A Study of Juvenile Delinquency and The Juvenile Justice System

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Adolescents and young adults often experience stress, confusion and depression because of their families, communities and school. Overwhelming feelings causes adolescents and a young adult to act out in varies ways. The study of juvenile delinquency is important because of what the victims goes through and also the problems faced by the perpetrators. In today’s society many adolescents carry on daily stress. It is the stress of where he or she belongs. They undergo the stress of humiliation, emotional states, and different experiences. The adolescent stage is where the youth finds him or herself. They go through many changes, such as friends, family, puberty, and sexual characteristics. All these factors impacts what kind of life the youth is going to live. The study is important because parents as well as authority figures need to find a way to stabilize the high juvenile crimes and have a control on the young individual so he or she can have a successful future. Theorists came up with theories to try and figure out what causes youths to become delinquents or simply break the law. Juvenile delinquency is the participation in illegal behavior by a minor who falls under a statutory age limit. Juveniles get treated differently in the criminal justice system and in fact, they have their own specific system.

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The Juvenile system is the segment of the justice system, including law enforcement officers, the courts, and correctional agencies and it is designed to treat youthful offenders. It was created because many states realized that children that commit crimes and break the law are differ from adults in various ways. They believed children maturing into adulthood are less blameworthy and have a greater chance in learning from their mistakes. In order to achieve these goals, there are hopes that children mature and make better decisions. This hope concludes that they will not be repeated offenders and become law biding citizens. In response to the differences between adults and children, the states have created a separate system for juveniles. Today juveniles are put under two distant categories of offenders, delinquent and status offenders. Delinquent children are those who fall under a certain age limit, due to a certain jurisdiction. The age limit varies from state to state, and who commit an act violating the penal code. For example in the state of New York, a juvenile is any person under the age of 16 years old. At the age of 16, he or she is considered an adult in which they will go through criminal court. Not all states have this age limit. Status offenders are considered children who are in need of supervision. For example if a child is being abused at home and can’t be taken care of, he or she is now under the supervision of the government or state. (Siegel, 2012) The state or government now becomes the caretaker. Some states separate juveniles into different classes within the offenders and offenses. For example, youths who commit serious violent offenses such as rape or murder may be automatically excluded from the juvenile justice system and treated as adults, where the chances of getting rehabilitated are slim. Same thing goes for juvenile who are repeated offenders. They would be considered untreatable under juvenile authorities. Today, juvenile justice system occurs in all states by statue. Each jurisdiction has a juvenile code that the court must follow. There are special courts and juvenile correctional faculties to accommodate children in trouble with the law. There are many private and public agencies that cater to juveniles and service to their every need. There is a certain process that the juvenile goes through when he or she goes get into trouble.

The juvenile justice process is a result when the youth is of contact with a police officer. There are a few steps that the juvenile goes through in the justice process. The police investigation, intake screening, pre-trail, adjudication, disposition and post disposition. (Siegel, 2012) In the investigation process, police have the authority to investigate the crime committed. They decide whether or not to commit the child to juvenile court. Intake screening is a decision in whether or not the child should remain in the community or put in a detention facility, or shelter home. The reason a child is detained, is to wait a court appearance. If the child is not being held, they are usually released to a parent or guardian. Most states do allow the juvenile to go home and wait a court date, unless the courts need to protect the child. An example as such is when the child presents serious danger to the public, or when the court believes that the child will not come back for his or hers hearing. In some cases the police will refer the child to community service instead of a formal charge. The next part of the process is the pre-trail. Usually the juvenile court informs the juvenile of their rights to a trail, that the plea or admission is voluntary and that they understand the charges and the consequences. Next, is the adjudication process. In the adjudication stage, a hearing is held to determine the facts of the case. Evidence is also presented. He or she is entitled to procedural guarantees such as a right to counsel, freedom from self- incrimination, right to a jury trail, etc. The next step is disposition. The dispositional hearing is less formal than the adjudication hearing. (Siegal,2012) This is where the judge takes into consideration, prior records, his or hers family background. The judge then decides what to do with the juvenile. It is usually in the best interest of the child. The judge should decide on more of a rehabilitative approach than a retributive approach. For example giving the juvenile community service hours to complete. Lastly is post disposition, also known as treatment. Delinquent may be placed in some form of correctional treatment. Probation is commonly used; probation involves placing the child under supervision. There are also training schools in which a juvenile can get an education. (Siegel, 2012)

