The current statistics of juvenile delinquency are astounding. I will look at the most recent statistics and a few of the programs implemented to reduce or prevent delinquency. Before delving to deep into juvenile delinquency it is important to consider the definitions of “juvenile” and “delinquent”. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives two definitions of “juvenile”: 1. Showing incomplete development, and 2. A young person; one below the legally established age of adulthood (1997). Merriam-Webster defines “delinquent” as: offending by neglect or violation of duty or law (1997).
As a complete definition of juvenile delinquent it is safe to repeat “a person below the established age of adulthood that offends by neglect or violation of duty or law (1997)”. The history of juvenile delinquency had harsh beginnings. Children were viewed as non-persons until the 1700’s(Rice 1995). They did not receive special treatment or recognition. Discipline then is what we now call abuse. It was believed that life was hard, and you had to be hard to survive. The people of that time in history did not have the conveniences that we take for granted.
For example, the medical practices of that day were primitive in comparison to present-day medicine. Marriages were more for convenience, rather than for childbearing or romance. The infant and child mortality rate was also very high. It did not make sense to the parents in those days to create an emotional bond with children when there was a strong chance that the children would not survive until adulthood (1995). At the end of the 18th century, “The Enlightenment” appeared as a new cultural transition. People began to see children as flowers, who needed nurturing in order to loom.
It was the invention of childhood, love and nurturing instead of beatings to stay in line (1995). Children had finally begun to emerge as a distinct group. It started with the upper class, who were allowed to attend colleges and universities. Throughout all time there has been delinquency. It may not have had the delinquency label, but it still existed. In ancient Britain, children at the age of seven were tried, convicted, and punished as adults. There was no special treatment for them; a hanging was a hanging.
Juvenile crime is mentioned as far back as ancient Sumeria and Hammurabi, where laws concerning juvenile offenders first appear in written form (1995). Industrialization set into motion the processes needed for modern juvenile delinquency. The country had gone from agriculture to machine based labor intensive production. Subsistence farming quickly turned into profit making (1995). People who were displaced from their farm work because of machinery were migrating to the city to find work. This led to urbanization in such places as Chicago, which in turn caused the cities to burst at the seams (1995).
There was also a huge increase in the amount of movable goods that were produced and these moveable goods were easy to steal. The stealing of these goods made property crime rise tremendously in these urban centers. The wealth of the upper class increased, and stealing became a way of living (1995). These large urban centers also created another problem. The work place was now separated from the home and during the hard times both parents took jobs. There was also very little for the youths to do, especially when school was not in session. It was then that youths were becoming ncreasingly unsupervised.
These youths were largely unemployed and without supervision, and with movable goods easily available, stealing became a way of life. The huge influx of people to these urban areas overwhelmed society (1995). The factories could not keep up, and unemployment became a factor, which led to widespread poverty. Poorhouses were created to keep youthful offenders away from trouble. The idea behind them was to take the children of the “dangerous (1995) ” classes out of their “dangerous environment (1995). ” Kids who were thought to be salvageable needed to be saved.
The majority of these children were rounded up for the crime of being poor, not because they committed a crime. These houses, sometimes referred to as reform schools, were very harsh. This was contradictory to the ideas that they needed nurturing and love. In New York, houses of refuge were created to do the same. The houses eventually became overfilled, and children were sent out West as indentured servants. As many as 50,000 children were shipped out (1995). Some of the children were never allowed to have contact with their parents again.
Industrialization and urbanization played a tremendous role in the modern era of juvenile delinquency. A lot of these factors are true today. Many more farms are going bankrupt. Unemployment is still a factor with the youth of today. We are a culture that values material wealth over and above all (1995). Youth who have no money to live the way they want will often turn to crime as a way to satisfy themselves. As our nation changes, the way in which juveniles are treated will also have to change. The current trends in juvenile delinquency have an impact on how we view the problem.
The number of juvenile arrests has been declining. In 1971, 21% of all arrests were juveniles. A lot of this change has to do with the declining teenage population. There are 6 million fewer teenagers today than 20 years ago (1995). Property crime in the United States has been fairly stable; there has been a 3% increase between 1982 and 1991. Violent crime has seen a tremendous increase. Since 1965, juvenile arrests have doubled for rape (11:100,00 in 1965 to 22: 100,00 in 1991). Crime is generally a young person’s game. Property crime peaks at age 16, violent crime peaks at age 18.
