Law Enforcement and the Youthful Offender

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There are ambiguities and variations in definitions of delinquency in the United States. Many of the states do not agree on the description of a juvenile delinquent. Statutory language is extremely broad and covers virtually any form of antisocial conduct by juveniles. In virtually all states, moral judgements of the community are an important ingredient in defining a delinquent. Many children may be tried for not only violations of sate statues or municipal ordinances but also for ‘ noncriminal behavior’ such as incorrigibility, truancy, and the use of obscene language. This are crimes which, if committed by an adult, would result neither in arrest nor court appearance. Age limitations here are a major problem because the states set various and arbitrary upper-age limits on behavior deemed to be delinquent.

Delinquency is often the result of a combination of factors, some of which may be founded in environment of the child and others within the child himself.

So before turning to the various theories of delinquency causation that are discussed before, it is important to point out the correlative factors of delinquency. Correlative factors relative not only to the physical contexts of delinquency, but to the social-psychological climates closely associated with delinquency.

The correlatives of delinquency are: age, sex, poverty, and social class membership, primary group and schools.

And now I’d like to tell about this factors more closely. So the first is age factor. If the causal roots of delinquency are debatable, there can be no argument about the age factor. No matter what the category of time or delinquency statistics – and they are both highly variable and both open to serious question – one striking trend appears again and again: there is an ever higher proportion of offenders among those of young age. The statistics do seem to justify the following sets of conclusions: (1) the crime rate is highest during or shortly before adolescence. (2) The age of maximum criminally varies with the type of the crime (the age group of fifteen to nineteen years has the highest official rate for theft auto; the age group twenty to twenty-four has the highest official rate of robbery, forgery and rape; and the age group thirty-five to thirty-nine has the highest rate for gambling and violation of narcotic drug laws). (3) The age of first delinquency and the type of crime typically committed at various age varies from the area to area in cities, the age of first criminality is low in areas of high rather than low delinquency (boys aged ten to twelve commit robberies in some areas of large cities, while the boys of the same age commit only petty thefts in less delinquent areas). And (4) The age of maximum general criminality for most specific offences is higher for females than for males. This trend is growing in many states and the importance of early rehabilitative procedures before the individual is remanded to adult penal custody is gaining wide support. Individualized treatment can best be accomplished, it is being recognized, when individual is still young.

The second is sex factor. Boys are apprehended for offences approximately 3.5 times more frequently than are girls. The underlying reasons are not difficult to locate. It is because of role-behavior difference and status distinctions accorded to adolescence in the American culture, the society expects girls to act differently tan boys, and surrounds their behavior with restrictions that act as barriers to delinquent activity. Delinquency among boys is induced largely by opportunities presented by the environment, while among girls delinquency is due more often to emotional maladjustments and personal inadequacies.

The third factor is poverty. Now few of the variables associated with crime and delinquency have been more misunderstood than that of poverty. Contrary to early investigations, recent studies indicate almost “null” relationship between poverty and delinquency. This does not mean, however, that conditions of poverty no longer breed crime and delinquency. Low economic status is not a direct cause of delinquency. It is rather one of many variables that more or less automatically “go together,” (including broken families, suicide, certain types of psychosis, and alcoholism). But correlations and cause-and-effect relationships are not necessarily synonymous. We can safely assert, then, that although poverty and low economic standards are concomitant with delinquency, they are not indispensable characteristics. To be “poor but hones” is, in fact, the rule than the exception.

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