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The Juvenile Offender, Research Paper Example

Pages: 13

Words: 3599

Research Paper

Introduction

Juvenile delinquency is used to refer to criminal acts performed by the youths. By extension, a juvenile delinquent is a youth who repeatedly commits crime. Juvenile delinquents is thus a synonym for juvenile offenders. Juvenile delinquency is a major contributor to crime not only in the United States but in the whole world (Holmes, 2004). There are various theories that have been fronted as far as crimes and their genesis are concerned. Most of juvenile offenders are considered to be juveniles with disorders such as organic or non organic mental disorders (Brown, 1998). There are several theories that have been put forward to explain the reasons behind youth crime. Many of these theories are intertwined into each other and not really separate. Among these is the theory of social disorganization. This theory looks at crime in the prism of societal and family organization. According to this theory, crime occurs when there is a breakdown in the network of societal values and tearing of the family unit. This occurs when there is widespread war, crime and other social evils in the society. Family break ups and other domestic upheavals also contribute (Walklate, 2001). The strain theory looks at crime as a reaction to unmet goals and objectives. It is a revolution against nature by the strained youth who cannot achieve what he/she had focused upon achieving or feels unprivileged in life not to have what several other neighbors(classmates) have. Another theory is the sub cultural theory. This postulates that crime occurs when the youth cannot achieve the status that the society already expects of them. They become frustrated and feel useless when they can’t measure up to the standards that are expected of them. Thus, a pupil who is always the last in class may result into crime when his/her efforts at improving the performance do not bear fruits. Children born with disabilities or other inborn defects may feel as rejects and thence result into crime (Walklate, 2001). It is not wise to peg a case of delinquency to a single of the above explained theories.

Juvenile delinquency is thus a daily phenomenon in our society. The many theories that try to explain the causes of youth crime can apply single handedly or in concert in such cases. Some cases, however, are purely medical and cannot be pegged to such theories.

Handling of Juvenile Offenders

There are several approaches that can be used to handle the juvenile offenders in the society. The approaches are either by the police and the society before the crimes happen or the court system in terms of curbing the crimes already committed by the juvenile offenders. The broken windows theory has been advanced as one of the means by which the police can effectively curb crime. It has drawn support and rejection in equal measure from among both the popular and academic media (Thacher).Both sides have credible reasons for taking the stands they have hitherto taken, and opinion is currently split on which side to lean. It is imperative that both arguments are understood and they positive and negative sides explored with regard to crime control. Where this theory has been applied in the United States, the authorities have taken to community policing in an effort to curb the petty crimes and by so doing, hopefully, curb larger crimes (Bernard, 2001). It has been assumed that the employment of this theory could lead to a safer society with few prisoners and better observation of the law. Community policy entails devolution of the police service to the neighborhood and involvement of members of the public in the provision of police services. It entails a behavior change approach and thus ensures tackling the crimes at the grass roots. Through this model, petty crime is handled before it explodes out of control. The lifestyle that is considered contributory to crime is adjusted and alternatives provided (James). Effectiveness of problem-solving approach in crime reduction is a foregone conclusion. This approach has been found to work. It has bee applied not only in the US but also in countries like New Mexico and the Netherlands (Bernard, 2001). In such instances, police have moved into the neighborhoods and abolished all that as thought to be behind the high crime rates. In these cases also, more arrests on misdemeanors in addition to felonies were effected.

Environmental was improved through cleaning of the railway stations, improved street lighting and clearing of alleys. Other measures included in the model were screening and treatment of the mentally ill and provision of other health services to the street urchins.

