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System and Theory Evaluation for Juvenile Delinquency


Youth have been committing crimes that have been noticed by researchers, the media, policymakers, and the judiciary; these crimes of violence have been producing disastrous effects in society. Children younger than 18 years are being punished for surprising crimes like “robbery, forced rape, assault, and homicide”. Risk factors and protective ones have been identified and found to be related by researchers. Juvenile offending has also been blamed. The multiple risk factors that have been discovered could be countered by protective factors which reduce antisocial behavior.

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Causes and theories for juvenile delinquency

Criminologists have for centuries attempted to find a sole cause or to attain a consensus to justify juvenile delinquency but they have failed miserably.

Robert Agnew spoke of three approaches or theories: the strain theories, social learning theories, and the control theories (2005) which explain juvenile delinquency. The pattern of offending shows the gradual increase of delinquency in the formative adolescent years and the progression during the whole of life. The situational strains and the coping have been related to the development of delinquency. The routine activities theory which speaks of “target attractiveness and capable guardianship” has also been related to it. The lack of closeness of the family, the influence of delinquent peers, the strictness of and the suppression of freedom to express in the school and individual traits have been known to veer the child away from a normal thinking pattern to a deviant one (Agnew, 2005). Unemployment, poverty, the negative influence of the mass media, and the easy availability of guns are added factors for ‘promoting’ delinquency. We find that a number of biological, sociological, and psychological factors influence the onset of delinquency and the repetition of crime through life (Agnew, 2005).

Philosophy and process of juvenile court

In the past few decades, the juvenile court has transformed from a social welfare rehabilitative agency to a second-class criminal court (Feld, 1999). Punishment has been agreed upon for youth. The procedure has become more formal and some safeguards have been incorporated. Reforms have actually changed the picture of the juvenile court from a milder one to a more severe one. The juvenile court was first envisioned as an informal system where the State was the surrogate parent. The procedures have been slightly modified in the US1. The differences in concept and operational strategies which existed previously between the adult and juvenile court are now non-existent (Feld, 1999). The juvenile court has reached a stage where it has failed to save a child or bring down juvenile crime; neither rationale nor justification is associated with it now. As harsh laws are being imposed in the juvenile courts, the differences between the adult and juvenile courts have become almost nil; the juvenile court has become more punitive. Many possible difficulties are being seen in juvenile courts; “cultural and criminological tensions: positivism versus classicism, determinism versus choice, child versus adult, dependence versus independence, treatment versus punishment, offender versus offense, forward-versus backward-looking responses to crime, welfare versus just deserts, discretion versus rules, procedural informality versus formality and social welfare versus social control” (Feld, 1999). The rehabilitative part is almost forgotten.

Historical and contemporary interventions to deal with juvenile delinquency

From the 19th century onwards, the problem of youth and youth crime has been a subject of discussion in Britain (Bradley, Institute of Historical Research). Concern for the young has been behind the charities, the efforts of the religious bodies, schools, and the medical services for many years. The British people are worried about whether the industrial revolution was influencing them and destroying their young people. A Report on the physical deterioration of the youth impressed upon the parents that they were responsible for raising young fit workers who would be assets to the nation. Women were encouraged to be philanthropic. Young offenders first had reformatory and industrial schools (Bradley, Institute of Historical Research). Punitive measures were passed: children were removed from industries or their activities restricted. Efforts to protect children from cruelty in families through the Children’s Charter failed in its purpose. The concept of childhood producing an effect on adulthood came into vogue. New opportunities and protections and the significance of the developmental childhood were the prevalent thoughts in society. Juvenile delinquency was to be handled by a special court. Then the Children’s Act of 1908 came into being: school meals, medical inspections, and pensions for orphans were provided (Bradley, Institute of Historical Research). The Act protected infant life, prevented cruelty, prohibited smoking in the youth, refined the reformatory and industrial school roles, and created juvenile courts. Children under 14 could not attend pubs.