All crime drops off dramatically at about age 30. There are some disturbing trends such as: More than 500 kids under age 12 were arrested for rape in 1991. These statistics should be viewed with caution. For example, some of these figures were estimated, the official numbers may be less disturbing, or even underestimated (1995). With an increased emphasis on juveniles, more enforcement and less discretion equal higher figures. There is also a problem with data being “fudged (1995)” in order to justify an increase in resources.
Falcon Baker writes that “…crime statistics are at best only educated guesses, and all too often are tainted by political expediency, sloppy record keeping, and outright deception” (1991). Contrary to the “negative publicity, relatively few children come before the juvenile court” (Downs, Moore, McFadden, Costin, 1991). Of the 29. 9 million youths aged 10 through 17 in the United States in 1995, only 2. 7 million, or less that 10 percent, were arrested for delinquent acts, including status offenses. Violent crimes (murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) accounted for 5 percent of all juvenile rrests.
The ages of youths at the time of arrest for all crimes were as follows: 23 percent were 17 years of age; 68 percent were 13 through 16 years of age, and 9 percent were less than 13 years of age. The racial composition was 69 percent white, 28 percent black, 1 percent Native American and 2 percent Asian (1991). In doing research on juvenile crime one will find the body of evidence overwhelming. It is at times contradictory and often confusing, but there are some statistics that jump out at you as you sift your way through reports and books.
Often the most compelling statistics are not the ones that appear in newspapers, or on television, radio and speeches that seem to take place almost continuously. According to a report issued last year titled Violent Crime Increases, and prepared for the National Report on Juvenile offending and Victimization shows that between 1965 and 1992 law enforcement agencies reported a 423% increase in the four crimes that make up the FBI’s Violent Crime Index (assault, robbery, rape and homicide) (Abruzzese 1997). The report also includes that in the period from 1983 to 1992 it increased only 54%.
A few additional points are that in 1992 law enforcement agencies in over 92% of all jurisdictions reported that 45% of violent crimes, as measured by the index, were “cleared” (1997). However, more than half (55%) were not “cleared” (1997), so half of all violent crimes were not solved. Also 19% (or 128,000) of the violent crimes committed between 1983 and 1992 is attributable to juvenile offenders (1997). In a report titled “Person Offenses in Juvenile Court” from the October 1994 OJJDP some interesting statistics were given.
From 1985 to 1994, person offenses including assault, robbery, rape and homicide, increases by 93% with juvenile courts handling an estimated 336,100 person offense cases. Person offenses also accounted for a larger proportion of cases, 22% in 1995 compared with 16% in 1985. And, finally, of the 336,100 person offenses handled by the juvenile courts in 1994, over half were dismissed, 3 percent were processed as adults, 24 percent incarcerated and the remainder were on probation or some other alternative program.
When reading over these statistics and trying to fathom the numbers of juvenile delinquents and their crimes, it raises a few important questions. What is being done to prevent this? And what are our governments (local and federally) doing to help? Money makes the world go round and without government help the many social workers, psychologists, counselors and doctors trying to help this situation would not be able to do their part. The juvenile justice system is funded by multiple sources (McNeece & Roberts, 1997).
Almost no federal money is expended by juvenile courts to support ongoing operations, but demonstration projects are funded with grants from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. This appears to be changing somewhat under the Violent Crime Control Act of 1994, with $377 million available in Fiscal Year 1996-2000 for crime prevention programs sponsored by local governments (1997). This money will also be administered by OJJDP. Other provisions of this act may also make federal funds vailable to courts for general administration ($150 million).
Another $36 million has been authorized for “delinquent and at-risk youth” programs. A few private foundations also fund innovative programs for short periods of time. Juvenile justice operations are financed primarily by a combination of state and local dollars, and the amount contributed of each varies by state and locality (1997). The biggest problem of funding programs for juveniles is the fact that local and state governments are now handling the huge responsibility of welfare programs. This puts a burden on funding new programs that relief from the federal level could improve.
The report on the fiscal year 1998 published by the Children’s Defense Fund indicates “no [federal] increases in funding for the child welfare service areas of: runaway and homeless youth, child abuse state grants, child abuse discretionary activities, child welfare services and family violence” (Wilber 1998). With an estimated growth of 23% in the total population of youths from ages 15 to 19 by 2005, it is imperative that we find effective and low cost solutions. Many such prevention and intervention programs already exist and several are worth mentioning (1998).
