Literature Review on Juvenile Delinquency

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The juvenile justice policy chosen

Today, the Juvenile Justice System faces many challenges with delinquent youths that have problems related to substance abuse. Substance abuse among the adolescents usually leads to frequent or serious problems. In the U.S., substance use and abuse among adolescent’s accounts for significant morbidity and mortality (Schydlower, 2002, p 34). Alcohol and tobacco are usual drugs of choice among adolescents, followed by marijuana, stimulants, hallucinogens, and inhalants (Brown, 2002, p 249). Further, research indicates that whites and African Americans continue to use illicit drugs at comparable rates in all age group categories. However, whites seem to use more illicit drugs than African Americans in the 12-17age group category. Furthermore, it appears that alcohol use is lower among African American youth than white youth (Cartwright, 2009, p 164).

Substance Abuse Theory

Social disorganization theory was developed by the Chicago School in the early 1900’s. The social disorganization theory was one of the most important theories developed by the Chicago school and related to ecological theories. This theory builds on the premise that social conditions can influence people’s behavior (Shoemaker, 1996, p 23). Social disorganization theory explains how places may have an affect people’s behavior. Through the social disorganization theory, criminologists and other social scientists look at many things when trying to explain the causes of criminal behavior. The social disorganization theory arises from the social structure theories in which it is argued that crime occurs when the mechanisms of social control are weakened (Short, 1976, p 65).

Focusing on the neighborhoods that are stricken with poverty, drugs and crime, one may believe that everyone is affected by the characteristics of the location as they may relate to crime. Shaw and McKay (1969, p 43) suggest that disorganized communities characterized by poverty, population heterogeneity and residential mobility weaken the effectiveness of social controls. From their studies in light of social problems plaguing Chicago and its suburbs, it was clear that prevalent local crime was triggered by the affects of the community.

Historical development of the juvenile justice system

Up to the late 19th century, all offenders irrespective of age were taken to criminal courts for trial. In the United States, the criminal justice system was based on the common law which was embraced in England (Bishop, 2004, p 636). William Blackstone, in 1760s, was the first to publish in his commentaries the need to separate individuals who were not capable of committing a crime and the real criminals (Bilchik, 1999, p 12). According to him, for one to be held responsible for a crime, he or she had to meet certain thresholds. It was necessary to ascertain if the individual had ‘vicious will’, and had committed a criminal act. This divided people into infants and adults; and infants were said not to be able to commit crimes. Infants were defined as individuals who were under 7 years of age, and could not be charged with a felony. However, those above 14 years were regarded as adults and could be charged with a felony. The ages between 7 and 14 years were regarded as a grey area and one could be charged depending on how the individual understood wrong and right (Rosenheim, Zimring, Tanenhaus & Dohrn, 2002; Cohn, 2004, p 41).

In the late 19th century, there were formidable changes in the justice system in respect to juvenile offenders. Social reformers called for the establishment of special facilities that could the juvenile delinquents. The Society for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency came up with the New York House of Refuge, which was meant to house junior offenders in 1825. In 1855, the Chicago Reform School was established which aimed at separating juvenile offenders from adult offenders. The first juvenile court was established in Cook County, Illinois, Chicago, and this idea spread to other parts of the country in quick succession (Rosenheim, Zimring, Tanenhaus & Dohrn, 2002, p 63).

Some of the court cases that facilitated the development of the juvenile justice system include the v. United States, 383 U.S. in 1966. Kent was referred to a criminal court where he was to be charged as an adult despite the argument presented by his lawyer. The Supreme Court, in its ruling, argued that the juvenile courts did not live to their expectations. In another court case, Gerald, 15, was condemned to a six-year term in the Arizona’s State Industrial School in 1967. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court, in In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, ruled that the due process was not followed in committing Gerald to the industrial school (Rosenheim, Zimring, Tanenhaus & Dohrn, 2002, p 74).

During the 20th century, there have been many changes on the juvenile justice system in which the juvenile courts have systematically been turned into criminal courts. Various states have endorsed punitive legislation including mandatory sentences and automatic waivers that expose junior offenders to the adult criminal system (Sprott, 1998, p 403). This has to be changed and young offenders have to be treated in a special way. The young individuals do not deserve full force of the law. These individuals should be provided with programs that centers on rehabilitation of the young people. Such programs should be able to offer the youth with employment opportunity, as well as establish community groups that will guide the troubled youths.

Causes of delinquency

Juvenile delinquency can be caused by various factors. This includes individual risk factors such as low intelligence, impulsive behavior, lack of ability to delay gratification, and uncontrolled aggressiveness. Family factors can also be blamed for juvenile delinquency. This includes poor parental care that results to poor emotional, psychological and physical development of the child. It has also been noted that mental health risk factors also impact on delinquency among then youths. Lastly, substance abuse has also been noted to cause juvenile delinquency (Bishop, 2004, p 634).


Bilchik, S. (1999, December). ‘Juvenile justice: A century of change’ Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice

Bishop, D. (2004). Injustice and irrationality in contemporary youth policy. Criminology and Public Policy, 3, 633–644.

Brown, R. T. (2002). Risk factors for substance abuse in adolescents. Pediatrie Clinics of North America, 49 (2), 247-255.

Cartwright, W. S., Kitsantas, P., & Rose, S. R. (2009). A demographic-economic model for adolescent substance abuse and crime prevention. Journal of Comparative Social Welfare, 25(2), 157-172. doi:10.1080/17486830902789780.

Cohn, A.W. (2004). Planning for the future of juvenile justice. Federal Probation, 68(3), 39–44.

Reno, J. (1998). Taking America back for our children. Crime & Delinquency, 44, 75–82.

Rosenheim, M. K., Zimring, F. E., Tanenhaus, D. S., & Dohrn, B. (Eds.). (2002). A century of juvenile justice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schydlower, M. (2006). Adolescent substance use and abuse: Current issues. Texas Medicine, 98(2), 31-35.

Shaw, C. R. and McKay, H. D. (1969). Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Shoemaker, D. J. (1996). Theories of Delinquency. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Short, J. F. (1976). Delinquency, Crime, and Society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Sprott, J. B. (1998). Understanding public opposition to a separate youth justice system. Crime and Delinquency, 44, 399–411.

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