause by the pipeline were to occur before the age of eighteen, the boy/girls would then become juvenile delinquents. Keeping in mind the existence of the male phenomenon, one can safely say that the pipeline affects more boys than girls. The Children's Defense Fund has created a campaign to try to halt the spread of this phenomenon that is ruining the lives of so many poverty-stricken families and minorities. The campaign is called the 'Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign' and was launched in 2008 in Washington DC, at Howard University. Howard University is a historically black university. The campaign argues that the US government spends more money on incarcerated people that on each child in the public school system. Their vision is that if this budgeting were reversed, the number of juvenile delinquents would greatly decrease. The ultimate goal of this campaign is to increase support for preventive measures and resources that children need to stay on the right path. Some of the programs this campaign includes increasing early childhood education and guidance, as well as increasing health and mental health coverage and counseling. To date, many states have responded to this campaign by forming coalitions and holding conventions in which they formulate ideas and tactics to dismantle the pipeline.
Juvenile Delinquency and the Law
Below is very valuable information on legal changes that have been made in regards to juvenile delinquents and juvenile delinquency. For a more thorough and detailed outline of juvenile delinquency law in the United States, please see this link.
The United States federal government enacted legislation to unify the handling of juvenile delinquents, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act of 1974. The act created the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) within the Justice Department to administer grants for juvenile crime-combating programs (currently only about 900,000 dollars a year), gather national statistics on juvenile crime, fund research on youth crime and administer four anticonfinement mandates regarding juvenile custody. Specifically, the act orders:
- Deinstitutionalization: Youths charged with "status" offenses that would not be crimes if committed by adults, such as truancy, running away and being caught with alcohol or tobacco, must be "deinstitutionalized," which in this case really means that, with certain exceptions (e.g., minor in possession of a handgun), status offenders may not be detained by police or confined. Alleged problems with this mandate are that it overrides state and local law, limits the discretion of law enforcement officers and prevents the authorities' ability to reunify an offender with his family.
- Segregation: Arrested youths must be strictly segregated from adults in custody. Under this "out of sight and sound" mandate, juveniles cannot be served food by anyone who serves jailed adults nor can a juvenile walk down a corridor past a room where an adult is being interrogated. This requirement forces local authorities to either free juveniles or maintain expensive duplicate facilities and personnel. Small cities, towns and rural areas are especially hard hit, drastically raising those taxpayers' criminal justice costs. Supporters of the system point to lower sexual assault rates when adults and children are separated.
- Jail and Lockup Removal: As a general rule, youths subject to the original jurisdiction of juvenile courts cannot be held in jails and lockups in which adults may be detained. The act provides for a six-hour exception for identification, processing, interrogation and transfer to juvenile facilities, court or detention pending release to parents. The act also provides an exception of 24 hours for rural areas only.
- Over representation of minority youths: States must systematically try to reduce confinement of minority youths to the proportion of those groups in the population.
One of the most notable causes of juvenile delinquency is fiat, i.e. the declaration that a juvenile is delinquent by the juvenile court system without any trial, and upon finding only probable cause. Many states have laws that presuppose the less harsh treatment of juvenile delinquents than adult counterparts’ treatment. In return, the juvenile surrenders certain constitutional rights, such as a right to trial by jury, the right to cross-examine, and even the right to a speedy trial. Notable writings by reformers such as Jerome G. Miller show that very few juvenile delinquents actually broke any law. Most were simply rounded up by the police after some event that possibly involved criminal action. They were brought before juvenile court judges who made findings of delinquency, simply because the police action established probable cause.
In 1967, the United States Supreme Court decided the case In re Gault, that established the protection of many, but not all, procedural rights of juveniles in court proceedings, such as the right to counsel and right to refuse self-incrimination.
