Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
A Clearer Picture of Juvenile Delinquency
The number of juvenile offenders incarcerated for violence and habitual offending has seen a dramatic increase during the past five years in the United States. According to the Census Office, it is estimated that the population of juveniles will increase by 20% from 1990 to 2010. In Minnesota alone, it is projected that the growth of juvenile offenders belonging to the 14-17 year old bracket would be 60% in the next fifteen years. Even if the number of arrests would not increases, the total number of crimes will still reflect a dramatic increase in the next two decades (Backstrom, 1-30).
It is interesting to note that although the United States only comprise 5% of the world’s population, its prison facilities has 25% of global prisoners. On February 2000, the number of inmates in the United States climbed to 2 million, according to figures released by the Justice Policy Institute, which has already doubled in just ten years. At present, 16 states have populations that are lower than the number of inmates in US prison facilities (Backstrom, 1-30).
Since 1992, many American states have implemented stringent laws regarding criminal accountability of youth offenders. This was bared by a report published by the National Center for Juvenile Justice. From 1998 to 2002, 18 states have stretched the number of offenses that can elevate a juvenile to adult courts (Backstrom, 1-30).
The Establishment of Juvenile Courts
The first Juvenile Court was established in Cook County, Illinois upon the enactment of the Juvenile Court Act of 1899. This was based on the premise that the failure of the parents to supervise their children is a ground for the state to interfere. The efforts of Illinois was imitated by other states. By 1925, most of the states had their own juvenile courts. Compared to their adult counterparts, juvenile courts utilized a rehabilitative approach instead of punitive approach. Juvenile courts had jurisdiction over youth offenders. However, the adult courts can take over if the juvenile court waives their right over the juvenile(Backstrom, 1-30).
In 2003, the number of youth offenders arrested for certain offenses is 2.2 million. From this number, 32% belong to the 15 years and below age bracket. Most of the youth offenders apprehended committed crimes against property while some arrests were due to violent crimes, specifically assault(Backstrom, 1-30).
According to the OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, juvenile offenders accounted for 16% ojf overall arrests in 2003(Backstrom, 1-30).
Determining The Best Method of Deterring Crimes
For many crime experts, this is a favorable scenario since the United States is a haven of the most violent criminals among developed nations. According to reports by the U.S. Department of Justice, murder is six times greater in the United States than in England. Proponents of incarceration believe that extended incarceration is the best method of securing the public from criminal elements. According to economist Steve Levitt, an additional 15 crimes are committed annually each time an inmate is released from incarceration as a result of overcrowding(Backstrom, 1-30).
However, opponents of incarceration insists that the crime rate of the United States is not more than that of other developing nations and therefore, there is no justification for its high criminality rate. For example, in countries like Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, and New Zealand had greater incidence of 11 types of crimes than the US. According to opponents of the prison system, the growth in prison population in the United States is not a result of growth in the crime rate but because of stricter sentencing laws as well as US campaign against drugs. The latter resulted to an intensified anti-drug effort and harsher penalties for drug offenders. From 6 percent in 1980, the number of inmates in 2000 increased to 21 percent(Backstrom, 1-30).
Due to the overcrowding in prisons as well as the slow expansion of the prison system, the prison policies of the United States had been in close scrutiny, particularly policies on drug offenders (Backstrom, 1-30).
Considering Other Alternatives to Incarceration
Because of the overcrowding in most prison facilities in the country; alternatives to incarceration have been proposed. Various states have experimented with other methods of punishing youth offenders. For example, in Arizona, Proposition 200, was approved by the citizens in 1996. Under this program, the offender has an option to be admitted to substance abuse rehabilitation programs rather than be incarcerated. A similar program, Proposition 36, was approved in 2000 in the state of California (Espejo, “Introduction”).
Here is a rundown of alternative programs that could be effective if properly implemented by the different states.
Early Intervention Program
In 1980, the state of California implemented a program called the 8% solution, which is aimed towards assessing the needs of the youth so that proper treatment services can be provided.(“The 8% Solution”, OJJDP)
Prior to its implementation, the Probation Department of Orange County monitored two sets of first-time offenders for a span of 3 years and discovered that 8 percent of the offenders experienced repeated arrests and was liable for 55% of repeat cases. This group had an entirely different characteristic than the group who were apprehended only once. These differences were not a product of their exposure to the juvenile system but manifested themselves during their first arrest and recommendation to juvenile courts. These differences worsened if no efforts to resolve them were initiated (“The 8% Solution”, OJJDP).
Fortunately, majority of the people from the first set of offenders can be reliably determined during their initial contact with the juvenile justice system. The study conducted by the research staff of the Probation Department discovered that the 8% offenders were admitted to the system with a rather complicated set of risk factors, which includes crime involvement at an early age as well as multiproblem profiles (abuse, lack of parental supervision and control, neglect, criminal family members), family and school problems, drug and alcohol dependency, and deviant behavior such as involvement in gangs, stowing away, and stealing(“The 8% Solution”, OJJDP).
After obtaining the results of the study, the 8% Early Intervention Program was implemented in Orange County for first-time offenders below 15 ½ years old and has at least 3 of the 4 multiproblem profile(“The 8% Solution”, OJJDP).
In its five-year evaluation of the pilot program, which was initiated in 1994 and funded by the Repeat Offender Prevention Program (ROPP), the following preliminary conclusions have been obtained(“The 8% Solution”, OJJDP):
By implementing coordinated early intervention programs and treatment of high-risk youth and families, the percentage of chronic juvenile recidivists will be reduced.
The juvenile justice system has often overlooked significant risk factors due to insufficient critical information.
Collaborative efforts to empower families can produce significant results.
