The juvenile justice system provides unique challenges due to its dual aims of protecting the community and rehabilitating the youth offender. For this reason, it is crucial to deeply understand the circumstances surrounding a juvenile’s criminal behavior to devise effective interventions. This paper aims to analyze two distinctive juvenile delinquency cases, applying relevant criminological theories to understand the causes behind criminal behaviors and examining the approaches taken by the juvenile justice system. Finally, the paper proposes alternative response plans in light of the theories applied and the issues identified within the system.
Case 1: Adelina’s background leading up to the crime
The story of Adelina is a picture of early-onset delinquency that starts as minor crimes and escalates as time passes, emphasizing the intricate relationships of socioeconomic standing, familial relationships, and individual choices in the development of juvenile crime. Adelina lives in a setting that fails to offer adequate direction and authority as she develops up in a big, financially strained family that has restricted oversight from her parents. This setting permits her to participate in her first illicit behaviors, like theft and assault, at eleven. Her criminal conduct intensifies despite judicial actions, such as probation and a jail-prevention scheme. Adelina’s offenses advance from simple shoplifting to recognized affiliation with a gang and regular drug use over time. This trend displays the futility of conventional punishments to decrease delinquency, especially if the offender’s environment promotes illicit conduct (Thomas et al., 2003).
The adaptability of the Social Learning Theory to Adelina’s case gives important insight into her delinquent behavior. This theory, created by Albert Bandura in 1977, contends that people acquire novel habits through observing and imitating the actions of those within them, especially notable individuals (Rumjaun & Narod, 2020). Because her peers participate in delinquent activities and the obvious lack of parental oversight, Adelina’s family environment is favorable to her social growth. These conditions may have eased her exposure to and encouragement of unlawful conduct, which is compatible with her early shift into criminality. Although this theory offers an extensive framework to comprehend the roots of Adelina’s criminal behavior, it meets limits when clarifying her insistence on illicit conduct despite subsequent treatment. It does not clarify why probation and other preventative measures were not sufficient to overcome her learned behavior, implying the need to examine additional variables such as individual resilience, the effectiveness of the actions, or fundamental psychological problems.
Juvenile Justice System and Law
The constraints of the juvenile justice system are made apparent by Adelina’s encounter with it. Even though the justice system’s initial reaction of placing Adelina on probation may have seemed suitable, given her age and the severity of her first crimes, it was ineffective in preventing her ongoing criminal behavior. This points to the need for an expanded strategy considering the person’s behavior and broader social surroundings. In the case of Adelina, an extensive approach addressing her turbulent familial situation and her relationships with peer delinquents, which might prolong her criminal conduct, may have had a more positive effect on her developmental trajectory.
Implementing community-based interventions, particularly Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST), should be considered part of an Adelina reaction approach. This approach shows potential for dealing with various variables that lead to juvenile delinquency (Gaffney et al., 2021). MST can serve as an extensive support network by addressing various structures in Adelina’s life, such as her family surroundings, school behavior, and peer interactions. This could involve collaborating closely with her family to hone her parenting abilities while implementing consistent punishment and tackling any inherent familial disputes or socioeconomic stressors affecting her conduct. In addition, an organized educational strategy could be introduced to enhance Adelina’s academic skills and give her productive channels for her enthusiasm and aspirations. This action plan endeavors to tackle the root causes of Adelina’s delinquency and foster long-term positive change by using a multidisciplinary and personalized strategy that considers her specific circumstances.
Case 2: Charles’s background leading up to the crime
Charles, a juvenile raised primarily by his grandmother, entered the realm of delinquency at the age of 11 when he participated in an assault on another boy, an incident linked to gang initiation. While he admits his participation, Charles denies any affiliations with the gang. Charles completed a seven-hour counseling session with no formal charges filed as a penalty. The following year, he was cited for a curfew violation. Apart from a few truancy and curfew violations, Charles stayed out of serious trouble until age 16 (Thomas et al., 2003).
Criminological Theories and Causes of Delinquency.
Applying the Social Disorganization Theory to Charles’s situation suggests that his propensity towards delinquency is shaped by his environment, characterized by weak social ties and minimal social control (Lei & Beach, 2020). His absent parents and minimal interaction with his older siblings denote a lack of solid familial support and guidance, a common pattern in socially disorganized environments. Furthermore, Charles’s early involvement in gang-related activities signals the influence of detrimental community dynamics that may have catalyzed his delinquent behaviors. The Social Disorganization Theory underscores these environmental factors as key contributors to crime, emphasizing the role of social cohesion (or lack thereof) in shaping individual behavior. Nevertheless, the theory’s primary limitation is its implicit assumption that individuals within socially disorganized environments invariably succumb to criminal activities, essentially discounting individual agency. This assumption fails to consider that even within similar conditions, people may react differently based on personal characteristics, resilience, or positive influences; hence, the theory’s explanatory power does not extend to all cases of delinquency.
Juvenile Justice System and Law
Charles’s initial interaction with the juvenile justice system, when he was 11 years old, was arguably marked by a degree of leniency. The absence of formal charges coupled with a relatively light penalty of seven hours of counseling could have unintentionally conveyed a sense that the system did not view his actions as extremely serious. While the aim of this approach might have been to prevent the stigma often associated with more severe punitive measures, it may have had the unintended effect of leading Charles to trivialize the severity and potential repercussions of his actions. Nevertheless, this perspective should be treated with caution as it is conjectural. It could be argued that given the circumstances, particularly that it was Charles’s first offense, a more restrained intervention might have been deemed suitable, following the belief that early heavy-handed responses can be more damaging than helpful for a young offender’s development and reintegration into society.
Addressing Charles’s delinquency calls for a more proactive, structured approach, emphasizing his familial and community environments’ pivotal roles in shaping his behavior. Establishing programs that fortify familial relationships could offer a stable, supportive backdrop, aiding in molding his actions and perceptions. Simultaneously, initiatives aiming at enhancing Charles’s engagement with the school could deter truancy, providing a sense of purpose and direction that could dissuade him from delinquency. Reinforcing the importance of adhering to curfew through increased monitoring and rapid intervention in instances of truancy could serve as potent preventative measures. In addition, the implementation of community programs that proffer access to positive role models and a variety of extracurricular activities could act as an alternative to the allure of gang involvement, providing healthier, more constructive outlets for his energies and curiosities.
Gaffney, H., Jolliffe, D., & White, H. (2022). Multi-Systemic Therapy.
Lei, M. K., & Beach, S. R. (2020). Can we uncouple neighborhood disadvantage and delinquent behaviors? An experimental test of family resilience guided by the social disorganization theory of delinquent behaviors. Family Process, 59(4), 1801-1817.
Rumjaun, A., & Narod, F. (2020). Social Learning Theory—Albert Bandura. Science education in theory and practice: An introductory guide to learning theory, 85-99.
Thomas A. Jacobs, & Internet Archive. (2003). They broke the law; you be the judge. In Internet Archive. Free Spirit Pub. https://archive.org/details/theybrokelawyoub00jaco