There are factors that take place in why child becomes a delinquent. Not all adolescents become delinquents. One factor is the child’s family. A family has a big influence over another person. One may be influenced by a family members behavior, there is family loyalty, learning from a deviant parent, or even an inherited genetic predisposition. Family’s influence on delinquency is broken into four categories. Families disrupted by breakup, families and interpersonal conflict, family neglect, and family criminality and deviant parents. Families disrupted by a breakup is when there is an absent parent. Either the family went through a divorce, separation, incarceration, or passed away. The broken home causes the child prone to anti-social behavior, participating in law violating behavior, aggression, and anger and has a greater susceptibly to peer pressure. Families’ interpersonal conflict when a juvenile witnesses conflict and violence in the home and its passed down to the child. Witnesses issues financially and it puts a burden on the child. Researchers found that children in broken homes and high conflict intact families worse off than low conflict intact families. When the child or juvenile is neglected by his or her family, they’re likely to engage in delinquent acts. They turn to other people who may consider them family which may be gang members and they start to engage in violent acts. With family criminality and deviant parents according to researchers it increases the likelihood of chronic offending. Delinquent youths that have criminal fathers can become offenders. Parents who were bullies have children who bully others “second generation bullies.” Parents who are criminals most likely have children who will at least go through the system once, it is a never ending cycle. Lastly another factor that my influence a delinquent in a negative or positive is a sibling of a delinquent living in the same environment, the siblings grow closer and share the same interests. Especially if the sibling is older, he or she is usually admired and imitated. For example if the delinquent wants to be just like their sibling and the sibling is a trouble maker and gets into trouble with the police the delinquent may think its cool and copy their behavior and think it is okay.

A few juvenile cases changed the juvenile system forever. One of the cases that was a turning point for juveniles, was the case In Re Gault. (1967) This case went all the way up to the supreme court. It was the first time the Supreme Court held a child facing a conviction, having many of the same legal rights as adults in criminal court. Which is includes the 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th amendment. Gerald Gault was a 15 year-old accused of making an obscene telephone call to a neighbor, Mrs. Cook, on June 8, 1964. Mrs. Cook filed a complaint, Gault and a friend, Ronald Lewis, were arrested and taken to the Children’s Detention Home. Gault was on probation when he was arrested, after being in the company of another boy who had stolen a wallet from a woman’s purse. ( Arguments against "In Re Gault" are that allowing juveniles the same due-process as adults could lead to delayed justice, and the families of the victims want justice quickly. The arguments for it are that everyone should be granted the same rights under the constitution, and that everyone deserves a fair trial. The result that changed the juvenile system was that now, juveniles tried in crimes should have a right to due process. This was the verdict because Gault was denied the right to an attorney, never was formally informed of his charges, right to self- incrimination. This case changed many things, the whole point of juvenile court is to correct not punish.

Another case that changed the juvenile justice system was Thompson v. Oklahoma (1998) At 15 years old William Thompson was involved in a brutal murder. He was sentenced to the death penalty in the state of Oklahoma. The case was granted an appeal and went up to the Supreme Court. Thompson was spared the death penalty. On the bases that Thompson could not be executed, because the Oklahoma law establishing the death penalty for murder did not specify a minimum age of eligibility for receiving that penalty. Executing a fifteen-year-old was found to be cruel and unusual, and the Fourteenth Amendment applied this clause of the Eighth Amendment to the states. (Thompson v. Oklahoma) The bigger picture is that the Thompson was the first to stop this practice. Those juveniles under the age of fifteen are saved from the death penalty by law. But after that, the Thompson the death penalty stayed for youths sixteen years of age and older.

The juvenile system is trying to give juveniles a second chance instead of throwing them in jail with adults. The courts believe that a child acts out because of a certain issue in that child’s life, or he or hers environment. Many researchers wanted to know the cause of these juveniles’ crimes and misbehaving. A few theorists came up with theories as of why. In 1995, Albert Cohan first developed the theory of delinquent subcultures. He suggests that children of the underclass, and potential members of a delinquent subculture, first experience a failure to achieve when they enter school. When assessed against a "middle-class measuring rod," these children are often found lacking. (Hagan, John. "Juvenile Delinquency, Theories of." Encyclopedia of Sociology) The social conditions that the youth is put in, makes them incapable of achieving success the “legal way” these lower-class youths experience a form of culture conflict. Cohen calls this conflict status frustration. Status frustration is a form of culture conflict experienced by lower- class youths because social conditions prevent them from achieving success as defined by the larger society. He explains that the middle class is the larger society and the lower class cannot meet those needs. The youths were simply not prepared by their earliest experiences. Than the delinquent subculture therefore emerges as an alternative set of criteria or values that underclass adolescents can meet. Overall according to Cohen, these youths lack the proper education and therefore have no skills to build a knowledge or socialization foundations. They feel that they cannot achieve the goals that society expects, and they become frustrated with what they see as their disadvantages and inequalities.

