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Juvenile delinquency, also known "juvenile offending", is the act of participating in unlawful behavior as minors (juveniles, i.e. individuals younger than the statutory age of majority).[1] Most legal systems prescribe specific procedures for dealing with juveniles, such as juvenile detention centers and courts, with it being common that juvenile systems are treated as civil cases instead of criminal, or a hybrid thereof to avoid certain requirements required for criminal cases (typically the rights to a public trial or to a jury trial). A juvenile delinquent in the United States is a person who is typically below 18 (17 in Georgia, New York, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Texas, and Wisconsin) years of age and commits an act that otherwise would have been charged as a crime if they were an adult. Depending on the type and severity of the offense committed, it is possible for people under 18 to be charged and treated as adults.

In recent years a higher proportion of youth have experienced arrests by their early 20s than in the past.

However, juvenile offending can be considered to be normative adolescent behavior.[4] This is because most teens tend to offend by committing non-violent crimes, only once or a few times, and only during adolescence. Repeated and/or violent offending is likely to lead to later and more violent offenses. When this happens, the offender often displays antisocial behavior even before reaching adolescence.[5]

Types


Juvenile delinquency, or offending, is often separated into three categories:

According to the developmental research of Moffitt (2006),[4] there are two different types of offenders that emerge in adolescence. One is the repeat offender, referred to as the life-course-persistent offender, who begins offending or showing antisocial/aggressive behavior in adolescence (or even in childhood) and continues into adulthood; and the age specific offender, referred to as the adolescence-limited offender, for whom juvenile offending or delinquency begins and ends during their period of adolescence.[5] Considering that most teenagers tend to show some form of antisocial or delinquent behavior during adolescence, it is important to account for these behaviors in childhood in order to determine whether they will be life-course-persistent offenders or adolescence-limited offenders.[5] Although adolescence-limited offenders tend to drop all criminal activity once they enter adulthood and show less pathology than life-course-persistent offenders, they still show more mental health, substance abuse, and financial problems, both in adolescence and adulthood, than those who were never delinquent.[7]

Risk factors


The two largest predictors of juvenile delinquency are:

  • parenting style, with the two styles most likely to predict delinquency being:
  • peer group association, particularly with antisocial peer groups, as is more likely when adolescents are left unsupervised.[4]

Other factors that may lead a teenager into juvenile delinquency include poor or low socioeconomic status, poor school readiness/performance and/or failure, peer rejection, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). There may also be biological factors, such as high levels of serotonin, giving them a difficult temper and poor self-regulation, and a lower resting heart rate, which may lead to fearlessness. Delinquent activity, particularly the involvement in youth gangs, may also be caused by a desire for protection against violence or financial hardship, as the offenders view delinquent activity as a means of surrounding themselves with resources to protect against these threats. Most of these influences tend to be caused by a mix of both genetic and environmental factors.[4] Some research indicates that changes in the weather can increase the likelihood of children exhibiting deviant behavior.[8]

Individual psychological or behavioral risk factors that may make offending more likely include low intelligence, impulsiveness or the inability to delay gratification, aggression, lack of empathy, and restlessness.[9] Other risk factors that may be evident during childhood and adolescence include, aggressive or troublesome behavior, language delays or impairments, lack of emotional control (learning to control one's anger), and cruelty to animals.[10]

Children with low intelligence are more likely to do badly in school. This may increase the chances of offending because low educational attainment, a low attachment to school, and low educational aspirations are all risk factors for offending in themselves.[11][12][13] Children who perform poorly at school are also more likely to be truant, and the status offense of truancy is linked to further offending.[9] Impulsiveness is seen by some as the key aspect of a child's personality that predicts offending.[9] However, it is not clear whether these aspects of personality are a result of "deficits in the executive functions of the brain"[9] or a result of parental influences or other social factors.[14] In any event, studies of adolescent development show that teenagers are more prone to risk-taking, which may explain the high disproportionate rate of offending among adolescents.[4]

Family factors that may have an influence on offending include: the level of parental supervision, the way parents discipline a child, particularly harsh punishment, parental conflict or separation, criminal parents or siblings, parental abuse or neglect, and the quality of the parent-child relationship.[14] Children who develop behavioral problems early in life are at greater risk for continual life long antisocial behavior, criminal activity and violence.[15] Some have suggested that having a lifelong partner leads to less offending.

