Juvenile Delinquency refers to anti social and criminal behavior committed by persons under the age of 18.Juvenile delinquency is also simply called delinquency,and the two terms are used interchangeably in popular discourse. Once persons reach adulthood, anti social and criminal behavior is known as crime. In this way, juvenile delinquency is the child and adolescent version of crime. Juvenile delinquency encompasses two general types of behaviors, status and delinquent offenses. Status offenses are behaviors that are considered inappropriate or unhealthy for children and adolescents, and the behaviors are proscribed because of the age of the offender. Such behaviors, if committed by adults, are not illegal.Examples of status offenses include smoking or using tobacco, drinking or possessing alcohol, running away from home, truancy or non attendance at school, and violating curfew. There are also other status offenses that are essentially labels that parents and the juvenile justice system place on young people. These offenses include way wardness, incorrigibility, idleness, and being ungovernable. Depending on the jurisdiction, the juvenile justice system has devised formal labels for adolescents that are in need. These include CHINS (child in need of supervision), PINS (person in need of supervision), MINS (minor in need of supervision), FINS (family in need of supervision), and YINS (youth in need of supervision). Delinquent offenses are violations of legal statutes that also apply to adults in the criminal justice system. Delinquent offenses include acts of violence against persons, such as murder, rape, armed robbery, aggravated and simple assault, harassment, stalking, menacing, child abuse, and similar offenses. Delinquent offenses also include acts that are considered property crimes, such as burglary, theft or larceny, motor vehicle theft, arson, damage to property, criminal mischief, vandalism, and others. A variety of miscellaneous crimes sometimes known as public order offenses are also delinquent offenses. These include driving while intoxicated, cruelty to animals, possession and use of a controlled substance forgery, fraud, disorderly conduct, weapons violations, prostitution and commercialized vice, vagrancy and loitering, traffic violations, and others Juvenile delinquency is important in society for several reasons but for three in particular. First, children and adolescents commit a significant amount of delinquent offenses that result in violent, property, or other forms of victimization. Each year, more than one million children and adolescents are arrested by police for their delinquent acts. Second, juvenile delinquency is itself seen as an indicator of the general health and prosperity of a society. In neighborhoods with high levels of delinquency, the anti social behavior is seen as part of a larger set of social problems. In this sense, juvenile delinquency is troublin because of the victimizations that are inflicted and the perceptual image of society as unable to adequately control and supervise young people. Third, as this chapter will explore, juvenile delinquency has different meanings depending on its severity and other factors. For many young people, juvenile delinquency is a fairly normal facet of growing up. For a small group of youths, however, juvenile delinquency is simply the beginning stage of what will become a lifetime of antisocial behavior. This chapter offers a comprehensive look at juvenile delinquency including its historical background, major theories of juvenile delinquency, and types or typologies of juvenile delinquents.
The ways that juvenile delinquency has been defined, perceived, and responded to have changed over time and generally reflect the social conditions of the particular era. During the colonial era of the United States, for example, the conceptualization of juvenile delinquency was heavily influenced by religion. At this time, juvenile delinquency was viewed as not only a legal violation, but also a moral violation. Delinquent acts were viewed as affronts to God and God’s law, and as such, wrongdoers were treated in very punitive and vengeful ways. American colonial society was similarly harsh toward children and the control of children’s behavior. Throughout society, there was a general notion that children were particularly susceptible to vice and moral violations. For instance, in 1641, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony passed the Stubborn Child Law, which stated that children who disobeyed their parents would be put to death. The language and the spirit of the law were drawn from the biblical Book of Deuteronomy.The Stubborn Child Law descended from the Puritans’ belief that unacknowledged
social evils would bring the wrath of God down upon the entire colony. The Puritans believed they had no choice but to react to juvenile misbehavior in a severe and calculated manner. However, not all colonies adopted the Stubborn Child Law. Outside Massachusetts, children found guilty of a serious crime frequently were punished via corporal punishment, which is the infliction of physical pain such as whipping, mutilating, caning, and other methods. What would today be considered normal and routine adolescent behavior, such as “hanging out with friends,” was in early eras considered serious delinquent behavior, such as sloth and idleness. Today, the use of a death penalty or beatings for minor types of delinquency seems shocking; however, there are similarities between colonial juvenile justice and contemporary juvenile justice. In both eras, adult society held ambivalent views about children. On one hand, children and adolescents were seen as innocents that were not fully developed and required compassion, patience, and understanding. From this perspective, the response to juvenile delinquents should be tempered, tolerant, and used to teach or discipline. On the other hand, children and adolescents were viewed as disrespectful, annoying, and simply different from adults. It was believed that children were born in sin and should submit to adult authority. Over time, the puritanical approach to defining, correcting, and punishing juvenile delinquency came under attack. Not only had these severe forms of juvenile justice failed to control juvenile delinquency, but also they were portrayed as primitive and brutal. In 1825, a progressive social movement known as the Child Savers changed the course of the response to juvenile delinquency and made corrections a primary part of it. Rather than framing juvenile delinquency as an issue of sin and morality, the Child Savers attributed it to environmental factors, such as poverty, immigration, poor parenting, and urban environments. Based on the doctrine of parens patriae, which means the state is the ultimate guardian of children, the Child Savers sought to remove children from the adverse environments that they felt contributed to children’s delinquency. The Child Savers actively pursued the passage of legislation that would permit placing children in reformatories, especially juvenile paupers. The goal of removing children from extreme poverty was admirable, but resulted in transforming children into persons without legal rights. Children were placed into factories, poorhouses, and orphanages where they were generally treated poorly and where almost no attention was given to their individual needs. The first and most infamous of these facilities was the New York House of Refuge, which opened in 1825 and served to incarcerate thousands of children and adolescents viewed as threats to public safety and social order.Another curious response to juvenile delinquency during this era was the use of transport. For example, between the 1850s and the Great Depression, approximately 250,000 abandoned children from New York were placed on orphan trains and relocated to locations in the West where they were adopted by Christian farm families. The process of finding new homes for the children was haphazard. At town meetings across the country, farming families took their pick of the orphan train riders. Children who were not selected got back on board the train and continued to the next town. The children who were selected and those who adopted them had one year to decide whether they would stay together. If either decided against it, the child would be returned, boarded on the next train out of town, and offered to another family. Progressive reformers continued looking for new solutions to the growing problem of juvenile delinquency. Their
most significant remedy was the creation of the juvenile court in Cook County, Illinois, in July 1899 via the passage of the Chicago Juvenile Court Act. The juvenile court attempted to closely supervise problem children, but unlike the houses of refuge, this new form of supervision was to
more often occur within the child’s own home and community, not in institutions. In the juvenile court, procedures were civil as opposed to criminal, perhaps because social workers spearheaded the court movement. They thought that children had to be treated, not punished, and the judge was to be a sort of wise and kind parent. The new court segregated juvenile from adult offenders