By: A’ree Hewitt, JS Student
Juvenile delinquency affects all of society. The victims of the crime may suffer a loss of wages due to time off work for injuries and may be stuck with replacing stolen or damaged property. The families of the juvenile may be stuck with the burden of raising funds to pay for lawyers or to compensate victims. The juvenile who committed the crime may fall behind in school and may be exposed to and influenced by more experienced juveniles increasing the possibilities of recidivism.
When youth are arrested for a crime they are sent to juvenile hall to wait for their court dates. After being tried and convicted of that crime in juvenile court some are sent to ranches, boot camps or other out-of-home placements, probation or to the Youth Authority as a ward of the state. The goal of juvenile justice is to rehabilitate youth to keep them from engaging in further delinquent activities, but why should we wait until youth are engaging in delinquent activity to reform make an attempt to reform them? Many youth who become criminal offenders at a young age continue to offend into adulthood. Instead we need to focus on early prevention and intervention for delinquency as the familiar saying goes “prevention is better than cure.”
Providing prevention and intervention services for youth who are at-risk for delinquency will be much more effective and beneficial for youth their families and their communities than focusing solely on the punishment and rehabilitation of these youth. One avenue would be to focus on and provide services to children identified in court as being abused and/or neglected by their parents, as they are more likely to become delinquent. Home visitation programs for parents at high risk for abusing/neglecting their children could be effective. Parenting skills, marital and family therapy should be provided. Job training programs as well as accessible employment need to be made available to people living in high unemployment areas. Free or low-cost early education and daycare programs should be available to families in need.
Also we need to pay attention to the children of people who are incarcerated; these children are at risk of engaging in criminal activities as well. The absence of a parent due to incarceration can be very detrimental to the development of the child as well as the structure and dynamics of the family and community. Providing the child’s basic necessities, instilling societal norms/values and supervising the actions and activities of a child become difficult for families missing a parent due to incarceration.
Usually the signs and risk factors of juvenile delinquency are evident prior to the youth’s first criminal offense. School failure, dysfunctional families, substance abuse, mental disorders and problem behaviors are all signs of juvenile delinquency. Often it is too late to wait until a child or teenager engages in a criminal act and gets caught to pay attention to problem behaviors. Policies need to be reformed and funds need to be allocated toward crime prevention efforts instead of the aftermath of crime.