Juvenile Offenders

The growing level of crime is subject to a vast discussion among police scholars and law enforcement representatives. All states fight to decrease the number of crimes and to develop some effective strategies to prevent them. However, the situation is more complicated with juvenile offenders. Their psychology is different from the adult criminals and as a result people consider that they should be treated by the law enforcement with some specific attitude. This paper considers juvenile criminals and demonstrates that the forms of punishment for this criminal group should differ from the means applied to adult offenders with the perspective to normally socialize the former younger criminals and make them work for the benefit of the state.

 

Some statistical data about juvenile offenders helps to estimate the level of the problem in the USA. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there were approximately 73.8 million youth under the age of 18 in the United States in 2012. U.S. National Institute investigates the roots of the problems and states that 60% of juvenile offenders were exposed to some form of violence at home or at school and the level of juvenile crime rapidly grows in the after-school hours. 8% of juvenile criminals were directly or indirectly involved into violent crimes. From 2010 to 2011 there were 11 homicides committed at schools by the students aged 5 18 years. Thus, this statistical data confirms that the U.S. law enforcement bodies have much work with juvenile offenders.

It is important to determine, what reasons force teenagers to commit crimes. Kirchner writes that psychologists of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco investigated all possible causes of juvenile crimes, namely parental attitudes, pressures and problems at school, violent video games and others, and came to a conclusion that teenage poverty, not teenage biology, is most to blame for teenage crime. The scholars decided that financially secure teenagers act in the same responsible way as middle-aged people do. Kircher immediately offers a solution of the problem and indicates that unemployment rate among teenagers in the USA is more than 17 % and the government has to increase it. At the same time, as the statistical data confirms, not all juvenile offenders are teenagers. Some of them are too small to work. Therefore, they need some other techniques to grow lawful citizens. Poverty can be considered as a powerful incentive for juvenile crimes, but not the only cause of them.

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As it was mentioned above, some other reasons of juvenile crimes are also taken into consideration with the purpose of crime prevention. Fox, Perez, Cass, Baglivio, & Epps write that it is important not to simply analyze the psychological state of a young criminal after the crime, but to develop an effective tool for determining risky factors to prevent the crime. Some time ago the U.S. Department on Juvenile Delinquency started a campaign to research the reasons of juvenile crimes and came to a conclusion, which was opposite with the results of the afore mentioned studies in San Francisco. They determined that chronic violent teenage offenders are disproportionately victims of trauma, abuse, neglect, and maltreatment during childhood. Fox, Perez, Cass, Baglivio, & Epps compared the age, race and living conditions with teenagers with the traumatic influences, which they could have in the childhood and the character of crimes, which these criminals committed and found a direct correlation between these parameters. Therefore, the scholars see many incentives, forcing the teenagers to commit crimes, not just a high level of poverty, and are sure that it is possible to develop and commonly apply some effective tools to work on prevention.

The last aspect of the discussion is what the U.S. government does to prevent juvenile crimes and punish the offenders. U.S. National Institute issues not only some statistical information about young criminals, but also enumerates a number of programs, which are developed for juvenile offenders and for the risky groups. These programs are aimed at helping the youngsters to cope with their aggression, to substitute it by some useful things, to learn more about criminal responsibility and consequences of illegal actions. The government nowadays clearly realizes that preventing a crime is much easier than punishing a youngster after and trying to return him to normal life after he was imprisoned.

In order to see the real picture of what the U.S. government does, it is needed to consider the legislative norms, which work for juvenile offenders. An important component of the U.S. legislation is the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits the use of cruel and unusual punishment.  It is determined that the punishment of a criminal should be proportional with the offense and the Supreme Court followed this principle with the adult offenders. However, the situation with young criminals is more complicated. On the basis of several latest criminal cases, when the death penalty could be considered for juvenile criminals, the court came to a conclusion that juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure, their personalities are not well-formed and mature and this is the reason of why punishments for them should differ from the measures applied to adult offenders. Thus, the U.S. government differentiates the court punishments applied to adults and juveniles.

To continue the discussion about punishing juvenile criminals, it is important to note that the main issue of controversy in this aspect is whether it is needed to imprison the youngsters or to rehabilitate them. Some important steps in the direction of separating the juvenile system of criminal legislation from the adult criminal laws were made by the state of Illinois. The juvenile offenders are subject to the jurisdiction of juvenile courts in this state and only few of them are sent to be sentenced by an adult court. Making decisions in the question of rehabilitation is not an easy task, because the courts has to consider the previous family and criminal history of the offender, the circumstances of the crime and other factors, which can give a young offender a chance for rehabilitation. It is important to facilitate the access of juvenile criminals to rehabilitation services and, if the court makes such a decision, to help him became a normal citizen again by means of different rehabilitation programs, avoiding the imprisonment.

To conclude, it is important to note that the issue of juvenile offenders is important for the USA. Youngsters can commit crimes, which are even crueler that the unlawful actions, which are committed by the adults and should deserve the most serious punishment at first sight. However, it is easy to sentence a young criminal to death penalty or long imprisonment. Nobody can guarantee that such a juvenile is completely guilty for the mistakes of his parents and peers or that he will be able to socialize normally after prison in the second case and will not commit any more crimes. Therefore, juvenile offenders definitely need special rehabilitation measures, which differ from the criminal legislation, functioning for the adults, and the variant of the most severe punishments for them should be considered in some exclusive cases only.

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