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For many young people Essays

Juvenile DELINQUENCY

For many young people today, traditional patterns guiding the relationships and transitions between family, school and work are being challenged. Social relations that ensure a smooth process of socialization are collapsing; lifestyle trajectories are becoming more varied and less predictable. The restructuring of the labor market, the extension of the maturity gap (the period of dependence of young adults on the family) and, arguably, the more limited opportunities to become an independent adult are all changes influencing relationships with family and friends, educational opportunities and choices, labor market participation, leisure activities and lifestyles. It is not only developed countries that are facing this situation; in developing countries as well there are new pressures on young people undergoing the transition from childhood to independence. Rapid population growth, the unavailability of housing and support services, poverty, unemployment and underemployment among youth, the decline in the authority of local communities, overcrowding in poor urban areas, the disintegration of the family, and ineffective educational systems are some of the pressures young people must deal with. Youth nowadays, regardless of gender, social origin or country of residence, are subject to individual risks but are also being presented with new individual opportunities— some beneficial and some potentially harmful.

Quite often, advantage is being taken of illegal opportunities as young people commit various offences, become addicted to drugs, and use violence against their peers. The problem of juvenile delinquency is becoming more complicated and universal, and crime prevention programmers are either unequipped to deal with the present realities or do not exist. Many developing countries have done little or nothing to deal with these problems, and international programmers are obviously insufficient. Developed countries are engaged in activities aimed at juvenile crime prevention, but the overall effect of these programmers is rather weak because the mechanisms in place are often inadequate to address the existing situation. On the whole, current efforts to fight juvenile delinquency are characterized by the lack of systematic action and the absence of task-oriented and effective social work with both offenders and victims, whether real or potential. Analysis is further complicated by a lack of international comparative data.

BASIC ASSUMPTIONS OF DELINQUENT BEHAVIOUR It is impossible to develop effective prevention programmers without understanding the reasons behind juvenile involvement in criminal activity. Different approaches are used in scientific and practical literature on juvenile crime and violence to define and explain delinquent behavior by young people. To criminologists, juvenile delinquency encompasses all public wrongs committed by young people between the ages of 12 and 20. Sociologists view the concept more broadly, believing that it covers a multitude of different violations of legal and social norms, from minor offences to serious crimes, committed by juveniles. Included under the umbrella of juvenile delinquency are status offences, so called because they are closely connected with the age status of an offender; a particular action or behavior is considered a violation of the law only if it is committed by a juvenile (examples include truancy and running away). In an attempt to explain the theoretical underpinnings of delinquency, sociologists associate the specifics of youth behavior with the home, family, neigh boohoo, peers and many other variables that together or separately influence the formation of young people’s social environment. Antisocial behavior may be a normal part of growing up or the beginning of a long-term pattern of criminal activity.

The United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (the Riyadh Guidelines) assert that “youthful behavior or conduct that does not conform to overall social norms and values is often part of the maturation and growth process and tends to disappear spontaneously in most individuals with the transition to adulthood”; a great majority of young people commit some kind of petty offence at some point during their adolescence without this turning into a criminal career in the long term.4 While delinquency is a common characteristic of the period and process of becoming an adult, it is very important to note that juveniles often create stable criminal groups with a corresponding subculture and start to engage in the activities of adult criminal groups, in effect choosing delinquent careers. The peer group plays an important part in the construction of gender roles and relations, including delinquent behavior. Youth gangs reflect the gender-based power relations in society and the related discourse and practices by which they are reproduced. Consequently, differences in male and female behavior in this context are partly a product of the social construction of gendered dominance and subordination in gang arrangements. CAUSES OF AND CONDITIONS FOR THE FORMATION OF DELINQUENT TRAJECTORIES The intensity and severity of juvenile offences are generally determined by the social , economic and cultural conditions prevailing in a country.

There is evidence of a universal increase in juvenile crime taking place concurrently with economic decline, especially in the poor districts of large cities. In many cases street children later become young offenders, having already encountered violence in their immediate social environment as either witnesses or victims of violent acts. The educational attainments of this group are rather low as a rule, basic social experience acquired in the family is too often insufficient, and the socio-economic environment is determined by poverty and under- or unemployment.9 The causes of and conditions for juvenile crime are usually found at each level of the social structure, including society as a whole, social institutions, social groups and organizations, and interpersonal relations. Juveniles’ choice of delinquent careers and the consequent perpetuation of delinquency are fostered by a wide range of factors, the most important of which are described below. Economic and social factors

Juvenile delinquency is driven by the negative consequences of social and economic development, in particular economic crises, political instability, and the weakening of major institutions (including the State, systems of public education and public assistance, and the family). Socio-economic instability is often linked to persistent unemployment and low incomes among the young, which can increase the likelihood of their involvement in criminal activity. Cultural factors

