Today’s generation of youth is exposed to more difficult challenges and obstacles to their lives. At such a tender age, they are more exposed to family problems, vices, antisocial behaviors, criminal acts and gangs. They are also more vulnerable to peer pressures and influences. Statistics shows that “between 1979 and 1989 our youth population declined by 11% and the high school age population declined by 2.8 million” (George Hart, 1995). Despite this however, the number of our youth placed in confinements remained steady.
In the past few decades, the government has grappled with different means to address the rapidly-growing problem of juvenile delinquency. In essence, the US government has been involved in two main models for treating juvenile offenders. The first is the rehabilitation and treatment model as it gives preferential attention to the minority of the child and immunes him from criminal prosecution and punishment for the crime committed. The rehabilitation and treatment model is criticized for being inadequate to address the root cause of juvenile delinquency. One of the main arguments against it is that it tends to focus on the weaknesses of the child. It sees the child as a weak creature that needs to be protected from the people around him. The reality, however, is that the state needs to allow the minor to grow and mature as a person. The tendency to focus on the minor’s inadequacies and weaknesses leads to the neglect of the importance of looking for any skills and competencies of the child that could be useful for complete rehabilitation and re-integration in the mainstream society.
On the other hand, the second model which is the punitive model sees the child as social villain of the society. It sees the juveniles as children who have been corrupted and have become incorrigible. They thus see the minors as people who need to be separated from the society so that the society may be protected from them. The problem with this approach is that it neglects the potential contribution of the minors to the society. For every minor that is locked in jail we not only waste potential human resources that can help in the development of our country but we also waste limited government resources for maintaining them in prison.
It is the contention of this research that the focus on rehabilitation or punishment has done very little to have an impact on the problem of juvenile delinquency. The facts speak for themselves. Despite the alternate application of these models, nothing significant has ever happened. The crime rate committed by juveniles continues to climb and soar and government efforts have been ineffective. It is also clear that arresting and sending juvenile into institutions will produce no positive result so long as the factors that exposes the children to risks of delinquent behavior are not addressed.
This research paper also seeks to prove that there are risk factors identified with delinquent behavior. The best method of preventing delinquent behavior is to identify these factors and try to find a way by which the child will not be exposed to these risk factors (Paul Steiner, 1994, p.1). Risk factors can be found in family, school, community, family, peer group and even within the individual himself. Risk factors may include drugs, poverty, social deprivation, family friction, parental tolerance towards delinquent or criminal behavior, academic failure, truancy, alienation and rebelliousness (Art Alvarado, 1999, p.2). It is contended that the more risk factor a child is exposed to he more likely that he will engage in delinquent and violent behavior. Focus will be on the close relationship between juvenile delinquency and the increase in the number of children coming from broken homes and single-parent families. It will be proved that children coming from broken homes and single-parent families are more likely to exhibit emotional and psychological disorders which may later on manifest to juvenile behavior.
Many studies say that poverty is the reason why crime happens. They argue that individuals commit crime because hunger drives them to commit crimes. Forced by circumstances beyond their control, individuals coming from poor families are driven to commit crimes. However, a closer look at this argument will reveal that it is not based on solid grounds. If this argument were true then there should have been more crime in the past when people were poorer (Art Alvarado, 1999, p.1). If this argument were true then Third World nations should have far worse crimes, yet some of these countries have managed to control their crime rates. If this argument were true then why do company owners are also convicted of committing economic crimes. History however itself contradicts this assumption as US crime rate skyrocketed during the 20th Century when US was experiencing economic boom (Patrick F. Fagan, 1996, p.1). During the Great Depression, there was massive unemployment rate but the crime rate also fell (Patrick F. Fagan, 1996, p.1). When the US experienced recession in 1982, crime rate was also reduced (Patrick F. Fagan, 1996, p.1).
Neither can race be said as the root cause of poverty. If we argue that race is the root case of crime then we may say that some individuals belonging to a particular race are predisposing to committing crime. If this argument were true then it can also be concluded that some individuals are genetically predisposed to committing crimes. Research therefore has shown that crime has no racial, ethnical or national origin. All individuals are likely to commit crime. The only reason why it appeared that a certain race has committed crime it is because of the bias among police officers in the implementation of the law. Thus, it can be concluded that poverty and race are not the root cause of crime.
In the past years, social scientists and criminologists have been trying to verify the connection between the breakdown of families and juvenile delinquency. It is their theory that attachment to a complete family is closely related to the proper development of the child as full and functional member of the society. On the other hand a child who growing up from a dysfunctional family suffer from psychological problems of alienation from himself, his family and the society. It is their theory that a child born into single-parent families are much more likely than those in intact families to commit delinquent behavior.
This research utilizes interviews and surveys. A group of juvenile delinquents were visited in different detention centers. The respondents were within the age range of 12-18. They were each asked to respond to a questionnaire and to answer them as truthfully as possible. The questionnaire was supplemented with interviews.
