Juvenile delinquency is criminal activities committed by individuals who have not attained the legal age of 18 years in the United States of America. Over the years research has determined the disparity in the rates of juvenile crime among ethnic and racial groups in the US. These differences have initiated divergent opinions on public policy. The major racial and ethnic groups in the United States are the whites, blacks and the American Indians. Despite researchers and criminologists acknowledging these differences, giving a satisfactory explanation remains a big challenge.
Many factors contribute to the disparity in juvenile offending. The major one is socioeconomic differences. Relying on this factor has the disadvantage that it does not take into account the social structures that differentiates groups and individuals. In the United States, different individuals are affected by their association with unique social and economic groups. Therefore studies at the community level can be utilized to explain race and ethnic disparity in crime.
This paper is going to look at juvenile offenders and their types, the federal bureau of investigations, the role of race and ethnicity in offending and the juvenile court process. It will also analyze the data on differential rates of arrest in relation to race. The population of juvenile offenders in juvenile facilities and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency will also be mentioned. Finally it will discuss the influence of behavioral and personality traits on crime.
Juvenile offenders and their types
This is the fastest growing group of offenders in the United States. The government spends millions of dollars in punishing and rehabilitating these criminals. The rise juvenile in offending is due to ready availability of drugs in the street, rising levels of poverty and limited deterrence and intercession mechanisms in the school system (Loeber & Farrington 1998).
Young individuals are capable of committing the same level of crime as adults. The only difference is the age of the offender hence the term delinquency. These offences range from under age use of alcohol, driving without a license, truancy and escaping from home. These kind of crimes are handled by the community social service agencies and do not necessitate the intervention of the juvenile court. The more serious crimes are considered to be felonies or misdemeanors. According to the office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention (OJJDP), there are three major types of juvenile offending: violent crimes, property related offences and drug based crimes. Violent crimes are offences that can result in serious body harm such as assault, rape and homicide. Property related offences include stealing and robbery with violence. Drug related offences include use, possession and trading in banned drugs. Other juvenile offences include loitering, vagrancy, destruction and possession of weapons.
The federal bureau of investigation and data
Contrary to believe that juvenile delinquency is on the rise, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reports that there has been a steady decline. A report in 1999 by the agency showed that violent juvenile crimes dropped from 1995 to 1998 after registering a steep rise in 1994. The rate of arrests for violent offences dropped by 30% from 1994 all through to 1998 indicating that efforts aimed at eliminating this problem are working. In 2009 the agency released a report that indicated that 6,604 incidences relating to 7,789 crimes were as a result of bias towards a particular race, religion, sexual orientation, and nationality. Of the 6,598 occurrences, 48.5% were motivated by racial bias, 19.7% by religious bias, 18.5% by sexual orientation bias and 11.8% by ethnic bias. Of the known offenders, 62.5% were white, 18.5 were black, 7.3% were by groups of multiple races and 1% was American Indian. In the same year, there were 49,000 juvenile arrests for motivated assault. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of such arrests dropped by 24% (Mallet et al 2010).
Four of the most serious offence declined in the previous year. Murder went down by 7%, rape by 6%, robbery by 10% and provoked assault by 11%. In 2009, females contributed to 18% of juvenile crime arrests, 38% of juvenile property related arrests, and 33% of juvenile improper conduct arrests. Offenders below the age of 15 years made up more than 25% of all juvenile arrests.
Race and ethnicity
Race, is belonging to one of the five classes; white, black, American Indian, Eskimo and Asian Pacific Islander. The term black constitutes African Americans and individuals whose ancestral backgrounds lie outside the US. Ethnicity describes an individual’s nationality or country of origin. It is almost difficult to determine statistics of juvenile offenders based on race and ethnicity.
In coming up with statistics that represent the race and ethnicity of offenders, researchers utilize arrest reports, self report offending data, public records, and official information gathered from FBI reports, criminal and juvenile justice agencies. Inconsistencies exist in compiling data for comparison purposes.
Society has always associated the ghetto with low incomes and families of African American origin. In the US, the whites relate the blacks and Hispanics to high crime zones. Despite being aware of the differences in juvenile crime, social scientists have failed to come up with conclusive reasons to explain them. The upbringing of children and their moral values are believed to play a critical role in determining their future.
Children from broken families and abusive ones, whether mental or physical, are more likely to commit crime in the future. Children raised by criminal parents are more likely to be criminals themselves as they will copy the lifestyle of their parents. Other factors that play critical roles include the moral values of the family, social networks, educational background, and community ties. The role of race and ethnic background does not play any part in the rate of juvenile offending since causes of violence are similar and are entrenched in structural differences across all communities irrespective of race.
School programs, sports and counseling contribute in facilitating the transition through the juvenile period without committing any crime. Parents who spend more time with their children also play an important part in limiting their children’s exposure to crime as they will be aware of any developments in their lives.