The merits of the broken windows theory and its impact on U.S is there for us all to assess. Community policing was employed in New York City and Massachusetts in the United States. The main strategy targeted the subway streets where graffiti artistry and general dirt was cleared. The model was executed in the 1990s and around 2005 in the above two areas respectively. In New York, the police ensured that everybody paid their fare, discouraged pubic drinking and urination (Corman). This was witnessed by a dramatic and sustained decrease in both petty and serious offences for a decade. In Lowell, Massachusetts, the police carried out a case-control study of specific crime prone areas. Half of these areas (cohorts) underwent interventions including clean up and lighting of the streets, provision of homes for the destitute, control of public loitering and provision of psychiatric care. The other half (controls) were left without any interventions. The end result was a reduction in crime rate by up to twenty percent in the intervened cases wile no change was recorded from among the controls. (Suffolk University). Quality of life adjustments to suppress traditional criminal acts has been employed as a method in the broken windows theory. The assumption here is that some circumstances in life predispose to crime. Such include poor housing, unemployment, mental disorders and alcohol and substance abuse. Others are poor street lighting, poor garbage disposal and graffiti art in alleys. It is such that the broken window theory has tried to address to decrease crime rates. Notable among the programmes and other constitutional initiatives towards the employment of the broken windows theory is the case where abortion was legalized. It was argued that kids who were not finically able tended into crime than the well off ones. The government legalized the abortion to give the poor women the option of termination of pregnancy when they thought they could not support these children. As a result, few children were born to the poor and as such the numbers of poor kids in the streets and subsequently was thought to contribute to the reduction in crime that was observed in New York in the nineties. The broken windows theory has worked in a number of areas in the United States to bring about a decrease in the crime rates. It is a wonderful policy that can work wonders when effectively employed. However, hindrances still persist. Not all cases have been met with significant reduction in major crimes when the misdemeanors are handled. Scholars have come out lately and faulted the direct connection between lifestyle and crime, as the theory tries to bring out (Thacher p2). There have been reports in the popular media of automobile theft and murder rising in areas where the theory was applied. Other confounders have also been cited as possible reasons for the recorded reduction in crime rates in the target areas. Therefore, it may be wide to conclude that wide ranging interventions are put in place, the broken window theory being one of them, in the tackling of crime.

Introducing More Punitive Juvenile Courts

As it stands now, most states in the United States of America have a justice system for the handling of the juvenile offenders that has been deemed too lenient. The system has mostly focused on correctional services for the juvenile offenders. Others have also included mental and psychiatric assessment and treatment of these delinquents. The approach has been influenced by the [reception that the commission of crimes at this tender age has underlying causes and the kids are not solely to blame for the crimes they have committed. However, others have agued that the correction of the juvenile offenders needs to be made albeit more punitive to guard against the extrapolation of the crimes in the society. It is a debatable proposal but many some states have made changes in their justices systems to ensure that there is a more punitive charge accorded the juvenile delinquents as a measure to curb the rising cases of juvenile delinquency (F.B.I data shows 62 cases of arrests following juvenile (7-8 year olds) murders in the US between 1976 and 2005(Dougherty, 2008).  And as McGuire (McGuire, 2008) highlights, the main categories that have formed the back bone of the juvenile correction services have centered on four major areas of intervention.

The first of these has been the correction of the person with the aim of correcting the interpersonal relations. This is achieved through personal skills training. Programmes are developed to help the affected youths identify situations that would be difficulty for them to handle. With the help of small groups consisting of correctional officers, these problems are approached and the youngsters taught how to approach the study question and similar questions in the future. McGuire has noted this to offer positive result in terms of correction of the prior behavior of the affected individuals. This has led to reduced rate of violent acts among the concerned youths.

The second area of intervention, according to McGuire has been the individual counseling. This takes the form of a structured counseling programme. This programme aims at offering counseling services to the youths already affected by the crimes. It has been met by widespread success in the form of reduced violent acts among the affected youths post counseling (McGuire, 2008).

The third area of intervention is in the behavioral intervention. This has focused on taking the young offenders through an operant conditioning kind of behavior change programme where certain behaviors thought to be behind the crime commission are identified. Working with the correction officers, the juveniles are advised and guided on how best to correct these behaviors. When successful, there is a reward. As a result, the youth learn to avoid the behavior and enjoy the rewards and this eventually leads to a behavior modification and the end result is a change in the pattern of crime and violent acts.

Finally, there has also been a focus on another approach to behavior change. This is through the form of simulated teaching families. Here trained correction officers are used as model ‘parents’ and each ‘parent’ is paired with a delinquent. These ‘parents’ are supposed to teach self improvement strategies and personal and interpersonal coping mechanisms and behavior change among the affected youths. These are then allowed to visit their original homes often, e.g. during the weekends. The end result is a marked improvement in the conduct and mannerisms of the youths and a significant reduction in the rate of violence among these youths (Borduin C.M, et al (1995). But as noted above, it is these strategies that many have been against and thus have called for the adoption of more punitive correction measure against the juveniles.

