Juvenile Delinquency in the United States. Causes and Prevention

Pre-University Paper, 2009

26 Pages, Grade: 14 Punkte = 1,3


Table of Contents

A.) Introduction

B.) Juvenile Delinquency in the U.S. – Causes and Prevention
I.) Term
1.) Definition
2.) Crime Categories
3.) Topical Figures
II.) Risk Factors in General
Socio-Economic Situation of the Family
Family Composition
5.) Parent - Child - Relations
6.) Child maltreatment
7.) Substance Abuse
8.) Parental criminality
III.) Prevention and Intervention in General
1.) Three different approaches to prevention
2.) Three different age groups
3.) Examples of different prevention measures

C.) Conclusion

D.) Bibliography

A.) Introduction

People have always been afraid of ghosts, witches and suchlike.

The human fear of the unknown is tremendous. That may be the reason why juvenile delinquency remains still such a horrifying topic throughout the mass media.

Most Americans know little or nothing about this social problem and instead of tackling the matter many of them ignore it and prefer to stay ill-informed.

Authors of newspaper reports take advantage of the Americans’ inexperience concerning youth criminality. In order to make the front page they make the most of the readers’ fear of the unknown and, therefore, often demonize juvenile offenders.

We are confronted with distressing headlines of recent acts of violence caused by adolescents all the time. Given this fact, we might easily forget that these shocking articles about criminal teenagers are actually rather rare. Thus, the hundreds of cases involving minors who have committed a petty crime vanish throughout the mass media coverage as they are far less shocking and, consequently, far less lucrative. The public discourse on the problem of juvenile delinquency often tries to make us believe that criminality among underage persons is uncontrollable. The aforementioned fear of the unknown combined with overplayed newspaper depiction of violence contribute to a public misconception about juvenile offending and develope a distorted and pessimistic view of perpetrators who are mostly victims themselves as one will find out in the course of the research paper.

This research paper makes an attempt to take a closer look at the risk factors of juvenile delinquency and introduces prevention measures that have been either proven effective or ineffective regarding their outcomes

However, readers who wish to find definite answers to the questions concerning this topic will be disappointed, as there are no answers which would explain the individual criminal deed of every single adolescent.

Juvenile delinquency is an issue that should address all of us, because it harms entire communities, causes a culture of fear and ruins the careers of minors who are the most in need of support.

Because gang violence and school shootings are both very particular sub-points of juvenile delinquency and are based on other risk factors and theories than the common ones, these two issues are excluded from the available research paper as they would require to much detailed knowledge on this criminological field.

B.) Juvenile Delinquency in the U.S. – Causes and Prevention

I.) Term

1.) Definition

Before one talks about juvenile delinquency it is indispensable to first explain this term. Finding a short definition to clearly describe that phenomenon is not easy, because there are hundreds of them already in existence.

In general, a delinquent child is a child aged seven to 17 who refuses to obey a law or order made by a government or somebody in a position of authority. However, the age at which children can be declared criminally responsible differs from state to state. There are always minimum and maximum ages of criminal responsibility, the so-called demarcation ages that are determined by the state government.[1]

In North Carolina, for example, a six year old child can be arrested, whereas an infantile offender living in Texas has to be at least ten years old to be responsible for his or her wrongdoings.[2]

The idea behind establishing a separate system of justice is the general view that a youth’s culpability below some particular age should not be judged on the basis of grown-up jurisdiction due to the still missing mental and emotional maturity as well as the lacking criminal intent of minors. These demarcation ages are open to question, because there is no clear and coherent explanation why a child at the age of seven born in Arizona is unable to make thought-out decisions when acting unlawfully, even though a minor of the same age who lives in Maryland is capable of doing so and, thus, cannot shirk his/her responsibility meaning that the youth can be declared delinquent.

In exceptional cases, depending on the accusation, the juvenile court jurisdiction is allowed to apply juvenile law for persons up to 24 years.[3]

In 46 states juvenile judges have the opportunity to “waive jurisdiction” in special cases which means that the juvenile delinquents are transferred to adult court.

Certain criteria must be fulfilled in order to consider a transfer: a person’s age and character, the severity of an offence, and there has to be a sufficiently serious record of previous misdemeanour.[4] [5]

There is actually a wide range of acts of juvenile delinquency which includes deviant behaviour, such as loitering, status offenses as well as serious and violent offending.

