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.