Juvenile Delinquency in the United States

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In the United States the juvenile justice system is based largely on a social work approach, in comparison to the adult correctional system, which mainly uses a punitive methodology. The primary objective of the adult correctional system is to penalize criminals for their misconducts, and there is the firm belief that these penalties will discourage other adults from committing crimes, as well as prevent repeat offenses. In comparison, the juvenile correctional system is established on the idea that the reasons for illegal actions by juveniles are primarily psychological, physical, sociological, and biological desires (Fonagy, 2018).

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The prevention of violence refers to actions aimed at preventing the development of violent behaviors that cause harm to others and to avoid the occurrence of these actions (Hamby, Taylor, Mitchell, Turner, & Newlin, 2018). Regulations state that adolescent violence and delinquency prevention programs must be oriented towards rehabilitation and only accept the use of custodial programs in exceptional cases and for a minimum duration. It also establishes that they should focus on the social reinsertion of young people who they feel should not be separated from their families, while utilizing all existing resources such as family, school, community, etc.

Current Problem

When talking about violence and crime, we tend to assimilate and automatically identify these concepts with lack of control, disorder, and aggression. In the same way, it is usually related to young people who present violent, aggressive, deviant or criminal behavior, live in poverty, or have been the victims of parental neglect or violence; reaffirming the stereotype that “”violence breeds violence.”” The phenomenon of youth violence, however, is even more complicated. It is evident that the violent and/or criminal choice does not arise suddenly, nor is it something that is transmitted genetically; although there would be genotypic and phenotypic elements that influence the subject predisposing it to violence and/or delinquency. This leads to aggressive and rebellious behavior of an adolescent in front of the externally established, “”normal.”” Young people who may be abandoned, or were not raised in a nurturing environment may have a negative outlook on life; moreover in the absence of reliable adults or institutions to rely on can result in youths making bad decisions. These bad decisions can include joining gangs to become a part of an unofficial family, which can lead to a life of criminal activities starting at a fairly young age.

Current Trends and Research

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reports that, due to the multi-causal and multifaceted nature of violence, it is necessary to adopt an interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral preventive approach, integrating knowledge and institutions related to the promotion of nonviolence (PAHO, 2018) There is a need to intervene at different levels, ranging from the individual, the physical, social, and even political structures. PAHO adopts the epidemiological approach to prevention, which privileges the combination of multiple strategies aimed at large groups of the population, as interventions are typically more effective when intervening simultaneously on a variety of risk factors. Likewise, it is based on the concept that effectiveness increases when an intervention is carried out in early childhood (Chioda, 2017).

The types of prevention that can be exercised according to PAHO are Primary prevention; whose actions are aimed at avoiding aggressive behavior in the population in general. Secondary prevention; which the main objective is to prevent criminal behaviors from becoming consolidated and become a stable pattern in the subject’s life, which would reduce the prevalence. It is more specific and is intended for high-risk groups. Tertiary prevention; which is aimed at individuals who have already participated in the execution of violent behavior or, on the contrary, who have been victims of them. This type of prevention is equivalent to a treatment or an intervention that is carried out after the young person has had contact with the penal system.

Social Work Theory

In the literature, it is difficult to find definitions and programs exclusively aimed at reducing youth violence, due to the multi-causality of this phenomenon and the crossing of different factors that are not only individual but integrate the social, cultural, economic, contextual, and institutional factors. For this reason, it is believed that the proposal submitted by PAHO on juvenile reduction and prevention, constitutes an essential contribution to this investigation. (McAlister, 2000) suggests that youth violence can be reduced by considering the following approaches: 1) Mold environments to reduce the instances of excessively violent or deadly reactions. 2) Manage environments to reduce the nature of the conflictual situation. 3) Punishment for violence and reward non-violence. 4) Communicate social models to influence psychosocial processes, such as changing attitudes and teaching skills.

The first three approaches demand the creation of policies or programs to change limitations and opportunities in the environment in which the behavior is presented. The fourth only requires communication, through educational and persuasive campaigns aimed at communities, schools, and parents (De Vries, Hoeve, Asscher, & Stams, 2018). Strategies for the prevention of violence according to duration can be classified into long-term and short-term strategies. The long-term strategies aim to address those structural and social risk factors such as inequality, unemployment, education, and prevailing cultural patterns, through messages for the non-violent resolution of conflicts and non-tolerance of violence at all levels, whether, national, regional and local (Soska & Ohmer, 2018). Structural factors fundamentally require a change at the level of society as a whole, and social risk factors through the development of policies that are aimed mainly at groups at high risk of becoming aggressors or victims.

Other programs for prevention include Preschool Education that focuses on children between the ages of 3-8. The primary objective of this prevention is the improvement the cognitive development of children and their school performance by treating disturbing behaviors early. This practice includes monitoring the child’s behavior at home, using praise for appropriate action, systematic sanctions for disruptive behavior and the importance of constructive family negotiation and the resolution of social problems. Multimodal Intervention that involve coordinated work at multiple levels of care (promotion, prevention, treatment). Programs for Parents is an intervention where parents receive education and therapy aimed at improving parenting practices and are trained about the least coercive forms of discipline. For high-risk families, families in crisis, and families in therapy it is suggested to combine interventions for both parents and children. It is also essential to consider interventions to reduce child abuse and mistreatment. School-based Programs for intervention are the most significant achievements are identified in interventions, within schools, that alter the factors of the environment and in pedagogical activities that change attitudes and develop skills (Jung, Herrenkohl, Skinner & Rousson, 2018). Lastly, Community Programs that cover the school, the media, community organizations, and other forums, to change attitudes, develop skills, and promote new policies or changes to existing policies and environments.


Given that one of the most powerful predictors of adult crime is the presence of behavior problems in childhood and adolescence, there is a need to further understand factors that determine behavior patterns during this developmental stage (Evans, Simons, & Simons 2016). The implementation and execution of programs which, aim not only at prevention but, social reintegration after periods of incarceration are imperative. Lawmakers should more actively consider policies grounded in rehabilitation, and, perhaps, be slower to advocate for punitive reforms in response to public concern over high profile juvenile crimes (Naglin, Piquero, Scott, & Steinberg, 2006). By identifying at-risk youth and implementing interventions early can significantly reduce arrest and/or recidivism. Society as a whole must realize youths of today are the future of tomorrow. Despite the costliness of the proposed interventions, they are needed in order to prevent and reduce instances of juvenile criminal activities. The goal of providing at-risk youths a chance to become successful members of society and offering them the opportunity to have a prosperous future is attainable if interventions are implemented while they are young enough for it to make a positive impact.

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Juvenile Delinquency in the United States. (2020, Mar 18). Retrieved February 5, 2023 , from

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