Juvenile Delinquency, which basically is the rebellious or unlawful activities by kids in their teens or pre-teens, is caused by four main risk factors namely; personality, background, state of mind and drugs.

Children brought up by single parents are more likely to start offending than those who live with both parents.

If a child has low parental supervision they are much more likely to offend.[14] Many studies have found a strong correlation between a lack of supervision and offending, and it appears to be the most important family influence on offending.[9][14] When parents commonly do not know where their children are, what their activities are, or who their friends are, children are more likely to truant from school and have delinquent friends, each of which are linked to offending.[14] A lack of supervision is also connected to poor relationships between children and parents. Children who are often in conflict with their parents may be less willing to discuss their activities with them.[14]

Adolescents with criminal siblings are only more likely to be influenced by their siblings, and also become delinquent; the sibling is older, of the same sex/gender, and warm.[10] Cases where a younger criminal sibling influences an older one are rare. An aggressive, non-loving/warm sibling is less likely to influence a younger sibling in the direction of delinquency, if anything, the more strained the relationship between the siblings, the less they will want to be like, and/or influence each other.[10]

Peer rejection in childhood is also a large predictor of juvenile delinquency. Although children are rejected by peers for many reasons, it is often the case that they are rejected due to violent or aggressive behavior. This rejections affects the child's ability to be socialized properly, which can reduce their aggressive tendencies, and often leads them to gravitate towards anti-social peer groups.[10] This association often leads to the promotion of violent, aggressive and deviant behavior. "The impact of deviant peer group influences on the crystallization of an antisocial developmental trajectory has been solidly documented."[10] Aggressive adolescents who have been rejected by peers are also more likely to have a "hostile attribution bias", which leads people to interpret the actions of others (whether they be hostile or not) as purposefully hostile and aggressive towards them. This often leads to an impulsive and aggressive reaction.[17] Hostile attribution bias however, can appear at any age during development and often lasts throughout a persons life.

Children resulting from unintended pregnancies are more likely to exhibit delinquent behavior.[18] They also have lower mother-child relationship quality.[19]

Applicable crime theories


There are a multitude of different theories on the causes of crime; most, if not all, of are applicable to the causes of juvenile delinquency.

Classical criminology stresses that the causes of crime lie within the individual offender, rather than in their external environment. For classicists, offenders are motivated by rational self-interest, and the importance of free will and personal responsibility is emphasized.[20] Rational choice theory is the clearest example of this idea. Delinquency is one of the major factors motivated by rational choice.

Current positivist approaches generally focus on the culture. A type of criminological theory attributing variation in crime and delinquency over time and among territories to the absence or breakdown of communal institutions (e.g. family, school, church and social groups.) and communal relationships that traditionally encouraged cooperative relationships among people.

Strain theory is associated mainly with the work of Robert Merton. He felt that there are institutionalized paths to success in society. Strain theory holds that crime is caused by the difficulty those in poverty have in achieving socially valued goals by legitimate means.[20] As those with, for instance, poor educational attainment have difficulty achieving wealth and status by securing well paid employment, they are more likely to use criminal means to obtain these goals.[21] Merton's suggests five adaptations to this dilemma:

A difficulty with strain theory is that it does not explore why children of low-income families would have poor educational attainment in the first place.

The theory of Differential association also deals with young people in a group context, and looks at how peer pressure and the existence of gangs could lead them into crime. It suggests young people are motivated to commit crimes by delinquent peers, and learn criminal skills from them. The diminished influence of peers after men marry has also been cited as a factor in desisting from offending. There is strong evidence that young people with criminal friends are more likely to commit crimes themselves. However it may be the case that offenders prefer to associate with one another, rather than delinquent peers causing someone to start offending. Furthermore there is the question of how the delinquent peer group became delinquent initially.