The juvenile courts used the information of many disciplines in the courts: psychiatric, social sciences, criminology, and psychology. Deviant behaviors were explained using the information. Child psychiatry was a discipline by itself in the 1860s (Bradley, Institute of Historical Research). That children suffer in a manner different from adults was obvious by the 1890s. The juvenile court was greatly influenced by the Child Study Movement. When the US had a juvenile court with a self-appointed judge, Ben Lindsay, who was committed to the youth in Denver, Colorado, the British too set up a juvenile court in Birmingham in 1900. Causes of delinquency were believed to be due to failure of character and suitable role modeling along with the failure of the family (Logan, 2005; Bradley, 2008) Juvenile crime rose during the First World War. With the males in the family away in the War, the children had no one to look up to and the mothers found it difficult to bring up their children without the fathers. Leisure interests, moral guidance, and support were provided at boys’ clubs. Probation officers enabled by the Probation Act tried to rehabilitate the youth offenders. Juvenile courts were to be held in separate premises from the adult court (Bradley, Institute of Historical Research). Proceedings were to be simplified so that the youth would understand what was happening. The welfare of the child was to be the primary objective of the court. Children were to remain anonymous so that they were not identified by the media persons and their future chances of employment were not jeopardized. The lives of the children at home and in school, their health, and their family would be discussed when proceeding in a juvenile crime. Probation was the exercise to reclaim a youth offender back to citizenship by placing him under the guidance of a good role model (Report, 1927). The Children’s and Young Persons’ Act of 1928 enhanced the features of the Act. Poverty was found to be an additional cause of delinquency. Child guidance clinics began to be set up. Around the Second World War, whippings rose in number. In the 1948 Children’s Act, beating or whipping was banned. Delinquency was found to be due to poor parenting styles and structural inequities. Children were to be better treated at the courts: social welfare and justice were the need.

Non-homicide crimes and legislation

Smith of the American Law Division has indicated that some non-homicide crimes like “treason, espionage, aircraft piracy, aggravated kidnapping, and drug trafficking” attract capital punishment by federal and state statutes (2008). However, no individual has been sentenced to death even after the death penalty was established in 1976 in the United States. The death penalty has been instituted by several states in the US for child rape. The Supreme Court has not yet determined whether a crime other than murder can be penalized with death (Smith, 2008). The Supreme Court has now refused to include the death penalty for the rape of a child and intends to make the statutes allowing it. Only the worst of the worst crimes were to be awarded the death penalty. It decided that the non-homicide cases were not to be given the death penalty2; a rapist who does not take the life of another is not executed3. Where the punishment appears in excess of or out of proportion of the crime committed, the extreme punishment is not awarded. When a person maliciously plans and kills a person, he is eligible for the extreme punishment if evidence is available4 (Smith, 2008). If proof is unavailable, even this person escapes the death sentence. The rapist cannot be considered guilty of the crime of a deliberate killer and so the punishment need not be as severe, provided the victim is not killed. If the victim of rape is a child under 12 years, the death penalty is not prohibited, Louisiana Vs Kennedy5. The Court has to follow the 8th Amendment of the US Supreme Court that requires it to investigate whether there is a national consensus about the issue and whether the court finds the punishment out of proportion to the crime as set out in Atkins Vs Virginia6 (Smith, 2008). However in 2008, the US Supreme Court Justice Kennedy ruled that the punishment for a child rape would be excessive through a death penalty if the victim is not killed, going by the 8th Amendment’s decision to avoid cruel and severe punishment. Only six states in the US have made child rape a big offence needing maximum punishment. Death sentence is for the most heinous of crimes. The death penalty is instituted for “retribution and deterrence”. However this purpose will not be served in a child rape of non homicide. The sentence also did not allow parole. The child would be treated as an adult for most crimes especially non homicide.

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Life sentence without parole

Juveniles guilty of sexual battery in Florida underwent a life sentence without parole as in Joe Sullivan Vs State of Florida7 (Annino, 2009). The two boys qualify for the non homicidal cases and sentences without parole as they are in Florida. Thirteen years of age is the earliest age for punishment in Florida. Life without parole sentence in Florida is not seen in the rest of America (Annino, 2009). 5 states do not use this life without parole for any offence, homicide or non homicide. Kentucky does not allow life without parole for any offenders below the age of 16. The number of juvenile offenders undergoing the life without parole sentence for non homicide cases in Florida is more than the number doing so in the rest of America. Statistics show that 84% Blacks when compared to 12% Whites are undergoing sentences for armed robbery, burglary, battery and carjacking (Florida Department of Corrections, 2009). The bill HR 2289, the Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act of 2009, is aimed at restoration of justice. This bill is aimed at creating opportunities for parole in a juvenile offender who is undergoing life without parole sentences (HR 2289, GovTrack). This bill has noted that adults and children are to be treated differently; most of the youth punished are first offenders and 16% of offenders were below 15 years of age. The bill is for juvenile offenders who have more than 15 years in prison. The children are to be given better and more competent legal representation in court.

