Juvenile delinquency is the participation by a minor child, usually between the ages of 10 and 17, in illegal behavior or activities. Juvenile delinquency is also used to refer to children who exhibit a persistent behavior of mischievousness or disobedience, so as to be considered out of parental control, becoming subject to legal action by the court system. Juvenile delinquency is also known as “juvenile offending,” and each state has a separate legal system in place to deal with juveniles who break the law. To explore this concept, consider the following juvenile delinquency definition.
Definition of Juvenile Delinquency
- The behavior of a minor child that is marked by criminal activities, persistent antisocial behavior, or disobedience which the child’s parents are unable to control.
2. A violation of the law by a minor, which is not punishable by death or life imprisonment.
What is Juvenile Delinquency
Juvenile delinquency occurs when a minor violates a criminal statue. When a juvenile commits a crime, the procedures that take place differ from those of an adult offender. In all states, juvenile court systems, and juvenile detention facilities, deal specifically with underage offenders. While it is common for state statutes to consider people under the age of 17 as minors, the justice system can charge minors even younger as adults, if the crime committed is very serious.
Juvenile delinquents are often defined as children between the ages of 10 and 17 who have committed a criminal act. There are two main types of offenders: repeat offenders and age specific offenders.
Repeat offenders are also known as “life-course persistent offenders.” These juvenile delinquents begin offending or showing other signs of antisocial behavior during adolescence. Repeat offenders continue to engage in criminal activities or aggressive behaviors even after they enter adulthood.
This type of juvenile delinquent behavior begins during adolescence. Unlike the repeat offenders however, the behaviors of the age-specific offender ends before the minor becomes an adult.
The behaviors that a juvenile shows during adolescence are often a good indicator of the type of offender he will become. While age-specific offenders leave their delinquent behavior behind when they enter adulthood, they often have more mental health problems, engage in substance abuse, and have greater financial problems than adults who were never delinquent as juveniles.
Risk Factors and Predictors of Juvenile Delinquency
Many children garner the label of juvenile delinquent early, often between the ages of 6 and 12 years. Many juvenile behaviors during the pre-teen and teenage years may be considered normal behavior for children, as they stretch their boundaries, and struggle to develop their self perception. There are, however, certain signs that a child might be headed in a bad direction.
Predictors of juvenile delinquencies may appear as early as preschool, and often include:
- Abnormal or slow development of basic skills, such as speech and language
- Chronic violation of the rules
- Serious aggressive behavior toward other students or teachers
Studies have found that a number of life circumstances constitute risk factors for a child to become a juvenile delinquent. While these are many and varied, the most common risk factors for juvenile delinquency include:
- Authoritarian Parenting – characterized by the use of harsh disciplinary methods, and refusal to justify disciplinary actions, other than by saying “because I said so.”
- Peer Association – usually resulting from leaving adolescents unsupervised, encouraging a child to engage in bad behaviors when acting with his peer group.
- Low Socioeconomic Status
- Permissive Parenting – characterized by lack of consequences for bad behavior, permissive parenting can be broken down into two subcategories: (1) neglectful parenting, which is a lack of monitoring a child’s activities, and (2) indulgent parenting, which is the enablement of bad behavior.
- Poor School Performance
- Peer Rejection
- ADHD and other mental disorders
Dealing with Juvenile Delinquency
The procedures followed in the juvenile justice system differ greatly from those followed for adult offenders. Each state has specific programs or systems that deal with juvenile offenders. Juvenile offenders come into police contact in number of ways. Some are caught committing a crime and arrested, others are referred to police by parents or school officials. Once the police have become involved, they may choose to deal with a juvenile offender in several ways. The police can:
- issue a warning and release of the minor
- detain the minor and notify the parents to pick him up
- refer the case to juvenile court
- arrest the minor and refer the case to juvenile court
If the case goes to court, the minor and the parents meet with a juvenile court intake officer. The intake officer can handle the case informally, referring the juvenile to a probation officer, he can dismiss the case, or he can file formal charges. When deciding whether to file charges, officers often consider:
- the offense
- the offender’s age
- the offender’s previous record
- the offender’s educational or social history
- the ability of the parents to control the offender’s behavior or seek help
If dealt with informally, the minor reports to a probation officer, and is given advice and ordered to perform community service, pay fines, attend treatment, or enter probation.