Preventing Juvenile Delinquency
An effective way of preventing juvenile delinquency and keeping at-risk children away from crime is to tackle the problem before it happens. This entails looking at the causes of crime among teens and making an effort to reduce or eliminate said causes. Some causes, though hard to eliminate, seem plausible. An example of this is improving the environment at home, through employment opportunities for the parents, educational opportunities for the children, and counseling and rehabilitation services if need be. These changes would not only promote a more positive environment at home, but would also work towards pulling at-risk families out of poverty. A cause that is more difficult to eliminate is mental illness, because sometimes these illnesses are present at birth. Still, counseling and rehabilitation might aid in reducing the negative affects of these illness, such as irrational and violent behavior. One cause that seems almost impossible to eliminate is the rational and irrational choice idea. As mentioned above, some people believe that all crime comes down to a single situation in which an individual must make a rational or irrational decision, to commit the crime, or to not. Those that believe that this rational choice option is tied to the very immutable nature of the person would have a hard time believing that there is any way to control the choices children make and eliminate the causes of juvenile delinquency.
There are many foundations and organizations around the United States that have dedicated themselves to the reduction and elimination of juvenile delinquency. Many of these organizations spend their time and money controlling for the causes of juvenile delinquency mentioned above. Below are a few agencies that work on preventing juvenile delinquency, though this list is not all encompassing by any means. Links for these foundations and organizations can be found in the #External links section below.
- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: Forming part of the US Department of Justice, this prevention agency is a governmental organization focuses on all types of research, prevention programs, and rehabilitation programs for juveniles as offenders and victims. Through collaboration, this organizations aims to improve juvenile justice policies and practices and create safer communities and neighborhoods. The OJJDP helps victims of kidnapping, as well as victims of sexual exploitation. Currently, the OJJDP is working to prevent gang involvement/crime, girl's delinquency, and the under-aged consumption of alcohol. This foundation is important because it guides real-life policy changes that pertain to juvenile justice and juvenile delinquency.
- The Innocence Project: The main goal of this organization is not to reduce juvenile delinquency, but rather, to liberate juveniles that were falsely convicted of crimes. Though this foundation is not primarily focused on reducing juvenile delinquency, it has done a good job of freeing falsely convicted teens in the past.
- Annie E Casie Foundation: The goal of this foundation is to provide a brighter and safer future for children from under-served communities around the US. Its major initiatives include: child welfare strategy group, civic sites, family economic success, juvenile detention alternatives initiative (JDAI), KIDS COUNT, leadership development, and making connections. The KIDS COUNT initiative collects annual data on the well being of children all round the US and publishes state-specific reports as well as state comparisons. The JDAI focuses on providing a bright and healthy future as adults for children involved in the juvenile justice system.
- National Gang Center: This a website that provides anyone on the web with information about the gang problem in the US. It includes research done by the NGC and FAQ's. There is also a list of resources on how to identify if your city has a gang problem and how to combat this problem. This foundation helps the people within the struggling communities be the ones to solve their own gang problems.
- Best Friends Organization: This organization focuses on the overall well-being of children in the US. It focuses on physical and emotional well-being and helps children develop healthy relationships and useful skills. This organization is an example of an organization that works towards preventing problems before they occur. Instead of focusing on the elimination of current juvenile delinquency, this organization works on creating healthy and happy children that will not resort to crime.
- List of juvenile offenders executed in the United States
- Youth incarceration in the United States
- Juvenile justice in the United States
- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
- Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act
- Eadie, T. & Morley, R. (2003) ‘Crime, Justice and Punishment’ in Baldock, J. et al. (eds) Social Policy (3 rd edn.) Oxford: Oxford University Press
- Walklate, S (2003) Understanding Criminology – Current Theoretical Debates, 2nd edition, Maidenhead: Open University Press
- "The Long Arm of Federal Juvenile Crime Law Shortened". Archived from the original on 2006-11-30. Retrieved 2006-12-12.
- Miller, Jerome G. (1991). Last One Over the Wall. Ohio State University Press. ISBN 0-8142-0758-8.