Delinquent behavior often occurs in social settings in which the norms for acceptable behavior have broken down. Under such circumstances many of the common rules that deter people from committing socially unacceptable acts may lose their relevance for some members of society. They respond to the traumatizing and destructive changes in the social reality by engaging in rebellious, deviant or even criminal activities. An example of such a setting would be the modernization of traditional societies and the accompanying changes wrought by the application of new technologies; shifts of this magnitude affect the types and organization of labor activity, social characteristics, lifestyles and living arrangements, and these changes, in turn, affect authority structures, forms of obedience, and modes of political participation - even going so far as to influence perceptions of reality. In both developed and developing countries, consumer standards created by the media are considerably beyond the capacity of most families to achieve. Nevertheless, these ideals become a virtual reality for many young people, some of whom will go to great lengths to maintain a lifestyle they cannot afford. Because not all population groups have access to the necessary resources, including education, professional training, satisfactory employment and income, health services, and adequate housing, there are those who are unable to achieve their goals by legal means. The contradiction between idealized and socially approved goals and the sometimes limited real-life opportunities to achieve them legally creates a sense of Frustration in many young people.

A criminal career becomes one form of addressing this contradiction. One of the reasons for delinquent behavior is therefore an excessive focus on proposed goals (achieving success) coupled with insufficient means to achieve them. The likelihood of deviant acts occurring in this context depends in many respects not only on the unavailability of legal opportunities but also on the level of access to illegal opportunities. Some juveniles, cognizant of the limitations imposed by legal behavior, come under the influence of adult criminals. Many young people retreat into the confines of their own groups and resort to drug use for psychological or emotional escape. The use of alcohol and illegal drugs by juveniles is one cause of delinquency, as they are often compelled to commit crimes (usually theft) to obtain the cash needed to support their substance use. Urbanization

Geographical analysis suggests that countries with more urbanized populations have higher registered crime rates than do those with strong rural lifestyles and communities. This may be attributable to the differences in social control and social cohesion. Rural groupings rely mainly on family and community control as a means of dealing with antisocial behavior and exhibit markedly lower crime rates. Urban industrialized societies tend to resort to formal legal and judicial measures, an impersonal approach that appears to be linked to higher crime rates. Cultural and institutional differences are such that responses to the same offence may vary widely from one country to another. The ongoing process of urbanization in developing countries is contributing to juvenile involvement in criminal behavior. The basic features of the urban environment foster the development of new forms of social behavior deriving mainly from the weakening of primary social relations and control, increasing reliance on the media at the expense of informal communication, and the tendency towards anonymity. These patterns are generated by the higher population density, degree of heterogeneity, and numbers of people found in urban contexts. Family

Studies show that children who receive adequate parental supervision are less likely to engage in criminal activities. Dysfunctional family settings—characterized by conflict, inadequate parental control, weak internal linkages and integration, and premature autonomy—are closely associated with juvenile delinquency. Children in disadvantaged families that have few opportunities for legitimate employment and face a higher risk of social exclusion are overrepresented among offenders. The plight of ethnic Minorities and migrants, including displaced persons and refugees in certain parts of the world, is especially distressing. The countries in transition are facing particular challenges in this respect, with the associated insecurity and turmoil contributing to an increase in the numbers of children and juveniles neglected by their parents and suffering abuse and violence at home. The family as a social institution is currently undergoing substantial changes; its form is diversifying with, for example, the increase in one-parent families and no marital unions. The absence of fathers in many low-income families can lead boys to seek patterns of masculinity in delinquent groups of peers. These groups in many respects substitute for the family, define male roles, and contribute to the acquisition of such attributes as cruelty, strength, excitability and anxiety. The importance of family well-being is becoming increasingly recognized. Success in school depends greatly on whether parents have the capacity to provide their children with “starting” opportunities (including the resources to buy books and manuals and pay for studies). Adolescents from low-income families often feel excluded. To raise their self-esteem and improve their status they may choose to join a juvenile delinquent group. These groups provide equal opportunities to everyone, favorably distinguishing themselves from school and family, where positions of authority are occupied by adults. When young people are exposed to the influence of adult offenders they have the opportunity to study delinquent behavior, and the possibility of their engaging in adult crime becomes more real. The “criminalization” of the family also has an impact on the choice of delinquent trajectories. A study carried out in prisons in the United States reveals that families involved in criminal activities tend to push their younger members towards violating the law. More than two-thirds of those interviewed had relatives who were incarcerated; for 25 per cent it was a father and for another 25 per cent a brother or sister. Migration

