The issue of juvenile crime has an overarching influence on today’s society. Concerns about it have been widely shared not only by government officials but also by the general public. While the juvenile crime rate showed a peak at the beginning of the 1990s and subsequently decreased over the years, this did not eliminate the concerns. Most of the issues associated with the dissonance between the regulatory agenda and what people think are associated with the shifts in legal processes, which made juvenile courts more similar to adult courts.
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The enactment of the laws that make juvenile justice similar to adult justice has caused a spike in crime (National Research Council 13). Due to the blurred lines associated with the legal procedures in juvenile courts and because of the growing public concern, studying the issue of juvenile crime has never been as important as today.
The current research will focus on examining the problem of juvenile crime from the social perspective rather than the governmental. The following research questions (RQ1 and RQ2) aim to show how society perceives the problem of juvenile crime and what solutions it proposes for alleviating its burden:
- RQ1: What is the attitude of the general public toward the issue of juvenile crime and juvenile justice?
- RQ2: In the public’s view, what solutions can be implemented for reducing the burden of the issue within the social agenda?
The current study will take a qualitative approach due to its convenience and simplicity. The researcher developed ten interview questions to ask potential research participants. The questions in the interview will aim to answer the research questions from a qualitative perspective; for example, what is the perception of respondents in regards to therapy and behavioral interventions representing effective solutions for reducing the burden of juvenile crime?
The problem of juvenile crime has received a lot of attention in the research literature. The focus on the antisocial behavior of children and adolescents and the subsequent acts of crime that accompany them have shown to be concerning for the academic interest. In addition, juvenile offenders have often been seen as populations that struggle with an increased prevalence of mental and behavioral disorders compared to the rest of the juvenile population (Young et al. 21).
In terms of the trends in youth crime, the “violence epidemic” in the united states was associated with the rapid increase in arrest rates of “young people for violent crimes, including homicide, in the middle of 1980 and the beginning of 1990” (Young et al. 22). The rising concern and moral panic led to the establishment of harsh punitive policies within the sphere of juvenile justice. Despite the fact that “official statistics document a subsequent fall of 20% in court case-loads between 1997 and 2009, victimization surveys have indicated a degree of continuity in high levels of offending, consistent with a reported increase in juvenile offending between 2000 and 2006” (Young et al. 21).
The high rates of juvenile offenders have been linked to gang membership. The rise of youth gangs is one of the characteristics of urbanization, with groups of young people getting together to form gangs based on their geographical location, ethnic identity, ideology, or any other mutual characteristics. Models used for explaining the rise of youth gang prevalence have been concerned with young people losing their families, lacking supervision, economic migration, and the exposure to the inaccessible lifestyle ideas depicted in the media (Young et al. 23). According to Bishop et al., preventative interventions to address the issue of youth gang membership can range from reducing antisocial socialization experiences through therapy to rewarding juveniles for their positive contributions to society (275).
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Allen et al. studied the issue of juvenile crime from the perspective of public attitudes toward punishment severity as well as assessments of the development of adolescents (80). The mandate of the public to be “tough on crime” has shown to be one of the most prevalent reasons why some juveniles receive harsh sentences without being properly assessed. The discussions of public policies often take place without any reference to the reliable research base and therefore limit the perceptions as to how juvenile offenders should be treated.
Allen et al. identified “a scarcity of public opinion data on responses to more specific questions, such as the extent to which individuals support the imposition of severe sentences for juveniles who commit serious crimes” (80). This finding points to the need to research juvenile justice to a greater extent in terms of public opinion.
The poll performed by the Public Safety Performance Project for Pew Trusts has provided an overview as to the public’s perception of serious and non-serious punishments for juvenile offenders. 73% of respondents strongly agreed with the statement that juveniles should not be placed in corrections facilities for minor offenses such as skipping school or running away because if they were adults, these acts would not be considered offenses (Public Safety Performance Project).
45% of respondents strongly agreed that technical violations of offenders’ probation and other types of punishments such as curfew breaches or positive drug testing should not result in offenders’ being convicted to stay at juvenile corrections facility (Public Safety Performance Project). The results of the poll point to the fact that there is a clear divide between what the public perceives as not very important when it comes to juvenile crime and what it deems as necessary to prevent them from reoffending. Overall, there is a general perception that lower-level juvenile offenders should not be placed in correctional facilities, pointing to the need to invest time and interest into probation and other alternatives.
Lastly, it is important to explore determinants that can contribute to the increase in juvenile crime. According to Martin and Mbugua, the public wrongly attributes a large part of offending to young people or perceives youth to offend to increase rapidly despite the statistics showing otherwise (71). Nevertheless, there is a range of determinants that may explain such a situation. For example, the media, family dynamics, economic factors, peer influence, and urbanization have all been found to contribute to the shaping of public perceptions of juvenile delinquency and crime.
Better dissemination of crime data is necessary for ensuring that the public has access to accurate and timely information. In addition, “it may be that the public’s overestimation of youth crime is symptomatic of a more serious concern, in which case, appropriate strategies would be needed to improve communities’ sense of safety” (Martin and Mbugua 75). Therefore, the issue of youth crime does not rely simply on the number of criminal actions but also depends on how society perceives and responds to it.
The study of public perceptions of the issue of juvenile crime aims will aim to answer the questions from a qualitative perspective. Therefore, an interview was designed to assess the public’s attitudes to measure the perceptions of the general public as to how juvenile crime is viewed. Open-ended questions were the most suitable option for the current interview due to the orientation on including more detail in the study rather than encouraging respondents to answer either “yes” or “no.” In the current interview, the ten questions were created with time and effectiveness in mind, which is why they are short and concise in nature. In addition, the qualitative interview was chosen due to its versatility and wide application to different disciplines.