Prevention of crime

Local multi-agency groups have great influence over the youth of an area especially if there is frequent interaction (Cooper, 1989). The deft management of the problems of these youth by the agency is the best manner of prevention of crime. Knowing the crime preference, connected and concerted actions help to avert crime. Shoplifting, taking vehicles without consent, stealing from vehicles, residential thefts, burglary in unoccupied buildings and schools, assaults and criminal damage of public property are some of the usual crimes. Drinking alcohol and driving under its influence were also seen. More girls were involved in shoplifting: the shop assistant was distracted and the accomplice walked off with what she wanted and others joined in to prevent easy surveillance (Cooper, 1989). Several levels of interaction are necessary to corner these offenders or prevent the crimes. Shops must be advised to have a layout suitable to prevent the shoplifting and have proper surveillance to detect the stealing. Situational and social strategies must be combined and implemented based on the type of crime possible. Situational approaches include the strict adherence to achieving targets, sharp surveillance and making detection easier. Providing good chances of employment, setting up better facilities for leisure activities and allowing the youth to indulge in attitudinal change programmes are the social approaches possible. The manner of crime, the youth’s behaviour and the interests and necessities of the youth must be deeply understood to plan the method of approach with full commitment. It is not a single time exercise: repeated approaches and continuous updating are needed. With all the effort, the problem may still have gaps hidden from view (Cooper, 1989). Professionals in the area must be able to share their perceptions of the prevention and plan methods of soliciting the youth into their network. Participating in the other activities of the concerned community and empowering the youth may help in overcoming their initial shyness to face others and interact. Crime prevention is a continuous process. The multiagency should include the teachers, the family and the church authorities. Common or individual problems must be discussed and efforts made to solve them (Cooper, 1989).


Juvenile crimes have become a weakness and sore spot in the society. Antisocial behaviour can be prevented through programmes incorporating the family,

teachers, school, church authorities, medical services, the police services and judiciary as participants. The various theories and factors try to explain the reasons for the youth turning to crime. Juvenile courts were meant for the social welfare and rehabilitation of the youth when first envisioned. However now they have turned out to be mainly punitive in nature with no room for rehabilitation, similar to the adult courts. Life sentence is the penalty for a youth with a non homicide offence even if it is a first crime.

The US Supreme Court has now modified this sentence with an 8th Amendment whereby some change is allowed and parole is permitted in some cases.


Agnew, R. (2005). “Juvenile Delinquency: Causes and Control”, 2nd Ed., Los Angeles C.A: Roxbury Publishing Company

Annino, P.G. et al, (2009). “Juvenile Life without parole for non homicide cases: Florida Compared to Nation” Florida State University

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Bradley, K. (2009). “Juvenile delinquency and the evolution of the British juvenile courts, c.1900-1950”.

Bradley, K. M., ‘Juvenile delinquency, the juvenile courts and the settlement movement 1908-50: Basil Henriques and Toynbee Hall’, 20th Century British History 19 (2008), 133-55.

Cooper, B. (1989). “The management and prevention of juvenile crime problems” Home Office Crime Prevention Unit, London.

Feld, B.C. (1999). “Bad Kids: Race and the Transformation of the Juvenile Court”. Oxford University Press. : New York

Florida Department of Corrections, 2009, Bureau of Research and Data Analysis HR 2289, Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act of 2009.

Logan, A. (2005). “A suitable person for suitable cases”: the gendering of juvenile courts in England c.1910-39′, 20th Century British History 16 (2005), 129-45

Report of the Departmental Committee on the Treatment of Young Offenders, 1925-7 Cmd. 2831 (London, 1927) pp. 121-3

Smith, A.M. (2008). “Capital punishment: Constitutionality for non homicide crimes like child rape”. Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress.

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  1. 387 US 1 (1967)
  2. Coker Vs Georgia, 433 US 584
  3. Coker Vs Georgia 433 US 584
  4. Coker 433 US 600
  5. 957 So 2d 757, 2007
  6. 536 US 304, 2002
  7. 129 S Ct 2157, 2009

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