The juvenile court process
The first stage in the juvenile court process is usually the arrest by law enforcement officers. Other ways in which a youth may be involved in this process is referrals from parents and school, victims of the crime and probation officers. In determining whether a youth should be detained and charged, freed, or moved to other welfare programs, the officer involved in the case relies on information from the victims of the offence, the offender, the parents of the offender, and past records. Federal policies require that juveniles being held in adult prisons as their parents are being briefed must be separated from adult prisoners and should be transferred from the facility in a period not exceeding six hours.
At the probation stage, the responsible officer will determine if to throw out the case, organize an informal hearing, or hear it formally. In reaching this decision, the officer scrutinizes the information concerning the case to reach a verdict. Offenders are held in secure facilities as they a wait trial. Detention before and at the course of the trial is determined by a judge in a “detention hearing”, which is held within 24 hours after arrest. In most cases, the youth is detained if he poses personal danger or threat to public safety (Regoli et al 2009).
Most juvenile cases that go through informal hearing are usually dismissed. The youth agrees to abide by the demands of the court and the may be required to compensate the victim or pay a fine to the community. The juvenile may also be confined to mandatory curfew. Other requirements include regular school attendance and entry into rehabilitation programs.
In a formal hearing, the court is served with two petitions from prosecutors: delinquency and waiver petitions. In the first case, the judge is informed of the case against the youth and is asked to hear the case in a formal hearing. During the hearing, the testimony of witnesses and facts concerning the case are heard. In the event that the youth is found guilty, a disposition hearing is scheduled. In the temporary, the probation officer has the duty of analyzing the youth and coming up with recommendations (Regoli et al 2009). The probation officers will consider psychological examinations and indicative tests. The disposition strategy advises the court on the best course of action that can be of importance to the youth and the general public.
During the disposition hearing, the prosecutor, the juvenile and the probation officer are given a chance to come up with ways of disposition. In most cases the recommendations include: drug rehabilitation, restricted internment, reimbursement, and house placement. Delinquent youth who have become a threat to state security are referred to residential facilities whose levels of security vary from resembling group home to prisons (Drakeford 2006). After completion of time in this facility, they are referred to aftercare services which monitor the behavior and progress of the juvenile.
In a waiver petition, the case is transferred to a criminal court which will determine the location of the hearing of the case after going through the information concerning the case and the likelihood of rehabilitation programs succeeding in the juvenile court system. Areas of consideration include past criminal background of then youth, results of past rehabilitation efforts, age and the period the offender will have to collaborate with youth services. Approval of the waiver by a judge leads to the case being transferred to a criminal court but if the waiver is denied, the case remains with the juvenile court and an adjudicatory hearing is planned.
The United States juvenile population in juvenile facilities
Statistics on racial and ethnic makeup of juvenile offenders in every stage of the criminal justice process show that minorities are the majority. This has raised concern because it does not correspond to their representation in the population at large. In 1997, minorities made up a third of the national juvenile population but contributed for two-third of incarcerated offenders serving in safe facilities. The disparities were clearer in the black population. Black juveniles between the ages of 10 to 17 contributed 15% of the juvenile population even though they make up 26% of those arrested and 45% of offences that involved detainment.
By the turn of the millennium, 32% of colored youth were in juvenile facilities. Of the 78% of males in these facilities, 60% were of minority groups. Between the years 1988 to1997, the rise in percentage in confinement cases doubled for black youth than for the whites. Hispanic juveniles in house placement were likely to be detained behind locked doors than any other group.
The National Council on Crime and Delinquency
It is a non profit organization that is involved in coming up with and enhancing criminal and juvenile methods that are practical, fair, and economically viable. It carries out research, enhances reform programs and collaborates with individuals, public and private entities and the media in fighting and reducing crime and delinquency (Benekos et al 2011).
Behavioral traits in delinquency
There are a number of personal traits that give an overall picture of delinquent activities. Individuals who are described by parents, colleagues and teachers as difficult went on to exhibit delinquent behavior as they grow. One clear insinuation is that bad behavior is a general characteristic (Siegel &Welsh 2001). Each type of childhood deviance e.g. hyperactivity, wetting the bed is solely related to the overall degree of adult deviance. Also, each type of adult deviance is forecasted by a form of childhood deviance.
There are personal characteristics that predispose an individual to delinquent behavior. These include: hyperactivity, psychosis, sex, low intelligence quotient, small physique and poor health. Other modes of social interaction are disturbance at school, spiky temper, poor performance in school, and difficulty to parents.
The way children are managed gives a clear picture of any community in the future. Each community has the responsibility of ensuring that delinquent behavior is handled to the benefit of the individual and the society at large. Despite data showing that there is a great difference in the level of delinquency among various racial groups, there exists no theory to explain this observation. Many social scientists and criminologists have attributed it to the family values, environmental exposure, economic status and personal traits. Their argument is that delinquency has got no relationship with race or ethnicity. This is the most justifiable reason and further research should be conducted to expound on the role of these factors in delinquent behavior.