It was expected to interview 50 respondents in the current study. Potential participants were approached in public settings and asked whether they would like to answer ten short questions. Therefore, the combination of simple random and convenience sampling was used: while participants were approached randomly, the locations chosen were the ones more accessible and convenient to the researcher.
As a result of the data collection procedure, 60 respondents completed the interview out of 100 who were approached, which points to a 60% rate of agreeing to participate. Answering the interview questions took respondents under five minutes; the response sheets were kept by the researcher for data analysis. The interviews were kept anonymous; those respondents who were interested in getting to know the results left their email addresses to be contacted at the end of the study.
To analyze the data collected from 60 participants, no data analysis software was used. The answers were analyzed manually with the help of coding and thematic analysis. For each question, it was necessary to determine the most popular theme that was present in the majority of responses. All of the answers were put into an Excel document for the sufficient organization of data and then analyzed with the help of theme development. Thematic analysis is one of the most common methods of qualitative data analysis that focuses on the examination and recording of patterns or ‘themes’ within data collected in the course of the study. The most common themes would represent the most important descriptions of studied phenomena (associated with a certain research question).
|Question||Theme 1||Theme 2||Theme 3|
|Does your local government has provided you with sufficient information on how juvenile crime is managed?||There is enough information for me to be well informed.||There is not enough information, and I need more.||I do not care about this topic at the present moment.|
Findings and Discussion
The analysis of data revealed that the public does not take the topic of juvenile crime lightly. Most respondents indicated the issue of juvenile crime was often misconstrued both in the media and among the general public. Another important theme discovered in the course of the study was that juveniles should not be put in correctional facilities for minor offenses such as skipping school, shoplifting, and others.
Interviewed respondents suggested that juvenile crime was a complex problem that was not being reflected correctly in social affairs. A relevant theme pertinent to respondents’ knowledge was associated with the fact that the established governmental policies on juvenile punishment are clear. Importantly, the respondents mentioned that their local officials did not provide enough sufficient information for educating the public regarding the existing management of juvenile crime as well as available resources to access.
In terms of the proposed solutions, the interviewed people said that probation, community work, and coaching could be effective strategies for teaching juveniles positive behaviors and lowering the chances of reoffending. This finding shows that a large portion of the public is supportive of fostering positive behavioral changes among children and adolescents instead of putting them in correctional facilities. The majority of interview respondents strongly agreed with the need to implement mental health interventions among juvenile offenders due to the associations between crime and negative health.
This suggests that the general public understands the need for juvenile offenders to control their psychological state in order to reduce their violent tendencies. A large number of interviewed individuals (fifty-three out of sixty based on theme distribution) indicated that they saw the need for parents or caretakers of juvenile offenders to take control and implement a range of solutions for reducing the burden of crimes.
The results of the research showed that the public was aware of the gaps in social and governmental concern for the issues juvenile offenders face in the criminal justice system. The lack of information and resources available for educating people is an issue because it has the potential to result in the spreading of misconceptions and misinformation (Young et al. 27). This misinformation subsequently influences the public perception – agreeing that all juvenile offenders should be placed in correctional facilities instead of completing behavioral modification interventions, visiting counselors, attend probation work, and so on.
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Therefore, the gaps in public education can distort the perceptions of the general community as to how prevalent juvenile crimes are, as well as what the government does to manage them. The implications of the present study for future research are vast since public attitudes toward juvenile crime can differ based on social status, education, race, and other variables. It can be recommended to research the issue from parents’ standpoint as they have first-hand experiences of dealing with juvenile offenders.
In conclusion, it should be mentioned that the problem of the juvenile crime depends not only on prevalence rates but also on how the public perceives it in general. The interviews used for measuring the public’s perceptions about the problem of juvenile crime revealed that respondents acknowledged that young people commit crimes or are violent with no specific prerequisites or reasons. However, there is a variety of determinants ranging from family dynamics to the history of mental conditions that influence juveniles’ likelihood of committing a crime or being violent.
While the current study was limited to only 60 participants that could not represent the entire population, it revealed that the general public acknowledges the problem of juvenile crime as being understudied and distorted in media as well as in overall knowledge. It was identified that the public requires sufficient education as to why juveniles commit crimes, as well as which interventions and management strategies should be implemented in order to control the rates of crimes. In terms of future research, a quantitative study can be conducted to capture a larger target audience and implement a mixed-methods approach toward the identified issue.
Allen, Terrence, et al. “Public Attitudes Toward Juveniles Who Commit Crimes: The Relationship Between Assessments of Adolescent Development and Attitudes Toward Severity of Punishment.” Crime & Delinquency, vol. 58, no. 1, 2012, pp. 78-102.
Bishop, Asia, et al. “Developmental Pathways of Youth Gang Membership: A Structural Test of the Social Development Model.” Journal of Crime and Justice, vol. 40, no. 3, 2017, pp. 275-296.
Martin, Mwaka, and Susan Mbugua. “An Investigation of Public Perceptions of Youth Crime and Juvenile Delinquency in Embakasi Sub-county in Nairobi County, Kenya.” Research on Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 6, no. 14, 2016, pp. 71-76.
National Research Council. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. The National Academies Press, 2001.
Public Safety Performance Project. “Public Opinion on Juvenile Justice in America.” Pew Trusts. 2014. Web.
Young, Susan, et al. “Juvenile Delinquency, Welfare, Justice and Therapeutic Interventions: A Global Perspective.” Bjpsych Bulletin, vol. 41, no. 1, 2017, pp. 21-29.