It should be emphasized that most young persons who violate laws are not chronically serious and/or violent offenders. Mostly, delinquent acts are not of great interest for the mass media and are treated regularly without providing a sensational caption.[6]

Juveniles, who during the period of growing up run away, play truant from school or buy alcohol are not dangerous delinquents, even though they have acted against the law. That means that it is always to be distinguished between criminal behaviour on the one hand and childish misconduct, which cannot be deemed “truly” delinquent, on the other hand. Such acts are not illegal when committed by adults, but are prohibited for underage persons. These acts which are illegal when committed by juveniles due to the offender’s age and which are considered legal committed by adults, are known as status offenses.[7]

2.) Crime Categories

In all acts of delinquency, there is made a difference between serious and violent offenders and those which are not.

This research paper will focus on SVJ (= Serious and Violent Juvenile) offenders, because these are the ones who are most likely to start an early and intensive criminal career and at whom many prevention and intervention programs are aimed.

For instance, felony larceny/theft, fraud, dealing in stolen property, auto theft, burglary, carjacking, extortion, forger/counterfeiting, embezzlement, drug trafficking and weapons violations are serious offenses. Violent offenses include homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, kidnapping, voluntary manslaughter, (attempted) rape and arson.[8]

3.) Topical Figures

The quantity of criminal charges increased almost continuously between 1985 and 2002; starting off with approximately 340,000 cases of juvenile delinquency in 1985 and reaching a number of about 630,000 charges 17 years later in 2002.[9]

These above-mentioned figures, which are probably even higher when taking into consideration that not all committed offenses are reported to the police, make one aware of the still existing delinquency rate among American youths.

II.) Risk Factors in General

A variety of individual, familial and community risk factors are associated with youth violence. To some extent, it has already been proven that a lot of these hypothetical predictors of juvenile delinquency as will be mentioned on the following pages, actually contribute at least partly to a criminal lifestyle. However, one has to be careful not to come to the wrong conclusion which is that every juvenile delinquent is influenced by every single risk factor which is presented in this research paper. Before considering different ways of handling these people and before focusing on how to prevent juveniles from being convicted of violent offenses, it is necessary to understand a few of the innumerable peril variables that presumably make youths susceptible towards delinquent behaviour.

Since a few years the impact of first person shooter-games (FPS) and other violent computer games, as one possible reason, has been controversially discussed just as much as the connection of SVJ with mental health problems, for example hyperactivity and depression. Because further research in these scientific fields is needed, these predictors will not be mentioned in the additional course of this paper. Even though it is important to emphasize that the causes of criminal behaviour is not only restricted to the ones itemized in the following. Criminology findings on various spheres of influence are rather limited; the outcomes definitely state that there has to be some causal relationship between certain social and individual conditions and violent offending. This research paper will direct the reader’s attention to the most important of all referred risk factors.


Expressed in percent, statistics have shown that males more often commit crimes than females do. Astonishingly, this difference has almost remained unchanged over the past decades. There are several suppositions on the male preponderance in violence. A few researchers stated that the gender gap might be connected to the different biological preconditions, for example, hormones, such as testosterone, which is a steroid hormone that occurs mainly in the masculine body.[10]

In 1986, a Norwegian psychologist, Dan Olweus, examined male juveniles for their personal testosterone level and tried to find a connection between his results and the boys’ behaviour. He discovered that a higher level of this hormone often results in a greater willingness to use violence by his subjects. This conclusion, which Dan Olweus called “testosterone poisoning”, could be one answer to this question why girls are less involved in delinquency.[11]

However, recently gathered information induced theorists and criminologists to assume that the question could lie in the individual gender roles with which girls and boys are confronted with. They believe that it has something to do with the idea of masculinity, which expects adolescent males to be fearless and to behave in a very determined and forceful way in order to succeed.[12]

Another possible trigger of the above-averaged involvement of adolescent men in acts of delinquency could be the different parental supervision, as daughters are more intensely looked after by their legal guardians and, thus, cannot take as many liberties as sons can take.[13]

In the years from 1985, to inclusively 2004, the percentage of female delinquents had surprisingly increased by a much higher rate (104%) compared to the rate of their male counterparts, the rate of them increased only by 30%.

In 2004, young women committed 230,200 criminal acts more than they did in 1985, which consequently resulted in a higher overall female involvement in delinquent acts, which consequently increased by 8%.[14] [15]

To sum it all up, one can say that young men still play the leading role in criminal acts reported to the police, i.e. 73% of charges reported to the police have been

committed by juvenile men. However, a significant increase in female involvement can be observed. Five years ago, female involvement in delinquent acts amounted to a portion of 27% and their contribution is expected to grow.

