Juvenile Justice History

This is an introduction to Juvenile Justice in America. Since the 1990 s, youth crime rates have plummeted. These falling crime rates have led many jurisdictions to rethink the punitive juvenile justice practices that became popular in the 1980 s and 1990 s. Today, states are instituting major systemic reforms designed to reduce institutional confinement, close old 19 th century era reform schools, and expand community-based interventions.

House of Refuge

In the late 18 th and early 19 th century, courts punished and confined youth in jails and penitentiaries. Since few other options existed, youth of all ages and genders were often indiscriminately confined with hardened adult criminals and the mentally ill in large overcrowded and decrepit penal institutions. Many of these youth were confined for noncriminal behavior simply because there were no other options. At the same time, American cities were confronting high rates of child poverty and neglect putting pressure on city leaders to fashion a solution to this emerging social issue. In response, pioneering penal reformers Thomas Eddy and John Griscom, organized the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism, to oppose housing youth in adult jails and prisons and urge the creation of a new type of institution. Their work led to the establishment 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. The New York House of Refuge became the first movement in what was to later become the juvenile justice system. With three years of its opening, similar institutions were opened in Boston and Philadelphia. By the 1840 s, approximately 25 more facilities were constructed throughout the country. Houses of Refuge were large fortress-like congregate style institution located in urban areas for youth designated as abandoned, delinquent or incorrigible. The average number of youth in a house of refuge was 200 , but some, like the New York House of Refuge, housed over 1 , 000  youth.

Reform, Training, or Industrial Schools

For the first half of the 19 th century, Houses of Refuge were the primary institutions confining the increasing number of poor and delinquent youths. Unfortunately, Houses of Refuge quickly confronted the same issues that plagued adult jail and prisons – overcrowding, deteriorating conditions, and staff abuse. In addition, with the emerging public school movement and compulsory education, social reformers began arguing for a new type of institution that placed greater emphasis on education. Through this movement the reform school, also called training and industrial schools, became an indelible part of America’s juvenile justice system. 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.

Preston School of Industry (est.  1894 )

San Francisco Industrial School

One of the best examples of a  19 th century reform school was the San Francisco Industrial School, which established in 1859 . Throughout its turbulent 30 -year history, the Industrial School was the subject of frequent scandals stemming from physical abuse to managerial incompetence. When the facility was finally ordered closed in the 1891 , the city’s judiciary denounced it as a failed system. Watch this film featuring Daniel Macallair, to learn more.

Obtain your copy of The San Francisco Industrial School and the Origins of Juvenile Justice in California: A Glance at the Great Reformation by CJCJ Executive Director Daniel Macallair.

Juvenile Court

Until the late 19 th century, criminal courts tried youth and adults. The 16 th century educational reform movement in England that perceived youth to be different from adults, with less than fully developed moral and cognitive capacities, fueled the movement for juvenile justice reform in America. By the middle 19 th 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.

This collection of institutions and programs were finally brought together with the creation of the juvenile court. First established in 1899  in Cook County, Illinois and then rapidly spread across the country, the juvenile court became the unifying entity that led to a juvenile justice system. Founded on the ancient legal of doctrine parens patriae (the State as Parent) which declared the King to be the guardian of all his subjects, the new court assumed the right to intervene on behalf of youth deemed to be in need of help based on their life circumstances or their delinquent acts. The primary motive of the juvenile court was to provide rehabilitation and protective supervision for youth. The court was intended to be a place where the child would receive individualized attention from a concerned judge. Court hearings were informal and judges exercised broad discretion on how each case was handled. By the 1950 s and 1960 s public concern grew about the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system, because of the disparities in treatment that resulted from the absolute discretion of juvenile court judges. Similarly situated youths could receive vastly different sentences based on the mood, temperament, or personal philosophy of individual judges. In the 1960 s, the Supreme Court made a series of decisions that formalized the juvenile courts and introduce more due process protections such as right to counsel. Formal hearings were required in situations where youth faced transfer to adult court and or a period of long-term institutional confinement.