Whereas rehabilitation in terms of beahviour change remains the most popular means of dealing with the juvenile delinquents, it has been argued elsewhere that the only solution to a criminal is to incapacitate them and remove them from the public, to whose security they are a constant threat. The federal as well as the state governments have been argued to come up with legislations to curb the rising cases of violent juvenile delinquency. In 1995, a motion was introduced in the federal parliament for the amendment of the justice system in terms of how it dealt with the juvenile offenders. This bill was called the Violent and Repeat Juvenile Offender Reform act (VRJOA) of 1997. It sought to have all cases of violence and repeated non violent crimes by the youth to be punished through imprisonment. The need fro the government rethinking into the juvenile correction system was informed by the escalation in the level of juvenile crime. It was thought that both the federal and the state legislations had failed to offer sufficient punishment, in the form of ineffective jurisdiction, for the juvenile offenders. And in the argument for the introduction of punishments as opposed to rehabilitation for the juvenile offenders, a three pronged account of reasons was fronted.

Firstly, that the punishment meted against these juvenile delinquents would act as a deterrent against future commission of crimes by the same culprits and other like minded individuals (Borduin C.M, et al, 1995).

Secondly, it was argued that the introduction of punishment against the juvenile delinquents would incapacitate the offenders (juvenile delinquents) and prevent them from committing future offenses. In this scenario, holding the offenders behind bars would lead to a decrease in the number of criminals loitering in the streets and eventually decrease the levels of crime. In this approach, the violent criminals would be put behind bars while the other petty offenders would be subjected to rehabilitation. And as a result, there would be more time and resources for the rehabilitation officers to offer rehabilitation for these petty (non violent) offenders. These petty (non violent) offenders would also have less predisposition to proceeding on to violent crime.

Thirdly, that punishment instead of rehabilitation was the better option to satisfy the enraged public who were the victims of juvenile offenses and were thus yearning for accountability from these criminals just like the other adult criminals. These three are the areas thought to be the weak links in the justice system that has insisted on rehabilitation of the offenders. The sole focus of the punishment intended in the amendment was so that the offenders would be discouraged to commit crime in future as this could lead to more punishment. But for this to succeed, it has been argued that the offender must comprehend the implication of the offense they are to commit and the type of punishment for deterrence to be effective. The proponents of this approach are purely behind retribution. They don’t care if the punishment will eventually lead to correction of the offenders’ behavior and future avoidance of crime. Theirs is settling of score, so to speak. They seek that the offenders be punished because that is what they deserve- punishment. It is a retaliatory approach to juvenile delinquency. In this case, the proponents of retribution take a stand that any one committing a crime must face the full face of the law and therefore it would be unfair to punish the adult offenders while just give rehabilitation to the juvenile delinquents. Further more, it is thought that punishing all offenders for the crimes they have committed would be a fairer justice as compared to the blanket approach in most juvenile justice systems where all the offenders are sentenced to rehabilitation just because they are below a certain age. Various studies carried out by the cable news network (CNN) and the GALLOP group showed growing public dissatisfaction with the traditional juvenile court (Web). It is this public outcry against the juvenile system that stimulated the governments to bring about amendment aimed at introducing punishment for young offenders. These efforts however, were not met with commensurate reduction in the levels of violent crime (Jensen, 1994).

These punitive juvenile courts have been introduced in Chicago, Illinois, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. This states have, following the public outcry changed their justice systems to reflect a more punitive approach in the handling of youth crime. They have introduced criminal charges into the juvenile justice system to ensure that those youths who are involved in violent crime are fully answerable for their actions. While these have been able to achieve sufficient result, the implications have been cost effective, to say the least. An example is the state of Illinois. This state is currently receiving funding from the ‘Models for Change’ to reform the juvenile justice system. All the above are under a fund to reform their justice systems pertaining their handling of the minors in connection with violent crime. The system as it is now encourages punishment for juvenile offenders. But the funding is proposing s reform in the system to ensure that all the delinquents are taken into rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration in pursuit of incapacitation. It has been argued in this case that the current juvenile justice system encourages the crowding of the jails with minors therefore denying them a chance to reform their behavior. Additionally, these minors are not able to access their families for support and thence end up being at a greater loss as opposed to the rehabilitation that the ‘Models for Change’ is proposing. This turn of events means that the once craved for punitive approach in dealing with juvenile delinquents is not bearing fruits. This model proposes to introduce a system whereby all the offenders are held accountable for their offenses but not subjected to punishment but rather taken through rehabilitation to enhance behavior change (Web).