Because immigrants often exist in the margins of society and the economy and have little chance of success in the framework of the existing legal order, they often seek comfort in their own environment and culture. Differences in norms and values and the varying degrees of acceptability of some acts in different ethnic subcultures result in cultural conflicts, which are one of the main sources of criminal behavior. Native urban populations tend to perceive immigrants as obvious deviants. Exclusion

The growing gap between rich and poor has led to the emergence of “unwanted others”. The exclusion of some people is gradually increasing with the accumulation of obstacles, ruptured social ties, unemployment and identity crises. Welfare systems that have provided relief but have not eliminated the humble socio-economic position of certain groups, together with the increased dependence of low-income families on social security services, have contributed to the development of a “new poor” class in many places. The symbolic exclusion from society of juveniles who have committed even minor offences has important implications for the development of delinquent careers. Studies show that the act of labeling may lead to the self-adoption of a delinquent image, which later results in delinquent activity. Delinquent identities

In identifying the causes of criminal behavior, it is important to determine which factors contribute to a delinquent identity and why some adolescents who adopt a delinquent image do not discard that image in the process of becoming an adult. Delinquent identity is quite complex and is, in fact, an overlay of several identities linked to delinquency itself and to a person’s ethnicity, race, class and gender. Delinquent identity is always constructed as an alternative to the conventional identity of the larger society. Violence and conflict are necessary elements in the construction of group and delinquent identities. The foundations of group identity and activity are established and strengthened through the maintenance of conflict relations with other juvenile groups and society as a whole. Violence serves the function of integrating members into a group, reinforcing their sense of identity, and thereby hastening the process of group adaptation to the local environment. Other factors that may provide motivation for joining a gang are the possibilities of economic and social advancement. In many sociocultural contexts the delinquent way of life has been romanticized to a certain degree, and joining a gang is one of the few channels of social mobility available for disadvantaged youth. According to one opinion, urban youth gangs have a stabilizing effect on communities characterized by a lack of economic and social opportunities. Offenders and victims

Criminal activity is strongly associated with a victim’s behavior. A victim’s reaction can sometimes provoke an offender; however, “appropriate” behavior may prevent a criminal act or at least minimize its impact. According to scientific literature, the likelihood of becoming a victim is related to the characteristics or qualities of a person, a social role or a social situation that provoke or facilitate criminal behavior; personal characteristics such as individual or family status, financial prosperity, and safety, as well as logistical characteristics such as the time and place in which a confrontation occurs, can also determine the extent of victimization. People may become accidental victims, as assault is often preceded by heated discussion. According to the classification of psychological types there are three typical adolescent victims of violence: accidental victims; people disposed to become victims; and “inborn” victims.12 Studies have shown that in the majority of cases that result in bodily harm, the offender and his victim are acquainted with one another and may be spouses, relatives or friends; this is true for 80 per cent of murders and 70 per cent of sexual crimes. PREVENTING JUVENILE DELINQUENCY