In the late 1980 s the public perceived that juvenile crime was on the rise and that the system was too lenient. Many states passed punitive laws, including mandatory sentences and automatic adult court transfer for certain crimes. In the 1990 s this tough on crime trend accelerated. Tougher laws made it easier to transfer youth offenders to the criminal justice system. By the mid- 1990 s use of institutional confinement for even minor offenses was growing. Youth correctional facilities across the country were overcrowded and conditions were deplorable . Beginning the in the late 1990 s the drive to increase rates of youth incarceration began to recede. Led by California, many states began reducing the number of youths committed to youth correctional institutions. Borrowing from the lessons learned from the closing of the Massachusetts training schools in the early 1970 s, the efficacy of the congregate institution was now being questioned. By the end of the first decade of the 21 st century, states such as California were instituting the most sweeping reforms in the history of the juvenile justice system.

View CJCJ materials on houses of refuge»

View CJCJ materials on industrial schools »

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National Academies Press: OpenBook

Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice (2001)

Chapter: the juvenile justice system, the juvenile justice system.

A separate juvenile justice system was established in the United States about 100 years ago with the goal of diverting youthful offenders from the destructive punishments of criminal courts and encouraging rehabilitation based on the individual juvenile's needs. This system was to differ from adult or criminal court in a number of ways. It was to focus on the child or adolescent as a person in need of assistance, not on the act that brought him or her before the court. The proceedings were informal, with much discretion left to the juvenile court judge. Because the judge was to act in the best interests of the child, procedural safeguards available to adults, such as the right to an attorney, the right to know the charges brought against one, the right to trial by jury, and the right to confront one's accuser, were thought unnecessary. Juvenile court proceedings were closed to the public and juvenile records were to remain confidential so as not to interfere with the child's or adolescent's ability to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. The very language used in juvenile court underscored these differences. Juveniles are not charged with crimes, but rather with delinquencies; they are not found guilty, but rather are adjudicated delinquent; they are not sent to prison, but to training school or reformatory.

In practice, there was always a tension between social welfare and social control—that is, focusing on the best interests of the individual child versus focusing on punishment, incapacitation, and protecting society from certain offenses. This tension has shifted over time and has varied significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and it remains today.

In response to the increase in violent crime in the 1980s, state legal reforms in juvenile justice, particularly those that deal with serious offenses, have stressed punitiveness, accountability, and a concern for public safety, rejecting traditional concerns for diversion and rehabilitation in favor of a get-tough approach to juvenile crime and punishment. This change in emphasis from a focus on rehabilitating the individual to punishing the act is exemplified by the 17 states that redefined the purpose clause of their juvenile courts to emphasize public safety, certainty of sanctions, and offender accountability (Torbet and Szymanski, 1998). Inherent in this change in focus is the belief that the juvenile justice system is too soft on delinquents, who are thought to be potentially as much a threat to public safety as their adult criminal counterparts.

It is important to remember that the United States has at least 51 different juvenile justice systems, not one. Each state and the District of Columbia has its own laws that govern its juvenile justice system. How juvenile courts operate may vary from county to county and municipality to municipality within a state. The federal government has jurisdiction over a small number of juveniles, such as those who commit crimes on Indian reservations or in national parks, and it has its own laws to govern juveniles within its system. States that receive money under the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act must meet certain requirements, such as not housing juveniles with adults in detention or incarceration facilities, but it is state law that governs the structure of juvenile courts and juvenile corrections facilities. When this report refers to the juvenile justice system, it is referring to a generic framework that is more or less representative of what happens in any given state.

Legal reforms and policy changes that have taken place under the get-tough rubric include more aggressive policing of juveniles, making it easier (or in some cases mandatory) to treat a juvenile who has committed certain offenses as an adult, moving decision making about where to try a juvenile from the judge to the prosecutor or the state legislature, changing sentencing options, and opening juvenile proceedings and records.

