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Law Enforcement and the Youthful Offender

Law Enforcement and the Youthful Offender


Law Enforcement and The Youthful Offender

Juvenile delinquency is not a new invention; it is old as

time. Socrates is alleged to have observe: ”The children now love

luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show

disrespect for elders love chatter in place of exercise. They no longer

rise when their elders enter the room. They contradict their parents.

Chatter before company. Gobble up dainties at the table, and tyrannize

over their teachers.”

History also suggest that the separation of juvenile and

adult offenders dates back almost 2500 years, as early as fifth century

B.C. under Roman Law. The Twelve Tables of Roman Law, for example, made

the theft of crops, when perpetrated at night a capital crime. An

offender under the age of puberty, however, was usually fined and, on

some occasions, flogged. Thus, as far back as 451 B.C., juvenile crimes

existed. Although juvenile delinquency has a long history, youthful

crime is now so alarming in extent and kind that we must modify our

approach to juvenile offenders.

Just how serious is the problem.

In the last ten years, crime in the United States has

increased four times faster than the national population! The problem

is much more chilling when one refers to statistics relating to

juvenile crime. More crimes are now committed by children under fifteen

– by our more precious asset, the youth of the United States – than by

over twenty five! Reports from the National Council on Crime and

Delinquency and from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show a

staggering upsurge in the number of juveniles arrested foe serious


So and what is juvenile delinquency? Juvenile delinquency

means different things to different people. To some, a juvenile

delinquent is a boy or girl arrested for a law violation. To others, a

single appearance in juvenile court identifies the delinquent. To many,

the term covers a variety of antisocial behaviors that offends them,

whether or not the law is violated. Juvenile delinquency is a blanket

term that obscures rather than clarifies our understanding of human

behavior. It describes a large variety of youths in trouble or on the

verge of trouble. The delinquent may be anything from a normal

mischievous youngster to a youth that is involved in a law violation by

accidents. Or he may be a vicious assaultive person who is habitual

offender and is recipient of some gratification from his conduct. As a

blanket term, delinquency is like the concept of illness. A person

maybe ill and have polio or measles. The illness is different, the

cause is different, and the treatment is different. The same is true of

delinquency. Like illness, delinquency describes many problems that

develop from varied causes and require different kinds of treatment. So

legally speaking, then, a juvenile delinquent is a child (age defined

by statue) who commits any act that would constitute a crime if done by

an adult and who is adjudicated as such by an appropriate court.

The police concept classifies the delinquent as the statistical

delinquent and personality-disordered delinquent. The statistical

delinquent is a youngster who is involved in a delinquent act through

impulsiveness or immaturity. As an example, he is involved in an

automobile theft without, at that time, realizing the consequence of

his actions. Such actions usually occur “on the spur of the moment”

while the individual is involved with other youngsters. This youngster

is not a recidivist and responds to agency services provided. However

he is a “statistic” because this impulsive delinquent act is reported

by the arresting agency and, in some cases, in a subsequent referral to

the juvenile court.

On the other hand, the personality-disordered delinquent is the

youth who is often involved in a series of antisocial acts that

necessitates, in most instances, a referral to the juvenile court and,

in most cases, custodial care or some type of official help.

So attempting to define a delinquent is extremely difficult.

Juvenile delinquency is not a simple term. It is very elusive and means

many different things to different individuals, and it means many

different things to different groups. When using the term ‘juvenile

delinquency’ properly, one realizes that almost everything a youngster

does that does not meet with the approval of individuals or groups may

be referred to as a delinquent act. For purposes of research,

evaluation, or statistical records, such popular usage is not


There are ambiguities and variations in definitions of delinquency

in the United States. Many of the states do not agree on the

description of a juvenile delinquent. Statutory language is extremely

broad and covers virtually any form of antisocial conduct by juveniles.

In virtually all states, moral judgements of the community are an

important ingredient in defining a delinquent. Many children may be

tried for not only violations of sate statues or municipal ordinances

but also for ‘ noncriminal behavior’ such as incorrigibility, truancy,

and the use of obscene language. This are crimes which, if committed by

an adult, would result neither in arrest nor court appearance. Age

limitations here are a major problem because the states set various and

arbitrary upper-age limits on behavior deemed to be delinquent.