Violence against children endangers their fundamental human rights. It isn therefore imperative to convince individuals and institutions to commit the time, money, expertise and other resources needed to address this global problem.23 A number of United Nations instruments reflect a preference for social rather than judicial approaches to controlling juvenile delinquency. The Riyadh Guidelines assert that the prevention of juvenile delinquency is an essential part of overall crime prevention in society, 24 and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules) recommend instituting positive measures to strengthen a juvenile’s overall well-being and reduce the need for State intervention. It is widely believed that early-phase intervention represents the best approach to preventing juvenile delinquency. Prevention requires individual, group and organizational efforts aimed at keeping adolescents from breaking the law. Various countries use different methods to discourage delinquent and criminal behavior. Some focus on punitive prevention intended to frighten potential offenders by making sure they understand the possibility of severe punishment, or action may be taken to prevent recurrent crime, which includes explaining the negative aspects of an offence to a delinquent and attempting to reconcile offenders and their victims. Educational programmers are helping young people learn how to engage in positive self-appraisal, deal with conflict, and control aggression. The programmers debunk the myth of gang glamour and help young people find alternatives to illegal behaviour.25 Some work with troubled youth to help them develop the social and cognitive skills necessary to avoid conflict and control aggression. Children raised in strong families, quality schools and healthy communities typically develop these skills as a matter of course. In the United States law-enforcement agencies, schools, local communities and parents of adolescents are involved in these programmers. Recreation and youth development activities are directly encouraged in the Riyadh Guidelines: “A wide range of recreational facilities and services of particular interest to young persons should be established and made easily accessible to them”.26 In a number of towns in the United States the establishment of basketball programmers for adolescents led to a 60 per cent decrease in crime rates. Researchers at Columbia University in New York City found that having a Boys’ or Girls’ Club in a public housing project reduced the level of crime by an average of 13 per cent. In Steven age, a town in the United Kingdom where a large youth center and playground were built and several youth clubs organized, young people have largely avoided delinquent activities. Often it is possible to reduce the level of juvenile delinquency by changing an urban environment, altering the physical features through architectural and landscape planning and providing opportunities to engage young people’s interest. A research study conducted in a town in the United States revealed that most of the activities of juvenile delinquent groups were concentrated around the town’s only park. The layout of the park was redesigned to create many more leisure and recreational alternatives for juveniles and their parents. The number of positive afternoon activities held in schools and parks was also increased. All of these measures led to a considerable reduction in juvenile delinquency; in the United States juvenile crime, including violent offences, peaks at around 3 p.m., generally right after school lets out.27 recently, greater attention has been given to the role and responsibility of local communities in dealing with juvenile delinquency. There are programmers designed to train groups and individual representatives of local communities in which juvenile delinquency has increased to informally control youth and include young people in constructive activities.28 The idea that young people can and should work in partnership with adults to improve conditions in their communities has gained currency in the past decade. Young people are being asked to sit on boards, submit ideas and support community efforts through structured (sometimes required) volunteering. 29 A promising development in efforts to prevent juvenile delinquency and crime is the involvement of NGOs and volunteers (students and pensioners, along with well-known and authority figures such as sportsmen, politicians and public figures) in social work with adolescents. Generally, programmers for preventing gang delinquency should endeavor to integrate children and youth into organized group activities. This can be achieved through social service agencies or organizations such as the YMCA, YWCA, Girl Guides and Boy Scouts, as well as independent boys’ and girls’ clubs and community centers; local government recreational activities also serve this purpose. A proactive but carefully considered approach to the development and implementation of prevention and rehabilitation programmes is needed, with care taken to apply those lessons learned through direct experience. Significant public investment is warranted to both strengthen and expand the youth-oriented prevention agenda and to intensify efforts to refine and improve upon the promise of prevention. However, it must be acknowledged that the thoughtless expenditure of money, time or effort for spontaneous or poorly developed measures will do little to solve the problem; research and evaluation must therefore be integrated into all prevention efforts. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The current situation with regard to juvenile crime and delinquency can be characterized by the following basic facts and trends: • There has been an observed increase in violent and aggravated crimes among youth. • The number of drug-related crimes is growing.

• The process of globalization and the greater mobility of large population groups have led to an increase in criminal activity associated with intolerance towards members of other cultures The difficulties encountered by immigrants and their descendants in certain countries are sometimes related to the high levels of group crime deriving from the activities of ethnically based delinquent groups. • In many cases juvenile crimes are linked to less obvious sources of motivation; various actions may reflect, for example, the standards of particular subcultures, teachings or traditions deriving from religious radicalism, or the compulsion to use of violence as a means of contracting gender identity Quite often, aggressive and criminal behavior is positively portrayed in the media, creating a confused picture of acceptable societal norms within some youth subcultures. • Quite often, aggressive and criminal behavior is positively portrayed in the media, creating a confused picture of acceptable societal norms within some youth subcultures. • Children and adolescents in difficult circumstances constitute ready reserves for organized crime, participation in armed conflicts, human and drug trafficking, and sexual exploitation. • The disintegration of families, poverty, and the death of parents in armed conflict or from HIV/AIDS has led to the forced independence of many young people around the world. As illustrated in this chapter, juvenile delinquency covers a multitude of different violations of legal and social norms, ranging from minor offences to serious crimes committed by young people. Some types of juvenile delinquency constitute part of the process of maturation and growth and disappear spontaneously as young people make the transition to adulthood. Many socially responsible adults committed various types of petty offences during their adolescence. Quite often, however, the situation is far more serious. Poverty, social exclusion and unemployment often cause marginalization, and young people who are marginalized are more susceptible to developing and maintaining delinquent behavior. Furthermore, young people are more likely to become victims of crimes committed by juvenile delinquents. Delinquency is largely a group phenomenon; it is frequently engaged in by certain subcultures of young people who have jointly assumed a particular identity. It is also primarily a male phenomenon, with crime rates for male juvenile and young adult offenders more than double those for females. Some criminal activities are associated with intolerance of members of other cultures or religious, racial or ethnic groups. If delinquency policies are to be truly effective, higher priority must be given to marginalized, vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in society, and issues relating to youth in conflict with the law should be a central focus of national youth policies. The administration of juvenile justice should be decentralized in order to encourage local authorities to become actively involved in preventing youth crime and reintegrating young offenders into society through support projects, with the ultimate aim of fostering responsible citizenship.

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