Changes in laws do not necessarily translate into changes in practice. In addition to the belief that at least some juvenile offenders are amenable to treatment and rehabilitation, other factors limit overreliance on get-tough measures: (1) the expense of incarceration, (2) overcrowding that results from sentencing offenders more harshly, and (3) research evidence that finds few gains, in terms of reduced rates of recidivism, from simply incapacitating youth without any attention to treatment or rehabilitation (Beck and Shipley, 1987; Byrne and Kelly, 1989; Hagan, 1991; National Research Council, 1993a; National Research Council, 1993b; Shannon et al., 1988). Practice may also move in ways not envisioned when laws are passed. For example, many jurisdictions have been experimenting with

alternative models of juvenile justice, such as the restorative justice model. Whereas the traditional juvenile justice model focuses attention on offender rehabilitation and the current get-tough changes focus on offense punishment, the restorative model focuses on balancing the needs of victims, offenders, and communities (Bazemore and Umbreit, 1995).

Tracking changes in practice is difficult, not only because of the differences in structure of the juvenile justice system among the states, but also because the information collected about case processing and about incarcerated juveniles differs from state to state, and because there are few national data. Some states collect and publish a large amount of data on various aspects of the juvenile justice system, but for most states the data are not readily available. Although data are collected nationally on juvenile court case processing, 1 the courts are not required to submit data, so that national juvenile court statistics are derived from courts that cover only about two-thirds of the entire juvenile population (Stahl et al., 1999). Furthermore, there are no published national data on the number of juveniles convicted by offense, the number incarcerated by offense, sentence length, time served in confinement, or time served on parole (Langan and Farrington, 1998). 2 Such national information is available on adults incarcerated in prisons and jails.

The center of the juvenile justice system is the juvenile or family court (Moore and Wakeling, 1997). In fact, the term juvenile justice is often used synonymously with the juvenile court, but it also may refer to other affiliated institutions in addition to the court, including the police, prosecuting and defense attorneys, probation, juvenile detention centers, and juvenile correctional facilities (Rosenheim, 1983). In this chapter, juvenile justice is used in the latter, larger sense.

After providing a brief historical background of the juvenile court and a description of stages in the juvenile justice system, we examine the various legal and policy changes that have taken place in recent years, the impact those changes have had on practice, and the result of the laws, policy, and practice on juveniles caught up in the juvenile justice system.

Throughout the chapter, differences by race and by gender in involvement in the juvenile justice system are noted. Chapter 6 examines in more detail the overrepresentation of minorities in the juvenile justice system.


Until the early 19th century in the United States, children as young as 7 years old could be tried in criminal court and, if convicted, sentenced to prison or even to death. Children under the age of 7 were presumed to be unable to form criminal intent and were therefore exempt from punishment. The establishment of special courts and incarceration facilities for juveniles was part of Progressive Era reforms, along with kindergarten, child labor laws, mandatory education, school lunches, and vocational education, that were aimed at enhancing optimal child development in the industrial city (Schlossman, 1983). Reformers believed that treating children and adolescents as adult criminals was unnecessarily harsh and resulted in their corruption. In the words of one reformer, the main reason for the establishment of the juvenile court was “to prevent children from being treated as criminals ” (Van Waters, 1927:217). Based on the premise that children and young adolescents are developmentally different from adults and are therefore more amenable to rehabilitation, and that they are not criminally responsible for their actions, children and adolescents brought before the court were assumed to require the court's intervention and guidance, rather than solely punishment. They were not to be accused of specific crimes. The reason a juvenile came before the court—be it for committing an offense or because of abuse or neglect by his or her parents or for being uncontrollable—was less important than understanding the child's life situation and finding appropriate, individualized rehabilitative services (Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 1998; Schlossman, 1983). Historians have noted that the establishment of the juvenile court not only diverted youngsters from the criminal court, but also expanded the net of social control over juveniles through the incorporation of status jurisdiction into states' juvenile codes (e.g., Platt, 1977; Schlossman, 1977).

