Theory and History of Juvenile Delinquency

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Lindsey (1903) argued Trouble is, kids feel they have to chock their elders and each generation grows up into something harder to shock. Lindsey became known for the creation of the Juvenile Improvement Association, which consisted of collecting data, assembling meetings, and reporting the needs of underprivileged children. In addition, he began the Juvenile Athletic Association, where boys from the ages 10-16 had the opportunity to engage in physical activities with the guidance of court officers in place. his paper is therefor, designed to analyze the relationship between social forces, economical forces and the nature of delinquency. In order to achieve this goal this paper will: 1. Provide a background on ethnomethodology and juvenile lifestyle, 2. Utilize conflict theory, 3. Provide data that shows patterns of juvenile crimes, 4. Analyze the data and connect opportunity theory to it.

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History of Juvenile Delinquency

Back in the 18th and 19th century, courts would incarcerate juveniles in penitentiaries and jails. Considering that in that time there were few options on where to send juvenile criminals, many times youths of all ages would get locked up with adults charged with severe crimes and that were mentally ill. Due to this these institutions were usually overcrowded. Simultaneously, American cities were encountering high rates of child poverty and did not find it imperative to pressure city leaders to find a solution to this social problem. This is when Thomas Eddy and John Griscom established the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism. They proposed a House of Refuge that pioneered the concept of juvenile reformatories. Their effort led to the formation of the New York House of Refuge in 1825, the first institution designed to house poor, destitute and vagrant youth who were deemed by authorities to be on the path towards delinquency. Their work didn’t just stop there. By the 1840s more than 25 institutions were build around the country.

For the first half of the 19th century Houses of Refuge was where the poor and delinquent youths had a place to settle. But soon enough they were faced with overcrowding, staff abuse, and bad conditions. Today, reform schools are typically called youth correctional institutions and continue to follow a classic congregate institutional model – concentrating large number of youth in highly regimented, penitentiary-like institutions. By the middle 19th century, following the creation of houses of refuge, new innovations such as cottage institutions, out-of-home placement, and probation were introduced. These new approaches were typically the result of enterprising social reformers who sought new and better ways to address the problem of wayward youth. By the middle 19th century, following the creation of houses of refuge, new innovations such as cottage institutions, out-of-home placement, and probation were introduced.

These new approaches were typically the result of enterprising social reformers who sought new and better ways to address the problem of wayward youth. By the late 1980s juvenile crime was on the rise and the system had to become more rigid with their system. They started to implicate punitive laws, mandatory sentences and automatic adult transfers for certain crimes. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, states such as California were instituting the most sweeping reforms in the history of the juvenile justice system.

Ethnomethodology Theory

Ethnomethodology is an approach within sociology that focuses on the way people, as rational actors, make sense of their everyday world by employing practical reasoning rather than formal logic. Ethnomethodologist argue that in order to understand the actor’s conception of objects and events, the sociologist must examine the routine, practical activities of everyday life. Ethnomethodologists have looked at juvenile justice in America [Cicourel, 1976]. He found that individuals were stopped and interrogated. But anyone from parts of the inner city who came from low-income backgrounds were automatically seen as suspicious and labelled a ‘typical delinquent’ – the key here being their language and appearance. He also researched that parents have a high rate to successfully negotiate with the police and the courts to acquire a better outcome. Cicourel concluded that such behavior highlighted how the meanings held by agents of social control led to some individuals being defined as deviant while others were not even if they were arrested for similar offences.

Lifestyle mid-range theory

This theory purports that individuals are targeted based on their lifestyle choices, and that these lifestyle choices expose them to criminal offenders, and situations in which crimes may be committed. Some examples of this are going out alone at night, drinking too much, doing drugs, living in the bad parts of town. These are all factors that tie into a juvenile delinquent. Usually when you are young you want to act like an adult already and go behind your parents back to do things you aren’t supposed to. For instance, getting a fake ID to enter somewhere that is 21 and up. Let’s say you are a female and go out alone you are putting yourself at risk for any older male to lure you in. In addition to this you don’t want to lose the experience so you drink all you can and pass your limit, now you don’t have full control of yourself.

Conflict Theory

In conflict theory, deviant behaviors are actions that do not comply with social institutions. The institution’s ability to change norms, wealth, or status comes into conflict with the individual. The legal rights of poor folks might be ignored, while the middle-class side with the elites rather than the poor. Conflict theory is based upon the view that the fundamental causes of crime are the social and economic forces operating within society.

Hirschi (1969) has argued that the absence of control is all that really is required to explain much delinquent behavior. Some other examples of control are: the attachment one has to family, friends, and school; different types of values and beliefs and the involvement in school and activities. Hirschi argues that any delinquent behavior correlates to the existence of all these controls human beings have. As these controls accumulate over a certain period of time so does conformity. The conflict theory explains that the more a human being is involved they will have a greater bond to society. Hirschi’s point is that no special strain between goals and means is necessarily required to produce delinquent behavior; all that is required is the elimination of the constraining elements of the social bond.

Data of Juvenile Drug Abuse Arrests

Drug abuse violation arrest rates fell for all race groups between 2007 and 2016: down 59% for blacks, 43% for whites, 13% for American Indians, and 36% for Asians. Both of these figures show the arrest trends of different races throughout the years. From the data presented it shows that Blacks is the race which has had the highest arrest rates. This is because in the United States populations Blacks only make up 13%. They are viewed as a minority and tend to be targeted by law enforcement due to other factors.

Opportunity Theory

The opportunities juveniles have available to them determine in many ways if they will turn to delinquency or conform to more legitimate paths. Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin were 2 criminologists that responded to the question of why juveniles become delinquents. According to Cloward and Ohlin juveniles turn to delinquency when they have been denied the access to legitimate paths. For instance, a juvenile has a job that isn’t paying him/her the sufficient amount of money needed to be middle class status so they turn to delinquency with the mentality of having a better life. This lack of money causes struggle and when people have that negative feeling that they are struggling they are compelled to commit crime more than others. In education, a juvenile could be doing very well yet if in their job they feel a sense of alienation. Due to them having legitimate opportunities blocked.

Why it all matters?

Juvenile Delinquency is important because it provides us with theories and studies that explains and helps us understand the motives of juveniles. Understanding these theories and how they tie in with juvenile delinquency will lead us in the direction to be able to help those that undergo crimes. It’s also important to understand the social construction of teenagers because it provides researchers with a starting basis and an understanding of how they function, how to treat them and how to punish them. Without taking the time to understand our youth, the juvenile population is at risk for going downhill. There has to be someone with knowledge to provide assistance for those who need it.

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Theory and History of Juvenile Delinquency. (2019, Dec 12). Retrieved August 19, 2022 , from
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