Juvenile Delinquency

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Juvenile Delinquency

Juvenile Delinquency


Juvenile delinquency refers to criminal and other deviant acts committed by children and youths. It encompasses a wide range of criminal activities, from less serious crimes such as drinking and shoplifting, to more serious activities such as burglary and rape.

Juvenile delinquency also includes non-criminal behaviors that only children and youth can be charged with, such as running away from home, disobeying parents, and skipping school. The concept of juvenile delinquency began to take shape in the United States during the early 19th century in response to rapid industrialization, urbanization, and breakdown of traditional community ties. Juvenile delinquency has been a focus of social control activities and state surveillance (Agnew, 2004).

The juvenile justice system refers to a body of courts, laws, and social institutions designed to protect and treat exclusively juvenile delinquents, separate from the adult justice system. The juvenile justice system and the concept of juvenile delinquency have affected the urban landscape in various ways. Reformers and social scientists have often found the causes of juvenile delinquency in the peculiar economic, social, and cultural conditions of cities, and they have established social policies and institutions to control behavior of youths in the cities (Agnew, 2004).


The nature and extent of juvenile delinquency in the United States is elusive for several reasons. First, measuring crime in the United States—let alone juvenile crime—presents unique problems. Second, the juvenile justice system is decentralized, with each jurisdiction maintaining separate records and collecting information differently.

Third, for the most part, record keeping in juvenile justice is still subject to confidentiality and sealing restrictions in many locations. Therefore, accurate records concerning juveniles who commit delinquent acts are difficult, if not impossible, to come by (Bilchik, 1997). Finally, and perhaps most important, there are a multitude of options available for juveniles who come into contact with the system. The number of placements, diversionary programs, and facilities is innumerable. As a result, the true picture and extent of juvenile delinquency is subject to debate and interpretation.

Despite these shortcomings, various mechanisms are in place to measure juvenile delinquency. Each method has strengths and weaknesses, and each presents different issues in both measurement and interpretation. Policymakers and researchers use juvenile crime measurements to develop laws, theories, and a variety of programs and initiatives within the juvenile justice system. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how we measure juvenile crime and what the measurements tell us about the nature and extent of juvenile delinquency (Bilchik, 1997).

Measuring the Extent of Juvenile Crime

Questions of how much juvenile crime exists are often answered through three main methods of gathering statistics about crime: official records, victimization surveys, and self-report surveys. Each method has strengths and weaknesses, each method collects data differently, and each method typically results in different estimates of how much juvenile crime there is. Consequently, anyone wishing to interpret crime data should first determine how it was collected (Bilchik, 1997). The methods discussed in the following sections are used to measure the extent of juvenile crime and provide ...
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