Labeling theory is a concept within Criminology that aims to explain deviant behavior from the social context rather than looking at the individual themselves. It is part of Interactionism criminology that states that once young people have been labeled as criminal they are more likely to offend.[20] The idea is that once labelled as deviant a young person may accept that role, and be more likely to associate with others who have been similarly labelled.[20] Labelling theorists say that male children from poor families are more likely to be labelled deviant, and that this may partially explain why there are more working class young male offenders.[11]

Social control theory proposes that exploiting the process of socialization and social learning builds self-control and can reduce the inclination to indulge in behavior recognized as antisocial. The four types of control can help prevent juvenile delinquency are:

Direct: by which punishment is threatened or applied for wrongful behavior, and compliance is rewarded by parents, family, and authority figures. Internal: by which a youth refrains from delinquency through the conscience or superego. Indirect: by identification with those who influence behavior, say because his or her delinquent act might cause pain and disappointment to parents and others with whom he or she has close relationships. Control through needs satisfaction, i.e. if all an individual's needs are met, there is no point in criminal activity.

Mental/conduct disorders


Juvenile delinquents are often diagnosed with different disorders.

Juvenile delinquents who have recurring encounters with the criminal justice system, or in other words those who are life-course-persistent offenders, are sometimes diagnosed with conduct disorders because they show a continuous disregard for their own and others safety and/or property. Once the juvenile continues to exhibit the same behavioral patterns and turns eighteen he is then at risk of being diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder and much more prone to become a serious criminal offender.[24] One of the main components used in diagnosing an adult with antisocial personality disorder consists of presenting documented history of conduct disorder before the age of 15. These two personality disorders are analogous in their erratic and aggressive behavior. This is why habitual juvenile offenders diagnosed with conduct disorder are likely to exhibit signs of antisocial personality disorder early in life and then as they mature. Some times these juveniles reach maturation and they develop into career criminals, or life-course-persistent offenders. "Career criminals begin committing antisocial behavior before entering grade school and are versatile in that they engage in an array of destructive behaviors, offend at exceedingly high rates, and are less likely to quit committing crime as they age."[24]

Quantitative research was completed on 9,945 juvenile male offenders between the ages of 10 and 18 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the 1970s.[25] The longitudinal birth cohort was used to examine a trend among a small percentage of career criminals who accounted for the largest percentage of crime activity.[25] The trend exhibited a new phenomenon among habitual offenders. The phenomenon indicated that only 6% of the youth qualified under their definition of a habitual offender (known today as life-course persistent offenders, or career criminals) and yet were responsible for 52% of the delinquency within the entire study.[25] The same 6% of chronic offenders accounted for 71% of the murders and 69% of the aggravated assaults.[25] This phenomenon was later researched among an adult population in 1977 and resulted in similar findings. S. A. Mednick did a birth cohort of 30,000 males and found that 1% of the males were responsible for more than half of the criminal activity.[26] The habitual crime behavior found among juveniles is similar to that of adults. As stated before most life-course persistent offenders begin exhibiting antisocial, violent, and/or delinquent behavior, prior to adolescence. Therefore, while there is a high rate of juvenile delinquency, it is the small percentage of life-course persistent, career criminals that are responsible for most of the violent crimes.

Prevention


Delinquency prevention is the broad term for all efforts aimed at preventing youth from becoming involved in criminal, or other antisocial, activity.

Because the development of delinquency in youth is influenced by numerous factors, prevention efforts need to be comprehensive in scope.

It has been noted that often interventions may leave at-risk children worse off then if there had never been an intervention.[28] This is due primarily to the fact that placing large groups of at risk children together only propagates delinquent or violent behavior.

Critique of risk factor research


Two UK academics, Stephen Case and Kevin Haines, among others, criticized risk factor research in their academic papers and a comprehensive polemic text, Understanding Youth Offending: Risk Factor Research, Policy and Practice.