Delinquency is often the result of a combination of factors, some

of which may be founded in environment of the child and others within

the child himself.

So before turning to the various theories of delinquency causation

that are discussed before, it is important to point out the correlative

factors of delinquency. Correlative factors relative not only to the

physical contexts of delinquency, but to the social-psychological

climates closely associated with delinquency.

The correlatives of delinquency are: age, sex, poverty, and social

class membership, primary group and schools.

And now I’d like to tell about this factors more closely. So the

first is age factor. If the causal roots of delinquency are debatable,

there can be no argument about the age factor. No matter what the

category of time or delinquency statistics – and they are both highly

variable and both open to serious question – one striking trend appears

again and again: there is an ever higher proportion of offenders among

those of young age. The statistics do seem to justify the following

sets of conclusions: (1) the crime rate is highest during or shortly

before adolescence. (2) The age of maximum criminally varies with the

type of the crime (the age group of fifteen to nineteen years has the

highest official rate for theft auto; the age group twenty to twenty-

four has the highest official rate of robbery, forgery and rape; and

the age group thirty-five to thirty-nine has the highest rate for

gambling and violation of narcotic drug laws). (3) The age of first

delinquency and the type of crime typically committed at various age

varies from the area to area in cities, the age of first criminality is

low in areas of high rather than low delinquency (boys aged ten to

twelve commit robberies in some areas of large cities, while the boys

of the same age commit only petty thefts in less delinquent areas). And

(4) The age of maximum general criminality for most specific offences

is higher for females than for males. This trend is growing in many

states and the importance of early rehabilitative procedures before the

individual is remanded to adult penal custody is gaining wide support.

Individualized treatment can best be accomplished, it is being

recognized, when individual is still young.

The second is sex factor. Boys are apprehended for offences

approximately 3.5 times more frequently than are girls. The underlying

reasons are not difficult to locate. It is because of role-behavior

difference and status distinctions accorded to adolescence in the

American culture, the society expects girls to act differently tan

boys, and surrounds their behavior with restrictions that act as

barriers to delinquent activity. Delinquency among boys is induced

largely by opportunities presented by the environment, while among

girls delinquency is due more often to emotional maladjustments and

personal inadequacies.

The third factor is poverty. Now few of the variables associated

with crime and delinquency have been more misunderstood than that of

poverty. Contrary to early investigations, recent studies indicate

almost “null” relationship between poverty and delinquency. This does

not mean, however, that conditions of poverty no longer breed crime and

delinquency. Low economic status is not a direct cause of delinquency.

It is rather one of many variables that more or less automatically “go

together,” (including broken families, suicide, certain types of

psychosis, and alcoholism). But correlations and cause-and-effect

relationships are not necessarily synonymous. We can safely assert,

then, that although poverty and low economic standards are concomitant

with delinquency, they are not indispensable characteristics. To be

“poor but hones” is, in fact, the rule than the exception.

The forth factor is social-class membership: middle-class and

lower-class delinquency. Despite the professed democratic idea of a

“classless” society, a realistic appraisal of the contemporary social-

economic map dictates an irrefutable fact: Americans are stratified

into hierarchical system of power, prestige, and value-oriented

groupings. Awareness of social stratification groupings is unnecessary

so long as people’s life styles, values, ideals, motivations, and

social intercourse are limited to sets of clique of like-minded,

similarly oriented people. American lower-class and middle-class

subcultures differ from one another at highly significant points. But

the most crucial differences, in terms of delinquency, relate to the

vastly different child–rearing techniques and social values instilled

in children by the two classes. At the risk of generalizing, it can be

asserted that where the middle class typically stresses parent/children

relationship geared to love and dependence through late adolescence,

the lower class tend to give their children physical and psychological

freedom well before the adolescence years. It is far from surprising,

then, that delinquency finds far more fertile ground in the lower class

sectors of the typical city – and particularly in those that are

situated in slum areas. Bearing in mind what we have already observed

about the adolescent rejection of parental values and need for peer-

group identification, we can readily see the intense grip that the gang

– delinquent or “legitimate” – holds on the lower class adolescent’s

loyalties. More frequently - almost typically, in fact – the middle

class delinquent is a diametric counterpart of the lower class

delinquent. Where the lower class delinquent is smoothly socialized and

well-liked by hi peers, the former middle-class delinquent is often

seriously maladjusted ant at odds with his fellow adolescents.