If charges are filed in juvenile court, the minor is arraigned, at which time his charges are read before a judge. The judge then decides whether to detain or release the juvenile until the hearing takes place. After appearing in court, three things are possible:
- Plea Agreement – the minor may enter a plea agreement with the court. This often requires the juvenile to comply with certain conditions, such as attending counseling, obeying a curfew, or paying restitution.
2. Diversion – the judge may divert the case, which means he retains control over the matter until the juvenile successfully completes treatment programs or performs community services. If the juvenile fails to comply, formal charges may be reinstated.
3. Adjudicatory Hearing – the judge may decide to have an adjudicatory hearing, which is a trial in a juvenile case. While both sides argue the case and present evidence, a juvenile trial takes place in front of a judge, not a jury. If, at the end of the hearing, the judge decides the juvenile is delinquent, he may order punishments such as probation, community service, or even detention in a juvenile center.
Preventing Juvenile Delinquency
Prevention of juvenile delinquency serves at-risk youths, their families, and the public, as it can put a stop to the transition of juvenile offenders to adult offenders. Prevention services are offered by a number of government and private agencies, and include such services as:
- Substance Abuse Treatment
- Family Counseling
- Individual Counseling
- Parenting Education
- Family Planning Services
The availability of education, and encouragement of minors in obtaining an education, plays a large role in prevention of juvenile delinquency. This is because education promotes social cohesion, and helps children of all ages learn to make good choices, and to practice self-control.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (“OJJDP”) is just one agency that sinks resources into researching juvenile delinquency, and providing both prevention and rehabilitation programs. The agency also works toward reducing under-age substance abuse, and gang influence on minors.
Juvenile Delinquency Statistics
Many organizations, including the OJJDP, study juvenile delinquency, and report compiled data in order to learn what contributes to the issue of juvenile delinquency. Some of the latest juvenile delinquency statistics include:
- In 2012, police arrested 182 violent juvenile offenders for every 100,000 juveniles.
- The peak age for offending falls between 15 and 19 years of age
- 52% to 57% of juvenile offenders continue offending into their mid-20s
- By age 30, only 16% to 19% of juvenile delinquents continue to offend
- If a juvenile starts offending before the age of 12, he is more likely to continue offending into adulthood
- The average onset of gang involvement is 16 years of age
- The average onset of drug use is 16 to 17 years of age
Juvenile Delinquent Turns His Life Around
Youth engaging in illegal behavior is a rampant issue, though most of those juvenile delinquents manage to turn their lives around, and become a productive and happy member of society.
Actor Mark Wahlberg grew up one of nine children in a three-bedroom apartment. Though successful in today’s world, he had his fair share of trouble with the law as a minor. At the age of 14, Wahlberg joined a gang, and remained on law enforcement’s radar until he was locked up at the age of 16, with offenses such as drug dealing and assault. Wahlberg had attacked two men, blinding one. Having been originally charged with attempted murder, the charges were later reduced to criminal contempt, for which Wahlberg served only 45 days in a correctional facility.
After being discharged from the correctional facility, Wahlberg decided to follow in the shoes of his older brother, Donnie, who had earned fame as part of “The New Kids on the Block.” Mark Wahlberg got a record contract heading up the musical group “Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch,” and put his life back on course.
Wahlberg now has a family with four children, and lives a life dedicated to them, as well as to a number of charity causes. Wahlberg’s 1993 debut into acting has seen him become one of the most popular actors in and he has a long list of TV and big screen credits to his name.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Criminal Arraignment – The arraignment process is used for criminal cases only. In some jurisdictions, criminal arraignment is only used in felony cases.
- Hearing – A proceeding before the court at which an issue of fact or law is heard, evidence presented, and a decision made.
- Offender – A violation of law or rule, the committing of an illegal act.
- Restitution – The restoration of rights or property previously taken away or surrendered; reparation made by giving compensation for loss or injury caused by wrongdoing.
- Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to make a determination in a civil matter.