Juvenile crimes have risen in the past years with more adolescents engaging in all types of crimes in society. It has become a major concern with the courts handling more than 60% of criminal cases, 20% of the cases having been committed by persons under the age of 18 years. This paper will therefore discuss the theories that tend to lead to the causations of this crime and the reason why the adolescent crime rate seems to be increasing. It will further discuss the possible recommendations to reduce this kind of crime.
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According to Hamish and Brand (20), the juvenile justice system serves to ensure that an adolescent who commits a crime does not walk free from the particular crime. A juvenile offender is someone who has not attained the age of majority and the age could vary from state to state. However, the most accepted age is any person who is 18 years and below. Over the years, adolescents have been known to engage in serious crimes such as murder, sexual assaults, robbery with violence, arson and other major crimes. Though the law enforcement applied ensures that the minor is not given the same treatment as an adult who has been charged with a similar crime, it ensures that the offender is punished for his acts.
This acts as a relief to the victim of the crime. The juvenile justice system punishes the offender regarding how serious the crime that has been committed is. The offender can be put under probation, taken to a rehabilitation center or even detained. Juvenile crimes have risen drastically over the years; in fact, the recent statistics indicate that it has risen over 50% (Hamish and Brand 30). Many people have tried to come up with theories that attempt to define and explain the root cause of juvenile crimes. We shall discuss some of the most notable theories in the course of this paper.
The Origin Of Juvenile Crime Theories
Juvenile crimes dates back long time ago when adolescents started by engaging in petty crimes like shoplifting (Wiley 2). These crimes have however risen over the years resulting to serious crimes such as rape and murder. Attempts to define and explain the cause of this crimes dates way back too and the use of charts and maps can be seen as an example. This method came to be termed as the “Cartographic School” approach which simply explained the crimes that were caused due to the environment that the juvenile resided in (Wiley 6). However, the proponents of this approach failed to support their findings with a solid theory and instead blamed the juvenile crimes to the high immorality rates in the society.
Therefore, there was a need to explain and point out the causation of juvenile crimes. This was aimed at creating a better understanding of the problem to be able to solve the problem at hand. The theories attempts to explain the root cause of the problems as juvenile crimes differ from each other. The theories for example help to explain and differentiate between an adolescent who have been accused of shoplifting and the one who has pulled a trigger and killed a victim. With the rampant rise of these juvenile crimes, the root cause should be established before dealing with the body of the problem.
The Juvenile Crimes Theories
Several theories have been proposed to determine the cause of juvenile crimes. We shall discuss some of these theories to create a better understanding of the problem at hand.
This theory was developed in 1963 by Howard Becker and has been adopted since then. In this theory, it is argued that labeling leads a child to commit a crime that he has been labeled against. It has been argued that the theory applies to those children and adolescents who suffer from low self esteem. Penny (45) argues that the parents of the child, or the members of the society surrounding the child fails disregards the mental health of the child and instead gives the child a name.
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It further explains that though labeling leads to minor crimes, they have a great negative impact to the perpetrators. A good example is a child who has grown up being labeled a ‘whore’ which actually leads the child to become sexually promiscuous. It explains that once the adolescent has been labeled, they psychologically accept the name and take up the role that they had been assigned indirectly thereby leading to a crime (Penny 56).
This theory recommends self-awareness and action programs to be introduced to the child who has already been labeled. This helps the child to escalate themselves and dismiss the label mentally in order to see themselves useful in the society. This programs aim at drastically decreasing the effects of the label. Though this program has been encouraged, it has also been criticized with most people arguing that it does not help the juvenile escape the wrath of the community members from giving them more labels. The juveniles are still shunned and discriminated against and given a different label from the one that lead to the crime in the first place. This creates anger in the juvenile leading him to commit more crimes to his victims to create an inner self satisfaction (Penny 63).
Social Learning Theory
In this theory, Albert Bandura attempts to give an explanation to social factors that lead to juvenile crimes. He argues that the child adopts and learns from his surroundings. The child imitates what he sees around him and picks up the peculiar habits innocently and adopts them. The social learning can be through various means. The first mean being the parents or the adults of the child.
