Who is the Juvenile?

Working with a population of cognitively low-functioning special needs students in grades 9-12 is often challenging, yet rewarding. By writing this unit on Juvenile Delinquency: Cause and Effect, I want to raise students level of awareness so that at an early age, students can avoid participating in criminal activities. We are constantly reminded that there are problems with juvenile violence. Nightly we hear of shootings in communities and even in our schools. Increasing levels of juvenile violence are a national concern.

The concern has focused on punishment, but very little on prevention or intervention. In this unit, we will discuss and present tools that allow youth to deal constructively with interpersonal conflicts, problem-solving techniques and behaviors of peacemaking skills. The future of our world depends on responsible citizens who possess the ability to express and resolve conflicts while working together for civic improvement. This unit will help students acquire knowledge and skills needed to carry out their responsibilities and protect their rights as citizens of a free society.

Lessons in this unit will emphasize basic knowledge of juvenile crime, causes, offenses, treatment, and risk factors. The reward for learning this unit will be to make significant progress in the lifelong pursuit of becoming a good citizen in a free society. In the United States, juveniles involved with the law are treated differently from adults. However, this has not always been the case. In earlier times, children were thrown into jails with adults. Long prison terms and corporal punishment were common. Some children were even sentenced to death for their crimes.

Reformers concerned about the harsh treatment of children urged the establishment of a separate court system for juveniles. The idea behind juvenile court was that children in trouble with the law should be helped rather than punished. Central to the concept of juvenile court was the principle of parens patriae. This meant that instead of lawyers fighting to decide guilt or innocence, the court would act as a parent or guardian interested in protecting and helping the child. Hearings would be closed to the public. Proceedings would be informal. If convicted, children would be separated from adult criminals.

1 In 1899, Cook County, Illinois, set up the country’s first juvenile court. Today, every state has a separate court system for juveniles. These courts generally handle two different groups of juveniles: the delinquent offender and the status offender. A delinquent child is one who has committed an act that is a crime for adults under federal, state, or local law. Status offenders, on the other hand, are youths who are considered unruly or beyond the control of their legal guardians. Status offenses are not crimes. They are illegal acts that can only be committed by juveniles.

Status offenses include running away from home, skipping school, refusing to obey parents, or engaging in certain behaviors such as drinking alcohol while under the age of majority. 2 Some people believe parents should be held responsible for crimes committed by their children. Those in favor of these parental responsibility laws believe they are particularly appropriate in cases in which parents know or should know that their children are using or selling drugs or belong to juvenile gangs. In some states parents may be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.