The first juvenile court in the United States, authorized by the Illinois Juvenile Court Act of 1899, was founded in 1899 in Chicago. The act gave the court jurisdiction over neglected, dependent, and delinquent children under age 16. The focus of the court was rehabilitation rather than punishment. Records of the court were to be confidential to minimize stigma. The act required separation of juveniles from adults when incarcerated and barred the detention of children under age 12 in jails. The act also provided for informality in procedures within the court. The idea of the juvenile court spread rapidly. By 1925, a functioning juvenile court existed in every state except Maine and Wyoming (Schlossman, 1983).

How well the juvenile courts around the country lived up to the founders ' aspirations is difficult to ascertain. They succeeded in diverting most children and adolescents from the criminal system, but they may

have been less successful with their rehabilitative goals. Schlossman (1983:965) noted that the following broad generalizations could be made of early 20th century juvenile courts:

First, the clientele was overwhelmingly from the lower class and of immigrant parents. Second, boys and girls appeared in court for different reasons, and the courts disposed of their cases differently. The majority of girls, as compared to a very small proportion of boys, were charged under the loose heading of “immorality;” however, higher percentages of girls than boys were sent to reformatories, whereas lower percentages were placed on probation. Third, referral to court by agents other than the police, especially parents, relatives, and neighbors, was a far more common practice than it is today. Fourth, juvenile courts, particularly the probation staffs, often dealt with nearly as many cases “unofficially” (without court appearance) as officially. This placed added burdens on already large case loads and widened the net of the court to embrace every conceivable form of nonconventional behavior.

A case study of the Milwaukee juvenile court in the early 20th century (Schlossman, 1977) found that probation officers had over 200 cases, far too many for the individualized services envisioned by the Progressive Era reformers. The detention center lacked any serious diagnostic function and was sometimes used punitively. The court hearings, rather than relying on “empathy, trust, and a spirit of rapprochement” (Schlossman, 1983:966) as called for by Denver's Judge Ben Lindsey, resorted to “fear, threats, and short-term detention to render children malleable” (Schlossman, 1983:966).

As early as the 1910s, criticisms of the juvenile court's fairness and effectiveness began to be heard. One set of critics called into question the court's informality, charging that it resulted in discrimination and lack of attention to due process. Furthermore, the court treated children who had committed no crime the same as those who had committed a criminal act. Unlike adults, juveniles could be detained and incarcerated without a trial, a lawyer, or even being made aware of the charges against them. Another set of critics charged the court with being too lenient on young offenders. These same criticisms continue today (Dawson, 1990; Feld, 1997).

Three Supreme Court decisions in the second half of the 20th century resulted in more procedural formality in the juvenile court, but other decisions maintained differences between juvenile and criminal courts. In 1966, in Kent v. the United States, the Court concluded that Morris Kent was denied due process rights when his case was transferred to criminal court without a hearing and without giving his attorney access to the social information on which the juvenile court judge based his decision.

The Court held that juveniles had the right to a hearing on the issue of transfer to adult court, that there must be the right to meaningful counsel, that counsel must be given access to the social records considered by the juvenile court, and that the juvenile court must provide a statement of its reasons for transfer with any waiver order. Justice Abe Fortas also called into question the fundamental fairness of the juvenile court:

While there can be no doubt of the original laudable purpose of juvenile courts, studies and critiques in recent years raise serious questions as to whether actual performance measures well enough against theoretical purpose to make tolerable the immunity of the process from the reach of constitutional guaranties applicable to adults. . . . There is evidence, in fact, that there may be grounds for concern that the child receives the worst of both worlds: that he gets neither the protections accorded to adults nor the solicitous care and regenerative treatment postulated for children ( Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541, 555-556).