Effects of Changes of the Juvenile Justice System

As argued above, the juvenile system, as it was in the past where it included more on rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration faced outright public opposition. As a result, several states brought about changes in their justice systems to ensure punishment for the crimes that the youths committed. There are several reasons why these changes were necessary. And there are many advantages that came with such a change. Among them was the fact that the juvenile delinquents engaged in violent crime remained isolated from the other peers and therefore negative influence which could have led to escalations in the crime rates went down. There was also a sense of justice among the victims of the crime as the real perpetrators of the violence were punished and not put through counseling and rehabilitation processes. And the retributions felt satisfied that the notorious boys got their share in that they paid for their crimes. Punishment meted against the criminals also suffered to influence, by instilling fear, the lives of the youth criminals so that they would not repeat crimes as they knew what amount displeasure and discomfort they would go through. If applied swiftly and directly, punishment was meant to be very successful in the deterrence from future crime from among the delinquents as well as like minded peers bent on copying their friends.

But that was in the writing and no sooner had the states employed the necessary reforms to make their juvenile justice systems more punitive than the impacts became obvious. Punishment is not always successful in getting the offenders reform. And there have been many cases of failure to reform and this explained why a court would hear the same juvenile on different charges of violent crime even after the youth had been subjected to punishment. It was also argued that the children may not be responsible fully for the crimes they committed. That they may have adopted the behavior from their parents or that they may have acted out of ignorance to the law. It has also been considered a violation of the children rights to incapacitate the young offenders and therefore deny them a chance at reforming their lives. And after the application of the laws, the various state jails (e.g. Illinois) have become congested with the minors. More resources have been employed in the trial and sentencing of these minors and as such they have been denied sufficient family support which could have influenced them towards reform and better life.

Conclusion

The juvenile judicial system was initially targeted at correcting the offenders through reform and rehabilitation. However, critical appraisal in the past has led to the enactment of legislation by both the federal and state government to introduce punishment. This was especially deemed right for the violent and repeated crime. It was initially thought a better option but with time, states have begun to rethink the move and consider extra reforms. It is now necessary to reform the system to ensure adequate reform and rehabilitation among the offender while at the same time handing punishment for the violent and chronic juvenile delinquents.

Cited Works

Bernard E. (2001).  Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing Harvard University, Massachusetts

Borduin C.M, et al (1995). “Multisystemic treatment of serious juvenile offenders: long-term prevention of criminality and violence”. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 63, 569578.

Brown, S. (1998). Understanding Youth and Crime Buckingham: Open University Press

Corman, H. Carrots, Sticks and Broken Windows  Web Retrieved 04 Dec 2009 <http://courses.washington.edu/pbaf512a/Carrotspaper.June13.pdf>

Dougherty, J; O’Connor, A. (2008). Prosecutors Say Boy Methodically Shot His Father New York: New York Times

Holmes, S et al. (2001). ‘Risk Factors in Childhood that Lead to the Development of Conduct Disorder’ Child Psychiatry and Human Development.31 (3)

James Q. Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety Web Retrieved 04 Dec 2009 < http://www.manhattan-institute.org/pdf/_atlantic_monthly-broken_windows>

Jensen, E.L. et al (1994). “A Test of the Deterrent Effect of Legislative Waiver on Violent Juvenile Crime” 40 Crime & Delinq. 96, 100-102.

McGuire, J (2008): “A review of effective interventions for reducing aggression and violence” Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. 363(1503) 2577-2597

Models for change: systems reform in juvenile justice Web Retrieved 18 December 2009 <http://www.modelsforchange.net/index.html>

Suffolk University. Research Boosts Broken Windows Web Retrieved 04 Dec 2009 <http://www.suffolk.edu/34417.html >

Thacher, D. Order Maintenance Maintained Web Retrieved 04 Dec 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixing_Broken_Windows#cite_ref-3 >

Walklate, S. (2003). Understanding Criminology – Current Theoretical Debates  Maidenhead: Open University Press

Whitehead, J.T. & Lab, S.P. (2009). Juvenile Justice: An introduction. LexisNexis Anderson Publishing: Cincinnati, OH

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