Juvenile Delinquency and Justice
September 7, 2011
Introduction There is little doubt that there is a fundamental problem with the contemporary American approach to juvenile justice. That is because the focus of the U.S. juvenile justice system is heavily based on procedural safeguards that protect juvenile rights whereas there may be more important concerns. Certainly, the rights of juvenile defendants must be protected and sentences should continue to reflect the different needs and capacity for reform of juvenile offenders as compared to their adult counterparts. However, much more emphasis should be devoted to the prevention of juvenile crime by addressing fundamental factors believed to be responsible for it. From a cost-benefit analysis, preventing juvenile criminal involvement is much more important than focusing on reform and on other aspects of criminal justice that are only triggered after criminal activity is perpetrated. In principle, it is much more beneficial to society—as well as to potential juvenile offenders—to provide the necessary assistance and opportunities to prevent criminal inclination rather than devoting the bulk of resources to offenders.
Recognizing the Principle Causes of Juvenile Crime Generally, some of the most important causes of juvenile crime are: (1) Social Control Theory issues, (2) lack of supportive family environment and structure, (3) exposure to deviant criminality in high-crime communities, and (4) lack of opportunities for positive community involvement. The proposed plan for reducing juvenile crime, therefore, will address those three causes and suggest an approach to mitigate their detrimental impact on at-risk youth and, simultaneously, on society.
Social Control Theory Issues There is a consensus among contemporary sociologists and criminologists that one of the principal causes of juvenile crime is the lack of connectedness of the individual to community (Akers & Sellers, 2004; Huebner & Betts, 2002). In particular, Hirschi’s Social Control Theory explains the importance of involvement, commitment, attachment, and belief to the development of individuals who share the dominant values and expectations of their community (Akers & Sellers, 2004; Huebner & Betts, 2002). Among at-risk teens, there is a very low level of satisfaction of these criteria outlined by Hirschi. Therefore, a plan for reducing juvenile crime must address this issue, ideally, by implementing a practical form of assessment process in public schools. This assessment approach would allow trained child psychologists to identify at-risk juveniles based on Hirschi’s criteria before they become offenders.
Criminal Deviance in High-Crime Communities High-crime communities typically feature combinations of two major factors that greatly increase the risk of juvenile criminal deviance and delinquency: the absence of a supportive family structure and environment and continual environmental exposure to criminal deviance as a social norm (Pinizzotto, Davis, & Miller, 2007). In fact, contemporary criminologists consider this combination to be especially problematic in blighted, high-crime/low-income communities in which most households lack a stable structure and adult role models fulfilling the parental role. Unfortunately, this explains the manner in which criminal gangs manage to recruit and indoctrinate new gang members before they reach their teenage years (Pinizzotto, Davis, & Miller, 2007). In gang-dominated communities, street gangs frequently provide the only family-type of structure and stability in the lives of children raised by parents who are absent from their lives or, in many cases, involved in chronic criminality themselves (Pinizzotto, Davis, & Miller, 2007).
Reducing Risk Factors Providing better social services for low-income families with children would likely go a long way toward