Another theory dealing with juvenile delinquents is social disorganization theory. Social disorganization theory ties delinquency rates to socioeconomic conditions. This theory was first developed in the twentieth century by sociologists Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay. Their theory focused on the social bonds that were missing on a community level. Residents living in poor neighborhoods and poverty would lose hopelessness and mistrust from mainstream society. Immigrants to the city move to the cheapest areas, which is the transition zone because of its fast rate of moving in and out area. People move out as soon as they have enough money to do so, the different population and turnover causes social disorganization. Informal methods of social control (by the people) are lacking or absent because there are always different people there, it's unstable in terms of its population. Amongst some groups in the zone of transition, crime will because socially acceptable and that will be passed on to others. They believe that they can’t achieve the “American dream.” Many youths growing up in disadvantaged neighborhoods are at risk because of what they hear and see around them. They then lose hope as well. Without social control, kids are free to join gangs, violate the law, and engage in disruptive behavior. Shaw and Mckay conducted a research in the city of Chicago. They checked out the areas in Chicago that were experiencing social disorganization. They explored the characteristics of these areas. They all had similar issues, such as truancy, infant mortality, mental disorder, economic dependency, adult crime, and juvenile delinquency. Most of these issues were in the slums of Chicago. Which Shaw and Mckay identified them into zones. The areas with the highest delinquency rate was in the poverty-stricken, transitional, and inner-city zones. The zones further from the city’s center were least prone to delinquency. (Jacoby, 1994)

Analysis of this data a stable pattern, in which Shaw and Mckay found that delinquency, was tied to neighborhood characteristics rather than the personal characteristics or culture of the residents. High rates of poverty and single- parent homes went hand in hand with high rate of juvenile violence. Neighborhoods who are socially disorganized are unable to have social control because they are demolished from economic failure. Shaw and Mckay claimed that the area will continue to hurt because of poverty and unemployment.

Once that area is economically stable they than can possibly see changes

Social learning theorists believe that juvenile delinquency stems from learning the norms, values, and behaviors associated with delinquent activity. It can involve the actual learning of crimes. For example robbing a car or selling drugs, all of which can be taught and learned. One of the most famous social learning theorists is Edwin H. Sutherland. He came up with the differential association theory. He argued that delinquency did not come from the traits of an individual or economically positions. He believed anyone can learn a criminal act and affect them from any culture. Sutherland, believed that delinquent behavior is learned, that the tools used for crimes are the same manner as any other learning ability such as writing, painting or reading. (Siegel, 2012) Behaviors whether they’re positive or negative are learned through human contact and interaction with others. Some principles that come with differential association is learning occurs within intimate groups such as peers, parents, friends etc. They have the greatest influence in a child’s behavior. According to Sandra Brown, Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology children who grow up in homes where parents abuse alcohol are more likely to view drinking as being socially and physically beneficial. (Siegel, 2012). Another principle is perceptions of legal code influence motives and drives here, Sutherland is saying not all social rules are the same throughout society, so therefore people may not follow the law. Kids that come into connect with people who ignore the law, youths will admire that and do the same. Sutherland calls that “culture conflict” which is when youths are exposed to different point of views on what is right and what is wrong. The conflict of social attitudes and cultural norms is the basis for the concept of differential association. (Siegel, 2012) Overall, Sutherland’s theory concludes that juveniles are more likely become law violators when they come in contact with group, kids and events that show delinquency.

One of the most important parts of juvenile delinquency is to try to improve and decrease the amount of crime committed by youths. They have their whole lives ahead of them and it should not be spent behind bars, or doing hours and hours of community service. The improvement starts with the police work being done with juveniles. It is important to the way police respond to juveniles. Back in the day before policing became popular, citizens used to protect each other from thieves, crime, violent groups etc. As time went on the watch system was created to police larger communities. The system was made of watchmen that patrolled urban areas at night to provide protection. Over the year’s crime increased and the police force increased as well. To many citizens, the police’s number one responsibility is to protect the public. But in reality not all police officers catch their bad guys and citizens then misinterpret the actual role of a police officer. Today, community policing is a police strategy that emphasizes reducing fear, organizing the community, and maintain order rather than fighting crime. (Siegel, 2012) Many police officers want to help deter the young people from crime and point them to the right direction. Having a police and juvenile relationship is critical because many juveniles do not look up to police officers yet any authority. They cannot relate to them, therefore they rebel against any authority. The community- policing model was built for police officers to carry out their duties but at the same time gain the trust of the people and community. If the police engage with more people, the community inside information about problems going on in the neighborhood so than the officer can keep a look out on certain issues.