If the parents exhibit ignorant acts such as taking drugs, smoking or even fighting in front of the child, the child is most likely expected to learn from these behaviors and imitate the same. Also, the children can pick up wrong behaviors from their peer group in their adolescence and tend to imitate what their peer is doing (White 34). A good example is taking drugs, binge drinking or even pornography that can lead to sexual crimes. He further argues that media coverage that exhibit in-appropriate or violent programs can give rise to juvenile crimes where the juvenile tends to imitate what he was watching.
Social Strain Theory
Proposed by Robert Merton, this theory tends to explain the social strain by a child to achieve a particular goal. He argues that a child who fails to reach an expected goal can be under pressure resulting to the child engaging in illegitimate acts to achieve those goals. The theory however states that the children born in poor families are more prone to engaging in these crimes in their attempt to achieve the societal recognition goals. goals such as status and crimes can lead the children from committing crimes in order to achieve them.
Critics have however argued that this theory can not be wholly accepted as a cause of juvenile crimes by restricting the juvenile crimes to children who hail from poor families. He fails to point out that even children from wealthy families engage in crimes. The theory has further been dismissed as it fails to explain the root causes of violence committed by adolescents (Roucek 18).
Social Bond Theory
This theory, that later came to be known as Social Control Theory was proposed by Travis Hirschi early 1969. Hirschi defines social bond as developing a strong bond to the surroundings and adopting them. It has been associated with four elements namely attachment, commitment, involvement and the common value system. The theory explains that the bond can be positive or negative to the child. If bonding is negative, it gives rise to the crimes that have been adopted. Children tend to become attached to their parents at a tender age and involve themselves with the activities that their parents are engaging themselves in (Roucek 28).
Many sociologists have adopted and accepted this theory of social bond by recognizing that there is always a bond that exists. It however fails to differentiate between the four elements that he has given with the recent researches indicating that the four elements can be differentiated.
The Social Disorganization Theory
The theory was as a result of a research conducted by Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay, both sociologists from University of Chicago and the Illinois Institute for Social Research in early 1920s. They argued that juvenile crimes were as a result of ignorance of the community in recognizing the crimes exhibited by its failure to control and solve the problems. They further argue that community no longer provides a sense of communal belonging leading to individuals exhibiting their unrestricted wild freedom that often leads to these crimes (White 47).
Routine Activity Theory
It was developed by Marcus Felson and Lawrence Cohen. The proponents of this theory argue that this forms the premise upon juvenile crimes get its root from. This theory states that the child engages in criminal activities that seem normal. A good example is shoplifting. This mainly occurs when the child sees an opportunity of committing the act which seems rewarding and without being known. It creates a self satisfactory in the child to be able to achieve something without being caught. This develops into a habit and the child finds himself accustomed to it.
Routine activity theory argue that the crimes committed are petty crimes that are not reported most of the time to the police and the only punishment that the child faces when caught in action is a reprimand. They term it as normal thing and dismissed at the very instance. It is neither associated to a state of social class as it argues that both the wealthy and poor children engage in these petty crimes as part of their developmental growth and just does it for fun.
The proponents state that for this crime to happen there should be the offender who is willing to commit the crime, a target or victim that he has identified and lack of witnesses, whom they refer to as guardians. The theory was further explained by John Eck who included ‘place managers’ as another element associated with the theory. The place managers are the people in charge of the places that these kinds of crimes are likely to happen and who are capable of taking measures to curb them. To curb this crime, it has been proposed that more responsibility should be placed on the guardians and the child punished severely at the time. He should further be taught that the activity he was trying to engage in the name of fun is wrong and could land him in prison if repeated.
Measures Recommended By The Theorists To Curb Juvenile Crimes
More theories will likely be proposed if juvenile crime will not have been dealt with in future. Several measures have been proposed by the present theories and if not implemented, we shall have more and more theories that will bear no fruits in solving the problems. The theories have proposed some of recommendations that should be applied in order to deal with the problem of the juvenile crimes. Application of the following measures will greatly determine the future of these juvenile crimes theories.
Effective Preventive Programs should be implemented to reduce this problem. Since it is clear from the theories that most juvenile crimes are geared by the parenting of the child, then these programs should not only aim at the child but also the parent. This way, the application of the theories shall not be disregarded in future.
