Juvenile crime baffles most adults. To kill for an article of clothing, steal something you could easily afford or to skip classes when education is the way to a decent job makes little sense to people intent on keeping a roof over their heads and feeding their families. Juvenile crime arises from causes that are every bit as significant as those that push adults into committing crimes. The difference is simply a matter of perspective.
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"Juvenile" is a legal term applied to persons over 12 years old and under 17. Juvenile crime, like adult crime, may be a misdemeanour or a felony. Unlike adults, juveniles also face a set of laws that apply only to them called "statutory offenses." So some violations like truancy and curfew are only crimes when committed by youths. To complicate matters, juveniles may be tried in adult court for some felonies provided the state can prove that they acted with the understanding of an adult.
Most crimes committed by juveniles seem to take place in urban areas, which is in part explained by higher populations compared to rural areas. Whether urban or rural, though, areas with high poverty rates experience higher crime rates, primarily because of lack of employment or educational opportunity. On the positive side, violent crime among youth appears to have peaked in the 1990s and fewer weapon-related arrests have been reported each year since 1999.
Before the 19th century Industrial Revolution, children became adults at age of 14 and were treated by the courts as adults. Children who had worked alongside parents in agriculture were killed or maimed in industrial accidents, though. Social scientists began to look at the group's different needs, basing their theories on physical and intellectual development. One of the changes brought about by these "progressives" was to consider crimes committed by "juveniles" as the result of immaturity, lack of education and an inability to understand consequences. The first juvenile court was established in Cook County, Illinois in the US in 1899 and juvenile courts have spent more than a century attempting to balance society's need for security and the adolescent criminal's potential for rehabilitation. Largely due to insufficient resources, recidivism (return trips through the justice system) tends to be higher among youth.
Juvenile criminals are not born "bad." Violence by juveniles appears to be developmental---it is part of a pattern of a behaviour that begins either just before puberty or in early adolescence. It is at this age that they must learn to relate to others as human beings, develop responsibility and experience empathy. Risky behaviours escalate into aggression and violent behaviours. Whether the trigger for these behaviours is environmental or peer-related, this age group needs positive adult role models and a variety of constructive ways to channel their energy and imagination. So intervention programs should be aimed at sixth through ninth graders, the age at which juveniles are at their most puzzling---and vulnerable: High School is too late to begin.
Blaming juvenile crime on the "breakdown of the family" instead of acknowledging it as just one factor would be a mistake. Family viability and the positive role models of parents (either single or as a set) are important but they are only part of the solution. Kids who are poor, uneducated, who cannot find meaningful work that pays a living wage and cannot develop mature self-concepts, tend to become adult criminals--and parents--too quickly.
Kids who are poor, uneducated, who cannot find meaningful work that pays a living wage and cannot develop mature self-concepts, tend to become adult criminals--and parents--too quickly.
Despite rising unemployment rates caused by the financial crisis of 2008, crime has actually continued to drop while our perceptions and the focus of the media are independent of this.
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