Law Enforcement and the Youthful Offender


      Law Enforcement and The Youthful Offender

             Juvenile delinquency is not a new invention; it is old as
time. Socrates is alleged to have observe: ”The children now love
luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show
disrespect for elders love chatter in place of exercise. They no longer
rise when their elders enter the room. They contradict their parents.
Chatter before company. Gobble up dainties at the table, and tyrannize
over their teachers.”
             History also suggest that the separation of juvenile and
adult offenders dates back almost 2500 years, as early as fifth century
B.C. under Roman Law. The Twelve Tables of Roman Law, for example, made
the theft of crops, when perpetrated at night a capital crime. An
offender under the age of puberty, however, was usually fined and, on
some occasions, flogged. Thus, as far back as 451 B.C., juvenile crimes
existed. Although juvenile delinquency has a long history, youthful
crime is now so alarming in extent and kind that we must modify our
approach to juvenile offenders.
             Just how serious is the problem.
             In the last ten years, crime in the United States has
increased four times faster than the national population! The problem
is much more chilling when one refers to statistics relating to
juvenile crime. More crimes are now committed by children under fifteen
– by our more precious asset, the youth of the United States – than by
over twenty five! Reports from the National Council on Crime and
Delinquency and from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show a
staggering upsurge in the number of juveniles arrested foe serious
             So and what is juvenile delinquency? Juvenile delinquency
means different things to different people. To some, a juvenile
delinquent is a boy or girl arrested for a law violation. To others, a
single appearance in juvenile court identifies the delinquent. To many,
the term covers a variety of antisocial behaviors that offends them,
whether or not the law is violated.  Juvenile delinquency is a blanket
term that obscures rather than clarifies our understanding of human
behavior. It describes a large variety of youths in trouble or  on  the
verge of trouble. The delinquent may be anything from a normal
mischievous youngster to a youth that is involved in a law violation by
accidents. Or he may be a vicious assaultive person who is habitual
offender and is recipient of some gratification from his conduct. As a
blanket term, delinquency is like the concept of illness. A person
maybe ill and have polio or measles. The illness is different, the
cause is different, and the treatment is different. The same is true of
delinquency. Like illness, delinquency describes many problems that
develop from varied causes and require different kinds of treatment. So
legally speaking, then, a juvenile delinquent is a child (age defined
by statue) who commits any act that would constitute a crime if done by
an adult and who is adjudicated as such by an appropriate court.
      The police concept classifies the delinquent as the statistical
delinquent and personality-disordered delinquent. The statistical
delinquent is a youngster who is involved in a delinquent act through
impulsiveness or immaturity. As an example, he is involved in an
automobile theft without, at that time, realizing the consequence of
his actions. Such actions usually occur “on the spur of the moment”
while the individual is involved with other youngsters. This youngster
is not a recidivist and responds to agency services provided. However
he is a “statistic” because this impulsive delinquent act is reported
by the arresting agency and, in some cases, in a subsequent referral to
the juvenile court.
      On the other hand, the personality-disordered delinquent is the
youth who is often involved in a series of antisocial acts that
necessitates, in most instances, a referral to the juvenile court and,
in most cases, custodial care or some type of official help.
      So attempting to define a delinquent is extremely difficult.
Juvenile delinquency is not a simple term. It is very elusive and means
many different things to different individuals, and it means many
different things to different groups. When using the term ‘juvenile
delinquency’ properly, one realizes that almost everything a youngster
does that does not meet with the approval of individuals or groups may
be referred to as a delinquent act. For purposes of research,
evaluation, or statistical records, such popular usage is not
      There are ambiguities and variations in definitions of delinquency
in the United States. Many of the states do not agree on the
description of a juvenile delinquent. Statutory language is extremely
broad and covers virtually any form of antisocial conduct by juveniles.
In virtually all states, moral judgements of the community are an
important ingredient in defining a delinquent. Many children may be
tried for not only violations of sate statues or municipal ordinances
but also for ‘ noncriminal behavior’ such as incorrigibility, truancy,
and the use of obscene language. This are crimes which, if committed by
an adult, would result neither in arrest nor court appearance. Age
limitations here are a major problem because the states set various and
arbitrary upper-age limits on behavior deemed to be delinquent.