Preventing and reducing the rates of juveniles getting incarcerated starts with the community and police. Programs and services are a very important resource for juveniles because it allows them to rehabilitate and have a chance for better life for themselves instead of dumping youths right into jail. There are a few programs and correction methods to help the juvenile. Again, the justice system wants to correct rather than punish. One alterative is probation, which is frequently used. Probation is when the juveniles are put under supervision in the community. It can only be ordered by a judge, if the judge feels the juvenile can be responsible enough to be in the community. A youth on probation is assigned to a probation officer and usually has a set of conditions with which to comply. Some of these conditions contain following a curfew, staying in touch with his or hers probation officer, pass a drug test, and any rule set by the judge. If the juvenile violates his or her probation may result in the juvenile going back to court and getting a more restrictive disposition.

Another disposition that is used for adult criminals but is slowly making its way towards the juvenile justice system is electric monitoring. The monitoring is usually used when the juvenile is under house arrest. This is also part of the probation process electric monitoring allows the offender to stay in the community and stay at home during specific hours. There are two types of electric monitoring is active system and passive system. Active system is when the offender is constantly sending signals back to the central office. Passive system is usually random phone calls generated by the computer, which the offender has to respond within a certain time (30-60 seconds). There are many other juvenile dispositions such has community service, boot camp, restitution, theory, and schooling. The court system like mentioned before wants to give the juvenile a second chance at rehabilitation. Treat them different instead of incarceration in hopes the juvenile will change.

Incarcerating juveniles doesn’t only put a burden on the offender but also on the taxpayers. The system needs to focus on incarcerating violent juveniles, ones that have committed heinous crimes such as rape and murder. The juveniles that are committing petty crimes are the ones that the system needs to focus on alternative corrections such as the programs mentioned above because locking up a person is not inexpensive. An average incarcerated juvenile costs taxpayers $407.58 per youth and $148,757 per year according to a report by The Justice Policy Institute. These funds also include operating the detention facilities. The Justice Policy Institute estimates the cost state and local government nationwide between $8 billon and $21 billion annually. With the cost of one juvenile being so high, it is important to choose alternative corrections at a lesser cost (Sneed, 2014). Below, are the states that pay to confine a juvenile. As you can see in the graph there is no juvenile that doesn’t cost under $100,000. New York showing the darkest green means $300,000 is going to juveniles.

Sending fewer young people to prison has not had the effect of raising youth crime; rather, the youth crime rate also has dropped. Here is a graph between 2001 to 2011, showing that the youth incarceration has dropped, as well as youth crimes. The system is focusing on corrections alternatives and is becoming successful.lowly

Another article which heavily discusses costs of juvenile incarceration talks about New York City costs. In 2010 New York State spent $266,000 on each incarcerated young adult, according to the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), there are many factors as to why the costs are so high. According to Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said “that the increased security precautions, health treatments and rehabilitation programs in juvenile centers all contribute to the high costs” Rukia Lumumba, the director of youth service at the Center for Community Alternatives. Lumumba who works very close in the juvenile justice system says “We need to invest more into alternative programs,” “We want to make sure that our detention facilities are the smallest portion where funds are going and that the larger funding goes toward creating community-based alternatives.” (Simmonds, 2014)

In conclusion, juveniles take in a lot of stress at a young age. The stress of school, relationships, family, friendships can be crucial on a young teenager who is still trying to figure out who they are as a person. They’re at an age in which they are not fully developed so any type of influence takes over their mind. Adolescents are very vulnerable that their age and will do anything to be accepted by their peers, such as break the law. The juvenile system changed through out the years in trying to correct juveniles and give them a second chance to better themselves. Putting them through programs as an alternative instead of behind bar, such as boot camp, community service, probation, electric monitoring. These programs are not only to help juveniles make a better choice but to cut back on costs of each incarcerated juvenile. States paying thousands and thousands of dollars for each juvenile to sit behind bars instead of getting a job or education puts a burden on taxpayers. Many changes have gone through the juvenile system and a few children changed the law. Such as In Re Gault and Thompson v. Oklahoma. These cases helped shape the juvenile system.

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A lot of people wonder why aren’t all adolescents delinquents. Why is it that only certain children in specific environments and unique households commit crimes? Juvenile delinquency is an on going problem in todays society, therefore in order to take control of the juvenile justice is to start by tackling the youth, families and communities most at risk. Prevention and programs are most effective because it prevents the problem before it becomes a social issue. For young people, the risk factors include low intelligent, poor parental supervision, and parental conflict. It is important to work on keeping adolescents on the right path. Setting an example for the future generations to come. If these issues are prevented early on in the child’s life the chance of the child growing up to be a delinquent is very low.

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A Study of Juvenile Delinquency and the Juvenile Justice System. (2018, September 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 23, 2023, from
“A Study of Juvenile Delinquency and the Juvenile Justice System.” GradesFixer, 14 Sept. 2018,
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