The robustness and validity of much risk factor research is criticized for:

  • Determinism, e.g., characterising young people as passive victims of risk experiences with no ability to construct, negotiate or resist risk.
  • Imputation, e.g., assuming that risk factors and definitions of offending are homogenous across countries and cultures, assuming that statistical correlations between risk factors and offending actually represent causal relationships, and assuming that risk factors apply to individuals on the basis of aggregated data.
  • Reductionism, e.g., over-simplfying complex experiences and circumstances by converting them to simple quantities, relying on a psychosocial focus while neglecting potential socio-structural and political influences.

Juvenile sex crimes


Juveniles who commit sexual crimes refer to individuals adjudicated in a criminal court for a sexual crime.[31] Sex crimes are defined as sexually abusive behavior committed by a person under the age of 18 that is perpetrated "against the victim's will, without consent, and in an aggressive, exploitative, manipulative, and/or threatening manner".[32] It is important to utilize appropriate terminology for juvenile sex offenders. Harsh and inappropriate expressions include terms such as "pedophile, child molester, predator, perpetrator, and mini-perp"[33] These terms have often been associated with this group, regardless of the youth’s age, diagnosis, cognitive abilities, or developmental stage.[33] Using appropriate expressions can facilitate a more accurate depiction of juvenile sex offenders and may decrease the subsequent aversive psychological affects from using such labels.[33] In the Arab Gulf states [sic], homosexual acts are classified as an offense, and constitute one of the primary crimes for which juvenile males are charged.[34]

Examining prevalence data and the characteristics of juvenile sex offenders is a fundamental component to obtain a precise understanding of this heterogeneous group. With mandatory reporting laws in place, it became a necessity for providers to report any incidents of disclosed sexual abuse. Longo and Prescott indicate that juveniles commit approximately 30-60% of all child sexual abuse.[33] The Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports indicate that in 2008 youth under the age of 18 accounted for 16.7% of forcible rapes and 20.61% of other sexual offenses.[35] Center for Sex Offender Management indicates that approximately one-fifth of all rapes and one-half of all sexual child molestation can be accounted for by juveniles.[36]

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention indicates that 15% of juvenile arrests occurred for rape in 2006, and 12% were clearance (resolved by an arrest).[37] The total number of juvenile arrests in 2006 for forcible rape was 3,610 with 2% being female and 36% being under the age of 15 years.[37] This trend has declined throughout the years with forcible rape from 1997–2006 being −30% and from 2005 to 2006 being −10%.[37] The OJJDP reports that the juvenile arrest rate for forcible rape increased from the early 1980s through the 1990s and at that time it fell again.[37] All types of crime rates fell in the 1990s. The OJJDP also reported that the total number of juvenile arrests in 2006 for sex offenses (other than forcible rape) was 15,900 with 10% being female and 47% being under the age of 15.[37] There was again a decrease with the trend throughout the years with sex offenses from 1997 to 2006 being −16% and from 2005 to 2006 being −9%.[37]

Barbaree and Marshall indicate that juvenile males contribute to the majority of sex crimes, with 2–4% of adolescent males having reported committing sexually assaultive behavior, and 20% of all rapes and 30–50% of all child molestation are perpetrated by adolescent males.[31] It is clear that males are over-represented in this population. This is consistent with Ryan and Lane’s research indicating that males account for 91-93% of the reported juvenile sex offenses.[32] Righthand and Welch reported that females account for an estimated 2–11% of incidents of sexual offending.[38] In addition, it reported by The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention that in the juvenile arrests during 2006, African American male youth were disproportionately arrested (34%) for forcible rape. In one case in a foster home a 13-year-old boy raped a 9-year-old boy by having forced anal sex with him, in a court hearing the 9-year-old boy said he has done this multiple times, that the 13-year-old boy was charged for sexual assault.[37]

Sexual crimes committed by juveniles are not just an issue in the United States.

In 2009, a U.S. congressman proposed legislature that would create an International Sex Offender Registry.

See also


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