Educational programs come in many forms. One of the most prevalent is Conflict Resolution Education. The programs contain components of process curriculum, peer mediation, peaceable classroom, and peaceable school with programs often combining elements from these approaches. Such programs can exist in schools and in the community. The New Mexico Center for Dispute Resolution’s Youth Corrections Mediation Programs starts within the facility and continues in community mediation centers in more than 600 ommunities.
This provides skill development and assistance for both juveniles and their families (1998). Most communities also have some form of parenting classes available because parents have a tremendous influence over their teenagers. Michael D Resnick, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, in the September 1997 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, published the results of the most comprehensive survey ever done of American adolescents.
It found that the health and well being of adolescents “still rests in that strong feeling of being cared for by parents” (1998). In fact, the more loved they felt and the more comfortable they were in school, the less teenagers were likely to engage in problematic behaviors, including committing violence. Supporting parents through this very difficult stage of parenting and ensuring they have the skills necessary to help their children and support pro-social behaviors is money well spent.
Advocacy programs are also effective and fiscally sound. One such program is the Court Appointed Special Advocates, which utilizes trained volunteers, each of whom follow one child under the conservatorship of the state regardless of where the child lives and makes recommendations to the judge (1998). CASA organizations exist throughout the United States but unfortunately, they often can only serve as few as one-third of the children who need the service and do not serve children who are not under conservatorship.
This leaves the abused sixteen-year-old, for example, on his own and far too often the first intervention an abused adolescent will see is punishment (1998). The Juvenile Justice System has many treatment options to choose from. Besides the usual jails and correctional centers, there are specialized Youth Centers, Group Homes, and Foster Care Programs. These are just a few examples of what is available. Peter Greenwood and Susan Turner (1993) assessed the Paint Creek Youth Center in Ohio. The main goal of this center is to provide high quality tailored programming.
There was a three-day orientation program and an aftercare program to assist in the transition back to society. The youths received classes and formal counseling instead of locked up in a cell. They were part of a community. While at the center youths earned privileges as they progressed. Among the privileges were being allowed a paying job, family visits at the center, and weekends at home. The uniqueness of this program was the emphasis on tailored treatment. Instead of being lumped into groups, the youths are counseled individually.
This allowed the counselors and youths to benefit from the program. Greenwood and Turner concluded that the aftercare program had a modest effect on post-release arrests and behavior. More cognitive/behavioral effort was needed in the aftercare. They also determined that this alternative shows promise, and that more attention should be paid to the youths’ prosocial behavior when they return to the community. Haghighi and Lopez (1993) evaluated the success/failure of group home treatment programs for juveniles.
The two factors used in the analysis were evaluations from program staff and the reappearance of the juvenile in the juvenile justice system after release. Haghighi and Lopez found that 62. 5% of the juveniles were rated as successful. The rest either failed, were sent to another facility, or committed another delinquent act after release. Juveniles with prior treatment, such as probation, were more successful than those with no treatment or with time spent in a juvenile detention center. Galaway, et al. 995) wrote an article that claimed family homes for emotionally or psychiatrically impaired youth might have hidden benefits for delinquents.
Family care providers were said to be able to manage delinquents in a home setting and that their behavior will improve. The study was composed of 220 U. S. , 18 Canadian, and 28 U. K. programs. Less than half of these programs served delinquents. It was reported that 41% of delinquent youth completed the programs, 12% were administratively discharged, 14% showed no progress and the rest were discharged due to breakdown of the youth or foster family.
The average length of stay was 7. 5 months. They determined that foster family care may be a viable alternative for delinquents and could be used more often. It is sometimes the case that youth are placed in the wrong setting (jail) because there is no alternative. In closing, we are all aware of after school programs and community based services such as Boys and Girls Clubs. They provide a safe haven for children to go where they can build self-esteem, pro-social values and productive futures.
Communities and organizations do what they can, some with the help of Title V grants under “Delinquency Prevention Programs. ” However, as long as a disproportionate amount funding goes to deal with problems after they have occurred, there will remain limited resources to prevent their occurring (Wilber 1998). “Let us not in our concern about juvenile violence forget that they are just that-children. These are our children and they need our attention and concern before they get into serious trouble, as well as after” (1998).