Some sociobiologists, searching for reasons concerning that progressive narrowing, believe that the female emancipation over the past years and therefore a higher degree of self-assertion has led to an escape from a woman’s subordinated position.

“There [is] no biological reason for females to be less aggressive, except that being aggressive had no meaning in a woman’s life until she had the same possibilities as man”, stressed the clinical psychiatrist Leon Salzman.[16]

Freda Adler supports Leon Salzman’s quotation with her “liberation/convergence hypothesis”, assuming that the achievements of the feminist movement resulted in converging role-specific behaviour and this development, in turn, marks the starting point of the exploding female crime rate, saying that since women have gained the same job and self-fulfilment opportunities they commit more crimes, because nowadays females have to be as competitive and forceful as men.[17]


Criminologists pay attention to the racial profile of delinquency cases, which annually reveals differences to them that are connected with a person’s race.

Minority groups, in particular blacks, American Indians (usually including Alaskan Natives) and Asians as well as NHPI (= Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders), are continuously overrepresented throughout all kinds of criminal charges, although aforesaid sections of population run to a relatively inconsiderable social stratum on closer examination.[18]

The national report of the OJJDP (= Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention), published in 2006 computed the ratio of youths belonging to a racial minority being in custody in comparison with the number of white juveniles being arrested in 2003 on average between 2 and 4.[19]

At the first sight it seems evident that blacks constitute the most violent of all minority groups, because due to the fact that black youths just account for about 15 % of the U.S. population under the age of 18, they make up 46 % of all criminal offenders staying in reformatory stations.[20] [21]

However, all theorists reached an agreement on the fact that the increased incidence of juvenile delinquency is not linked to the biology of race, for example a darker skin colour.[22]

In 1995, a significant linkage between the exposure to racial discrimination and juvenile offending has been found. Girls and boys having experienced racial hatred corresponding to negative prejudices against themselves, and youths who have been excluded from social and working life by their fellow men owing to their race are at a higher risk to get in trouble with the law and to be apprehended by the police.[23]

The solitary theories aimed at explaining this race-specific trend have various origins, but put their main emphasis on the same principal cause, which is the connection between the socio-economic living conditions of minorities and juvenile delinquency.[24]

In American history, race has always been closely connected to the corresponding social status, even though this well-worn situation has slowly been changing in the course of time. Criminal statistics have proven that those juveniles being the focus of interest live mostly in neighbourhoods near the centre of a large city, which often are confronted with social problems and a high unemployment rate.[25]


[1] Cf. Loeber, R., Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders: Risk Factors and Successful Intervention, (1998), p.4

[2] Cf. Hartjen, C. A., Youth, Crime and Justice: A Global Inquiry (2008), p.7f., table 1.2

[3] Cf. Mc Shane, M.D., Williams, F.P. (ed.), Youth Violence and Delinquency: Monsters and Myths, (2007), p.13

[4] Cf. Hartjen, C.A. (ed.), Youth, Crime and Justice: A Global Inquiry (2008), p.11

[5] http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/pubs/tryingjuvasadult/transfer.html

[6] Cf. Bynum, J.E., Thompson, W.E., Juvenile Delinquency: A Sociological Approach (1989), pp.23 and 33

[7] Cf. Loeber, p.15

[8] Cf. Loeber, p.14f.

[9] http://ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/ojstatbb/nr2006/downloads/chapter6.ppt#29

[10] Cf. Bynum, p.110

[11] Cf. Kinnear, K.L., Violent Children: A Research Handbook, (1995), p.12f.

[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juvenile_delinquent

[13] Cf. Lawrence, R., School Crime and Juvenile Justice, (²2007), p.66

[14] http://ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/ojstatbb/nr2006/downloads/chapter6.ppt#10

[15] http://ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/ojstatbb/nr2006/downloads/chapter6.ppt#12

[16] Cf. Bynum, p.110

[17] Cf. Lawrence, p.65

[18] Cf. Loeber, p.34ff.

[19] http://ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/ojstatbb/nr2006/downloads/chapter7.ppt#19

[20] Cf. Loeber, p.34ff.

[21] http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1077/is_3_54/ai_53475522

[22] Cf. Bynum, p.111

[23] Cf. Loeber, p.140

[24] Cf. Loeber, pp.34 to 46

[25] Cf. Joseph, J., Black Youths, Delinquency, and Juvenile Justice (1995), p.12

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Juvenile Delinquency in the United States. Causes and Prevention
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Causes, Prevention, Juvenile Delinquency, United States, U.S., USA
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Sonja Mayer (Author), 2009, Juvenile Delinquency in the United States. Causes and Prevention, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/210853


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