      Delinquency is often the result of a combination of factors, some
of which may be founded in environment of the child and others within
the child himself.
      So before turning to the various theories of delinquency causation
that are discussed before, it is important to point out the correlative
factors of delinquency. Correlative factors relative not only to the
physical contexts of delinquency, but to the social-psychological
climates closely associated with delinquency.
      The correlatives of delinquency are: age, sex, poverty, and social
class membership, primary group and schools.
      And now I’d like to tell about this factors more closely. So the
first is age factor. If the causal roots of delinquency are debatable,
there can be no argument about the age factor. No matter what the
category of time or delinquency statistics – and they are both highly
variable and both open to serious question – one striking trend appears
again and again: there is an ever higher proportion of offenders among
those of young age. The statistics do seem to justify the following
sets of conclusions: (1) the crime rate is highest during or shortly
before adolescence. (2) The age of maximum criminally varies with the
type of the crime (the age group of fifteen to nineteen years has the
highest official rate for theft auto; the age group twenty to twenty-
four has the highest official rate of robbery, forgery and rape; and
the age group thirty-five to thirty-nine has the highest rate for
gambling and violation of narcotic drug laws). (3) The age of first
delinquency and the type of crime typically committed at various age
varies from the area to area in cities, the age of first criminality is
low in areas of high rather than low delinquency (boys aged ten to
twelve commit robberies in some areas of large cities, while the boys
of the same age commit only petty thefts in less delinquent areas). And
(4) The age of maximum general criminality for most specific offences
is higher for females than for males. This trend is growing in many
states and the importance of early rehabilitative procedures before the
individual is remanded to adult penal custody is gaining wide support.
Individualized treatment can best be accomplished, it is being
recognized, when individual is still young.
      The second is sex factor. Boys are apprehended for offences
approximately 3.5 times more frequently than are girls. The underlying
reasons are not difficult to locate. It is because of role-behavior
difference and status distinctions accorded to adolescence in the
American culture, the society expects girls to act differently tan
boys, and surrounds their behavior with restrictions that act as
barriers to delinquent activity. Delinquency among boys is induced
largely by opportunities presented by the environment, while among
girls delinquency is due more often to emotional maladjustments and
personal inadequacies.
      The third factor is poverty. Now few of the variables associated
with crime and delinquency have been more misunderstood than that of
poverty. Contrary to early investigations, recent studies  indicate
almost “null” relationship between poverty and delinquency. This does
not mean, however, that conditions of poverty no longer breed crime and
delinquency. Low economic status is not a direct cause of delinquency.
It is rather one of many variables that more or less automatically “go
together,” (including broken families, suicide, certain types of
psychosis, and alcoholism). But correlations and cause-and-effect
relationships are not necessarily synonymous. We can safely assert,
then, that although poverty and low economic standards are concomitant
with delinquency, they are not indispensable characteristics. To be
“poor but hones” is, in fact, the rule than the exception.
      The forth factor is social-class membership: middle-class and
lower-class delinquency. Despite the professed democratic idea of a
“classless” society, a realistic appraisal of the contemporary social-
economic map dictates an irrefutable fact: Americans are stratified
into hierarchical system of power, prestige, and value-oriented
groupings. Awareness of social stratification groupings is unnecessary
so long as people’s life styles, values, ideals, motivations, and
social intercourse are limited to sets of clique of like-minded,
similarly oriented people. American lower-class and middle-class
subcultures differ from one another at highly significant  points. But
the most crucial differences, in terms of delinquency, relate to the
vastly different child–rearing techniques and social values instilled
in children by the two classes. At the risk of generalizing, it can be
asserted that where the middle class typically stresses parent/children
relationship geared to love and dependence through late adolescence,
the lower class tend to give their children physical and psychological
freedom well before the adolescence years. It is far from surprising,
then, that delinquency finds far more fertile ground in the lower class
sectors of the typical city – and particularly in those that are
situated in slum areas. Bearing in mind what we have already observed
about the adolescent rejection of parental values and need for peer-
group identification, we can readily see the intense grip that the gang
– delinquent or “legitimate” – holds on the lower class adolescent’s
loyalties. More frequently - almost typically, in fact – the middle
class delinquent is a diametric counterpart of the lower class
delinquent. Where the lower class delinquent is smoothly socialized and
well-liked by hi peers, the former middle-class delinquent is often
seriously maladjusted ant at odds  with his fellow adolescents.