The findings for this research support the hypothesis that delinquent behavior with broken families. Out of a total of 100 questionnaires that were handed out only 80 responded with a response rate of 80%. 75% of those who responded were male or a total of 60 while 25% were female or a total of 20. 40% of the respondents were whites while 40% were Blacks and the rest were either Asians or Latinos.
Based on the results of the survey, out of a total of 80 respondents, 65 respondents revealed that they lived in broken homes with either the father or the mother not available to guide and support them. Out of the 65 who lived in broken homes, 35 respondents revealed that their father left their mother when they were below the age of 5. 25 respondents revealed that their father left their mother between the ages of 6 to 10. 5 respondents revealed that it was only their father who raised and supported them. 15 respondents revealed that while their parents were not divorced or separated they always saw their parents quarreling and hitting each other.
Moreover, out of the 80 respondents, 71 respondents admitted that they physically and verbally abused by their parents. On the other hand, out of the 20 female respondents, 12 respondents admitted that they were also sexually abused by their father. The female respondents also admitted that they have had sexual relations with at least 4 men.
Based on the survey, the respondents revealed that 61 respondents attended school but they later on stopped schooling while 18 respondents admitted that they did not attend any formal schooling. 1 respondent did not indicate any response. They also admitted that they became associated with gangs as early as the age of 10. Out of 80 respondents, 45 respondents joined gangs when they are at the age of 10 while 15 respondents admitted that they joined gangs when they were at the age of 12. 58 respondents admitted that they spend more time with their peers and friends than with their family members.
Those who were members of gangs admitted that they learned to use drugs because of their gangs. 68 respondents out of a total of 80 respondents admitted that they used marijuana. Others admitted to using drugs other than marijuana. On the other hand, 68 respondents admitted that their gangs were also involved in theft and robbery within the neighborhood. When asked whether they loved their parents, 62 respondents said they hated their parents.
Psychologists say that the foundation for a person’s self-image is the first three years of his life. It is at this age that the child develops his own personality which he sees from the adult. At this age, the child sees himself based on how he sees his parents. When the parents fail to discharge their responsibility to the child because either one or both parents are absent in the family, the child grows up in a dysfunctional family. He suffers psychological behavior which he carries even until adulthood.
The child evolution into a juvenile delinquent and later on to a violent criminal has been documented to observe five basic stages. The first stage is parental neglect and abandonment of the child in the early years of his life. Research has found that children engaging in deviant behavior either are born in a family where the father has abandoned the mother or if the parents are married the father will subsequently divorce his mother. Research has conclusively shown that there is a substantial difference in the behavior of children born in intact families as compared to those who have divorced families or single-parent families. Because of parental neglect and abandonment the child has no strong relationship with either his father or mother. He may often witness his parents engaged in heated argument and quarrels and may even witness an actual physical abuse. He may even become a victim of actual physical abuse. As he continues to live in a harsh home, he is thereafter deprived of affection from his parents. Consequently, he himself becomes hostile, anxious and hyperactive. Having witness his father’s aggressive behavior, he may himself engage in aggressive behavior. On the other hand, a child born in a single-parent family also lacks guidance and attention of a father which may also lead to aggressive behavior.
The second stage is the stage where the child joins with other children who exhibit the same behavioral problems. Since the child could not find love and affection from his parents, he begins to seek for love, affection and belongingness from persons outside of his family. He vents his aggressive behavior to his classmates. He begins causing problems to other children. His teachers label him as a difficult child because of his behavioral problems. Because he is rejected at school by his classmates, he begins to associate and find acceptance with children who also exhibit aggressive behavior. They start to skip classes and terrorize other students. Moreover, because they lack parental guidance and support they are also slower in school and are behind in class. Their teachers may also reinforce this aggressive behavior because of the labels they have placed on these children.
The third stage is the stage where he joins a delinquent gang. He begins to smoke and drink. It is also at this stage he may have been used to bullying other children or copying during exams and may look for other more serious challenges. Consequently, the child may begin to engage in criminal behavior. Once he commits a delinquent act, he is more likely to lead a life of crime. If not caught the first time, the child may find committing crime as an easy activity. It is also at this stage where he considers his peers as his own family. He may be closely associated to them that he may love them more than his own family members.
At stage four, the young man may have been arrested several times. At times, they may be caught and at times they may not be caught. Gradually, the young man may start to specialize in committing different types of crimes. Some may get involved in prostitution while some may be involved in theft and robbery or in selling drugs.
At stage five, he may have impregnated other women. He may himself have abused his girlfriend in the same manner that his father abused him and his mother. He may stay for awhile with his girlfriend but the quarrels and hitting will not stop. Very soon after, either the young man is convicted for a serious crime or he simply leaves his family.
These five well-documented stages has become the pattern for majority of children who were deprived of love, affection and dedication by their parents.
The strong correlation between delinquent behavior and violent crimes is undeniable. This can only mean that the solution to juvenile delinquency is not to respond to crime after its commission. Rather, the proper response to juvenile delinquency is to address it at its very source. It is therefore suggested that proper intervention strategies should be undertaken so that children are not exposed to risk factors of delinquency. The family, community and school must also be tapped as they are the primary factors which have the most influence in the child’s behavior.
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