Another measure suggested is deterrence. The juvenile is deterred from committing further crimes by being locked up in a juvenile jail. Critics have however argued that a juvenile court does not deter the child as the law provides that they are given special treatments. They propose that serious offenders should be locked up in adult’s prisons to be able to learn from their mistakes through the hardships that they are likely to face. However, many people disagree with this suggestion by arguing that the child is likely to be hardened by the hardcore adults who have been locked in these prisons and instead increase the level of juvenile crimes.
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The theorists also propose that the government should put up more rehabilitation centers. Tutors should be employed to teach the juveniles relevant courses to raise awareness in them and help to correct their mistakes. Some theorists have argued that most rehabilitation centre treats these children as criminals and by doing that, they place further labels to the child.
There is also a need for recreational facilities that children can go after school. This recreation places helps to engage a child’s mind from coming up with illegal activities. This plays a significant role in deterring the child from committing crimes as the saying goes, ‘an idol mind is a devil’s workshop.’
Recreational facilities do not however include negative media coverage. Televisions should be under scrutiny to determine whether the programs they are airing would have negative impact to our children. Programs that exhibit violence and other immoral factors should be aired when the children have been put in bed. Some of the hip hop music being aired in our culture should be put in check too. Most of these songs are about revenge hereby promoting violence in their lyrics. The children follow the lyrics word for word and adopt the hip hop culture that involves weapons such as guns. This has increased the level of juvenile crimes at a very high rate.
Counseling programs should also be encouraged. Most counseling programs aim at the juvenile who have committed a crime but this should not be the case. With the emergence of these theories, they clearly give a clear picture of where the root problem lies. In such a case, counseling programs should include finding out the immediate cause of the crime. If the problem lies with the parents, then the parents should also be counseled and the same thing applies to the peers. Failure to do so only acts as a temporary deterrence to the problem.
The Future of Juvenile Crimes Theories
An adolescent who has engaged in a crime can continue to engage in the very activity even at his age of maturity. Though the juvenile theories tend to explain the causations of these crimes, they fail to hold water whether this are the same causes of crimes in the future. They fail to differentiate between juvenile crimes and future adult crimes. They fail to discuss the possible changes as the juvenile ages and his relations with the parents or peers that occur in his adolescent life and adulthood. Failure to treat these juvenile cases at early case can cause an adverse effect to the society in the future. Good examples are cases associated with serial killers.
Various researches have indicated that most adult serial killers have had previous criminal convictions as children. Their anti social behaviors being a give away sign of a young criminal. The theories fail to treat these anti social behaviors and instead criticize the causation of why the child could be behaving in a particular manner.
Juvenile crimes should not be taken lightly. With its rate increasing at a high rate, urgent measures should be put in place to curb the behavior. It is certain that most theories put the problem to be with the parents or the guardians of the child. In places where use of drugs and violence is high, the parents should be put in focus and the parents taught the principles of bringing up their children in a morally upright surroundings. School curriculum should include lessons about juvenile crimes and their effects to create awareness to the children. It is apparent that children do not choose crime but rather they adapt to the crime based on the surroundings.
It is also clear that if juvenile crimes are greatly reduced, it will further reduce the adult crimes as it is the juvenile criminals that culminate to be adult’s criminals in most cases. The children who have already been convicted should not be shunned by the community but rather advised and counseled. The society at large is also to blame by causing the juveniles feel unwanted thereby driving them to do illegal activities to get their attention. This will help decrease the crime rate at a very high rate when the members of the society stop shunning the juveniles.
Hamish, Michael and Alexander, Brand. Causations of Juvenile Crimes: Case Study. Tuskon: University of Arizona Press, 1986. Print.
Penny, Marlene. Juvenile Delinquency: Labeling Theory in Detail. London: Saunders, 1997. Print.
Roucek, John. Juvenile delinquency. U.S.A: Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication, 2002. Print.
White, Mark. Juvenile Delinquency: Theories of Causations. London: Academic Press, 1998. Print.
Wiley, James. Juvenile Delinquency. New York: Chichester, 1997. Print.