Even a minor reduction in the rate of recidivism for the 8% group can result to major long-term savings.
Community Intervention Program
In 2000, Title V Community Prevention Grants Program awarded incentives and capacity-building tools to almost 1,100 local juvenile delinquency programs across the United States. The success of a community intervention program lies on how well they utilize prevention efforts with risk and protective factor can minimize juvenile delinquency and related issues(Chibnall & Abbruzzese, “A Community Approach to Reducing Risk Factors”).
The Youth and Family with Promise of Utah, the Parent Project of Idaho, and the Adopt-A-Class in Pennsylvania are examples of community intervention programs. This kind of juvenile delinquency program uses risks and preventive factors in treating the individual(Chibnall & Abbruzzese, “A Community Approach to Reducing Risk Factors”).
Local communities that utilized Title V showed that using risk-focused prevention model community intervention programs can bring about positive growth in the youth and decrease risk factor and problem behaviors. By consistently evaluating their preventive efforts and show positive changes, it will be much easier to prove that community prevention and early intervention are bringing about positive changes in the lives of the offender as well as their families(Chibnall & Abbruzzese, “A Community Approach to Reducing Risk Factors”).
Making Parents Liable for Youth Offenders
During the 1980s and 1990s when juvenile crimes increased in the United States, many Americans became disappointed. As a reaction, local communities and states enacted legislations that would make parents liable for the behavior of their children. In a report issued by the National Center for Juvenile Justice, 34 states had laws that hold parents liable for the delinquent behavior of their children in 1998. Aside from that, there were 39 states that had laws which either permitted or required parents of youth offenders to take part in treating, counseling, or serving probation of their children (Backstrom, 1-30)
In the United States, all states are governed by statutes that provide mandatory or optional payment of the parents of the expenses for a delinquent child detained outside the home. In some states, parents are held partially liable for the delinquent behavior of their children(Backstrom, 1-30).
For example, in Louisiana, a law provides for the imprisonment of parents for a period of six months if they improperly supervise their children. Aside from imprisonment, they will likewise pay a penalty of $1,000(Backstrom, 1-30).
A particular case of a parent being liable for the delinquent behavior of their children happened in 1995 when Judge Wayne Creech issued an order requiring a 15 year old girl with a previous experience of shoplifting and truancy to be chained to her mother for a month. In another case which took place in Florida, a mother was charged with truancy and was metede with probation for one year for the reason that 3 of her 5 children refused to attend their classes(Backstrom, 1-30).
What Programs Are Ineffective?
On the other hand, while there are programs that can effectively reduce juvenile delinquency, there are programs that can be ineffective in controlling the incidence of youth offenders.
Juvenile boot camps began in 1985 when the program was introduced in Orleans Parish, Louisiana. In 1995, there were a total of thirty boot camps spread across the various states. In larger counties of the United States, another 18 boot camps were opened in local jails. This program is used as a punishment for “midrange” offenders who were not reformed by lighter punishments such as probation. The original intention of boot camps is to reduce the rate of recidivism among youth offenders, lower inmate incarceration, and cut down cost (Backstrom, 1-30).
Juvenile boot camps follow the traditional 90-120 day program implemented by the military. The facilities are managed by correctional officers serving as drill instructors wearing military uniforms. It focuses on strenuous physical activities, drills, and manual labor. There is minimal free time in these facilities and rules are strictly enforced. A minimum of three hours is devoted to education. Majority of the programs are likewise devoted to vocational education, training on work skills, and job readiness(Backstrom, 1-30).
According to findings of a study conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJUDP) from three boot camps in the states of Ohio, Colorado, and Alabama, the rate of program completion was high among the randomly chosen offenders. Likewise, academic performance of the participants showed marked improvement as 80% of those who attended the mobile camps in Alabama had an increase of one grade level. Despite of the increase in academic performance, the rate of recidivism between the experimental and control group who took part in the camp reflected zero or minimal effect(Backstrom, 1-30)
Another technique that may prove ineffective in minimizing juvenile delinquency is incarceration. In a 2003 study entitled Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear, conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 9,875 juvenile delinquents incarcerated. From these, 6,869 were in prison facilities while the remaining 3,006 were detained in state prisons. In 1995, this number dropped with 5,900 inmates detained in jails(Backstrom, 1-30).
In a research conducted by the OJJDP in 2000, it was revealed that transferring juveniles to adult prison facilities would more them more prone to re-offense within the next couple of years. In a follow-up study to the 2000 research, it was revealed that transferred youth offenders quickly re-offended compared to retained juveniles. So unless the offense is serious, transferring the juvenile to an adult facility is never advisable(Backstrom, 1-30)
Placing the youth offender in residential placement is as bad as incarceration since most of these facilities also face the problem of overcrowding. According to a 2000 survey by the OJJDP, 39% of 2,875 juvenile confinement facilities had lesser standard beds than inmates. 37% of public and 40% of private facilities had fewer beds than inmates(Backstrom, 1-30).
Juvenile delinquency is one of the pressing issues that the government must address since it involves teenagers. Because of the overcrowded prison facilities in the United States, other options for punishing youth offenders have been implemented.
Backstrom, James. “Criminal Youth Should Be Imprisoned”. Opposing Viewpoints
Espejo, Roman. “Introduction.” Opposing Viewpoints: America’s Prisons. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2001. August 2004. 22 July 2008 <http://www.enotes.com/americas-prisons-article/40998>
The 8% Solution. OJJDP Fact Sheet 39(2001): 1-2
Chibnall, Susan., & Abbruzzese, Kate. “A Community Approach to Reducing Risk Factors”. Juvenile Justice- Causes and Correlates: Findings and Implications 9,1(2004)