So as one can see, the juvenile justice system has many segments.

Police, courts, correctional institutes, and aftercare services (the

correctional process that deals with the juvenile after

institutionalization has taken place is referred to as aftercare

services). The interrelationship between various segments of the system

is, apparently, the most significant problem in the juvenile justice

system. In other words, the system is no more systematic than the

relationship between police and court, court and probation, probation

and correctional institutes, correctional institutes and aftercare

services. In the absence of functional relationship between segments,

the juvenile justice system is vulnerable to fragmentation and


As previously noted, delinquency is a phenomena as old as history

and as complex as nuclear physics. Its causes are multiply, and the

emphasis shifts with the changes in society. Nor are all delinquents

cast from the same mold – they are individual human beings with all

their differences. Because there are so many possible causes of

delinquency, a wide variety of factors tend to be held responsible –

separately or in combination. The individual himself, his family, his

neighbors, his school, his church, his place of residence, his

government – an endless list which is, thus, the reason for ambiguities

in theories. The result: everyone is responsible for delinquency and,

of course, when everyone is responsible for something, no one really

is. Traditionally, all efforts in prevention have been aimed toward

containing and repressing incipient delinquents through law enforcement

agencies. In recent years, there have been strong efforts to improve

rehabilitative processes for already identified delinquents so that the

amount of recidivism might be reduced. So the way to solve the

delinquency problem is to prevent boys and girls from becoming

delinquents in the first place. Society is not solving that problem

because the emphasis is not placed on that all-important job:

prevention. Moreover, it appears that society is blocked by a

psychological wall of fallacies which keep everyone busy with

impractical plans that are doomed to fail right from the start. The

correctional program in the United States seems to be content with

treating individual delinquents after they have already committed

delinquent acts, while such programs overlook most entirely the factors

that contribute to delinquency. Society must find a way to correct the

faulty home and environment before child becomes a police case. It is

both unfair and impractical to rely upon a few private a agencies to do

this large-scale, complex public job.

The primary responsibility of law enforcement is the control and

prevention of crime and delinquency through the enforcement of laws

that are necessary for the good order of society. Since many criminal

are committed by minors under the age of eighteen years, a large

proportion of police works involves the detection, investigation,

apprehension, and referral of these juveniles. In addition, law

enforcement agencies are concerned with minors who come to their

attention for noncriminal reasons. The initial handing of neglected

children, for example, is often a police matter; and police officers

also have the responsibility of dealing with runaway, incorrigible, and

wayward youngsters.

In almost every aspect of their work with juveniles, the police

must have contact with at least one other agency in the community. It

must be recognized that the police services are only a part of the

total community effort to promote the welfare of children and young

people. For police services to be made more effective, then, they must

be planned in relationship to the overall community program as well as

to the services offered by individual agencies. Although police

officers, and particularly special juvenile officers, should be

familiar with the contribution and operation of all agencies in the

community (an up-to-date directory of agencies can be of great value),

it is clear that the major part of their work with children will

involve contact with only a limited number of agencies. This contact

should normally be close and continuous and, therefore, the

relationship should be based on a clear understanding and amicable

acceptance of the role of each of the participants. But in conclusion I

want to say that there is often a lack of communication between the

police and other young serving agencies in the community resulting in

mutual criticism and feelings of hostility. Police sometimes say such

agencies fail to advise them of action taken concerning juveniles

brought to their attention. Agency personnel, on the other hand, often

attribute the hostility and bad behavior of the juveniles turned over

to them by the police to the unsympathetic “treatment” given them by

the police. Social agencies personnel, including probation officers and

even some judges, see only effective treatment. On the other side,

some police see such agency personnel as unrealistically soft and

permissive even to the extent of being “played for suckers” by cunning,

worldly wise “young punks.” Feelings such as these on both sides are

certainly not conducive to effective communication to say nothing of

real cooperation.


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