      So as one can see, the juvenile justice system has many segments.
Police, courts, correctional institutes, and aftercare services (the
correctional process that deals with the juvenile after
institutionalization has taken place is referred to as aftercare
services). The interrelationship between various segments of the system
is, apparently, the most significant problem in the juvenile justice
system. In other words, the system is no more systematic than the
relationship between police and court, court and probation, probation
and correctional institutes, correctional institutes and aftercare
services. In the absence of functional relationship between segments,
the juvenile justice system is vulnerable to fragmentation and
      As previously noted, delinquency is a phenomena as old as history
and as complex as nuclear physics. Its causes are multiply, and the
emphasis shifts with the changes in society. Nor are all delinquents
cast from the same mold – they are individual human beings with all
their differences. Because there are so many possible causes of
delinquency, a wide variety of factors tend to be held responsible –
separately or in combination. The individual himself, his family, his
neighbors, his school, his church, his place of residence, his
government – an endless list which is, thus, the reason for ambiguities
in theories. The result: everyone is responsible for delinquency and,
of course, when everyone is responsible for something, no one really
is. Traditionally, all efforts in prevention have been aimed toward
containing and repressing incipient delinquents through law enforcement
agencies. In recent years, there have been strong efforts to improve
rehabilitative processes for already identified delinquents so that the
amount of recidivism might be reduced. So the way to solve the
delinquency problem is to prevent boys and girls from becoming
delinquents in the first place. Society is not solving that problem
because the emphasis is not placed on that all-important job:
prevention. Moreover, it appears that society is blocked by a
psychological wall of fallacies which keep everyone busy with
impractical plans that are doomed to fail right from the start. The
correctional program in the United States seems to be content with
treating individual delinquents after they have already committed
delinquent acts, while such programs overlook most entirely the factors
that contribute to delinquency. Society must find a way to correct the
faulty home and environment before child becomes a police case. It is
both unfair and impractical to rely upon a few private a agencies to do
this large-scale, complex public job.
      The primary responsibility of law enforcement is the control and
prevention of crime and delinquency  through the enforcement of laws
that are necessary for the good order of society. Since many criminal
are committed by minors under the age of eighteen years, a large
proportion of police works involves the detection, investigation,
apprehension, and referral of these juveniles. In addition, law
enforcement agencies are concerned with minors who come to their
attention for noncriminal reasons. The initial handing of neglected
children, for example, is often a police matter; and police officers
also have the responsibility of dealing with runaway, incorrigible, and
wayward youngsters.
      In almost every aspect of their work with juveniles, the police
must have contact with at least one other agency in the community. It
must be recognized that the police services are only a part of the
total community effort to promote the welfare of children and young
people. For police services to be made more effective, then, they must
be planned in relationship to the overall community program as well as
to the services offered by individual agencies.   Although police
officers, and particularly special juvenile officers, should be
familiar with the contribution and operation of all agencies in the
community (an up-to-date directory of agencies can be of great value),
it is clear that the major part of their work with children will
involve contact with only a limited number of agencies. This contact
should normally be close and continuous and, therefore, the
relationship should be based on a clear understanding and amicable
acceptance of the role of each of the participants. But in conclusion I
want to say that there is often a lack of communication between the
police and other young serving agencies in the community resulting in
mutual criticism and feelings of hostility. Police sometimes say such
agencies fail to advise them of action taken concerning juveniles
brought to their attention. Agency personnel, on the other hand, often
attribute the hostility and bad behavior of the juveniles turned over
to them by the police to the unsympathetic “treatment” given them by
the police. Social agencies personnel, including probation officers and
even some judges, see only effective treatment. On the other side,
some police see such agency personnel as unrealistically soft and
permissive even to the extent of being “played for suckers” by cunning,
worldly wise “young punks.” Feelings such as these on both sides are
certainly not conducive to effective communication to say nothing of
real cooperation.