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What is Juvenile Delinquency?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Juvenile delinquency is the broad-based term given to juveniles who commit crimes. Juveniles are defined as those people who haven’t reached adulthood or the age of majority. What defines adulthood or the age of majority in a court system may be predetermined by law, especially for minor crimes. Major crimes may force the courts to decide to try a juvenile as an adult, a very important distinction, since sentencing can then mean not just spending adolescence, but a lifetime in prison. Delinquency can be defined as the committing of those things considered crimes by the state, although delinquent can also mean abandoned. Thus juvenile delinquency can cover anything from small crime — a student who cuts school repeatedly is delinquent--to very serious crimes like felony theft and murder.

When a child, anyone under the age of majority, commits a crime, most frequently they are tried and sentenced through a court system separate from that which tries adults. There are also confinement centers, in other words, prisons, specifically designed for children who commit serious crimes. These are often called juvenile detention centers.

It is often within the court’s province in juvenile or family court to determine the degree of risk the juvenile poses to society and the degree of benefit incurred by incarceration. Juvenile court judges may have greater license especially with very young children, to find alternative means of rehabilitating a child and preventing future delinquency. They may recommend court appointed therapy, house arrest, or a variety of measures short of incarceration. In many cases, records of children who commit crimes are expunged when a child reaches eighteen, especially if no other crimes have been committed.

This has advantages and disadvantages. A juvenile who has committed very serious crimes may continue a pattern of criminal behavior of which an adult court is unaware, changing the nature of sentencing in adult court. For others, having been successfully rehabilitated means that they won’t be discriminated against based on a previous arrest, sentencing, or incarceration record.

There are many schools of thought as to the primary factors that contribute to juvenile delinquency. Many of these are tied to nature/nurture arguments. It is certainly the case that children who are neglected, abused or impoverished are statistically more likely to fall into delinquency patterns. Though this may be statistically relevant, it fails to account for the delinquency of those who have good and loving parents, and suitable living circumstances. More frequently, geneticists are refuting the idea that children are a tabula rasa, or blank slate.

Genetic makeup may play a factor in delinquency, but it may only establish a predilection toward behavior, while nurturance or lack thereof may create circumstances necessary to cause the behavior. Furthermore, knowledge of early onset mental illness helps determine suitable rehabilitative efforts for juvenile delinquents. Consideration can be given to a juvenile’s reasonable ability to control his/her own behavior, based on factors like mental illness, drug use, and upbringing. Key to determining the best rehabilitation in juvenile delinquency trials is the attempt to understand why a child was delinquent, and what circumstances contributed to this delinquency.

In many societies, another way to attack the problem of juvenile delinquency is by creating programs that help prevent children from committing crimes. These programs may focus on avoiding drug use or gang involvement, or may focus on early education, therapeutic help for families, help to the impoverished or a variety of other things. With unclear answers on a single cause for juvenile delinquency, these programs may have some success, but probably won’t reach all children who might commit a crime. Society is sometimes horrified by the seemingly random acts of relatively “normal” children that are so heinous they do not bear repeating. Though delinquency prevention is admirable, it isn’t universally successful. Yet preventing some delinquency through intervention and education is better than allowing it to occur.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon342000 — On Jul 16, 2013

What are the advantages to having a psychologist and sociologist involved in juvenile detention centers? What programs and/or treatments are utilized in these facilities? What sort of continuing services are provided once released from the center and how are these coordinated? Do these initial and continuing programs/treatments conclude a recovery?

By nextcorrea — On Dec 15, 2012

I went to a juvenile detention center twice when I was in my teens. I ran with a rough crowd and made some very bad decisions. But I am now 35, own my own business, and have never been in any trouble with the law since I was last in lock up. It just goes to show that a shaky start does not condemn you to a life of crime. You can rise above the mistakes you make when you're young.

By tigers88 — On Dec 14, 2012

Juvenile delinquency, like most crime, is the result of many, many different factors. There is the tendency sometimes to think of it in reductive terms. But children are just as complicated as adults and the causes of delinquency are just as varied.

I mention this only to remind all of us to resist the urge to endorse simple solutions or to pick convenient sources to blame. If we are going to reduce the instance of juvenile delinquency we have to treat it with all the seriousness that the problem deserves.

By anon296483 — On Oct 11, 2012

I am 15 and I have committed juvenile delinquency and now I regret it a lot because I also let my parents down. But now I wonder to myself why I did this because I regret this so, so much. Sometimes when I think about it, it makes me cry. Now I have to face all kinds of punishments from my parents because of the things I have done.

By anon263109 — On Apr 23, 2012

I'm 14 and I have done a juvenile thing and I got a caution but I feel like I let my parents down. I don't know what to do. I think about it all the time and I feel really bad about it. I wish I'd never done it. I'd never committed an offense before and I feel so bad. My parents are not the same now to me. I don't know why I did it. My parents were so good to me and I let them down.

By anon130124 — On Nov 27, 2010

What are the possible things that can be done to prevent juvenile delinquency?

By anon124460 — On Nov 05, 2010

I do believe that holding juveniles is right because I'm 13 myself, but some punishments are just not right, because where still kids and we need to learn from our mistakes. But if what we did was bad, then we deserve it and you know it.

By anon109328 — On Sep 07, 2010

To what extent does nature contribute to crime?

By anon108295 — On Sep 02, 2010

what is the reason why the juveniles are delinquent?

By anon89940 — On Jun 13, 2010

Who wrote the definition of juvenile delinquency at the beginning? i need a source citation

By anon76039 — On Apr 08, 2010

who wrote this article? i need a source citation,

By anon72446 — On Mar 23, 2010

what are the effects of juvenile delinquency in the society?

By anon66910 — On Feb 22, 2010

ill admit i have done juvenile things in my life. im 14 and my parents are divorced. i really don't want to take my anger out on the 3 younger brothers so i do not so smart things with my friends. what should i do?

By anon55687 — On Dec 09, 2009

1. It leads to moral decadency, washing away of children's rights, chronic offenders and death.

2.they commit misdemeanors and felonies, commit them in groups, some are forced by substance abuse and the causes are broken homes, irresponsible schools, criminal parents, conflict in homes, drug abuse and irresponsible parents.

By anon54818 — On Dec 02, 2009

what are the effects of juvenile delinquency on the path of national development?

By anon39752 — On Aug 04, 2009

What is the nature and causes of juvenile deliquency?

By anon39232 — On Jul 31, 2009

causes of juvenile delinquency?

By ilovejonstewart — On Nov 30, 2008

well, anon22211, the article references many causes for juvenile delinquency, including: parenting, mental illness, genetic makeup and poverty. because situations differ from person to person, it's hard to determine exactly *what* in a person's life causes them to go down the wrong path.

By anon22211 — On Nov 30, 2008

explain four causes of juvenile delinquency

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia...
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