A year later, the decision of in re Gault (387 U.S. 1, 1967) extended the procedural safeguards required in juvenile court even further, giving juveniles many rights similar to those of adults charged with a crime. Fifteen-year-old Gerald Gault was sentenced to a state reformatory for an indeterminate period that could last until his 21st birthday for making an obscene phone call. The maximum sentence for an adult would have been a $50 fine or 2 months in jail. The case embodied nearly every procedural irregularity distinctive of juvenile courts: Gault was detained by the police and held overnight without his parents being notified; he was required to appear at a juvenile court hearing the following day; a probation officer filed a pro forma petition alleging Gault was a delinquent minor in need of care and custody of the court; no witnesses were called; there was no sworn testimony or written record of the court proceedings; and Gault was not advised of his right to remain silent or to have an attorney. The Gault decision entitled juveniles to receive notice of charges against them, to have legal counsel, to confront and cross-examine witnesses, to be protected against self-incrimination, to receive a transcript of the court hearing, and to appeal the judge's decision.

In 1970, the Supreme Court raised the standard of proof necessary in juvenile court to that required in adult criminal court. In in re Winship (397 U.S. 358), the Court required that juveniles charged with criminal acts be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt” to have committed them. Prior to this ruling, there was no constitutional decision that required more than the less stringent civil court standard of a “preponderance of the evidence.”

Protection from double jeopardy was extended to juveniles by the Supreme Court in 1975. In Breed v. Jones (421 U.S. 519), the Court held that

the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits states from trying a person as a juvenile and later as an adult for the same crime. In so doing, the Court recognized juvenile court proceedings as criminal proceedings, not social welfare ones (Feld, 1999). Nevertheless, the Court did not grant full criminal procedural entitlements to juveniles. In McKeiver v. Pennsylvania (403 U.S. 528 [1971]), the Court held that juveniles were not entitled to a trial by jury, arguing that the juvenile court proceeding was not the fully adversarial process found in criminal courts. Some critics of the juvenile court argue that, given the punitive changes in juvenile justice legislation since the 1971 decision, the only remaining procedural differences between juvenile and adult criminal courts are access to juries and access to counsel (Feld, 1993). The lack of access to juries may have consequences for the outcome of a trial because judges and juries may decide cases differently. There is some evidence that juvenile court judges may be more likely than juries to convict. For example, a study by Greenwood et al. (1983) of juvenile justice administration in California compared the conviction rates of similar types of cases in juvenile and adult courts, concluding that it “is easier to win a conviction in the juvenile court than in the criminal court, with comparable types of cases” (Greenwood et al., 1983:30-31 cited in Feld, 1999). Furthermore, judges try hundreds of cases every year and consequently may evaluate facts more casually and less meticulously than jurors who focus on only one case. Judges may have preconceptions of the credibility of police and probation officers and of the juvenile in question. In contrast, jurors hear only a few cases and undergo careful procedures to test bias for each case. Also, judges are not required to discuss the law and evidence pertinent to a case with a group before making a decision, and they are often exposed to evidence that would be considered inadmissible in a jury trial (Feld, 1993, 1999).

From their inception, juvenile courts had authority not only over children and adolescents who committed illegal acts, but also over those who defied parental authority or social conventions by such acts as running away from home, skipping school, drinking alcohol in public, or engaging in sexual behavior. These children and adolescents were deemed to be out of control and in need of guidance. Criticism of treating these status offenders (whose acts were considered problematic only because of their status as children) the same as children and adolescents who had committed criminal acts grew during the 1960s. The juvenile courts also had jurisdiction over abused and neglected children who had committed no offense. In the 1960s, many states revised their delinquency laws to move status offenders and nonoffenders into new nondelinquent categories, such as Persons, Children, or Minors in Need of Supervision (referred to as PINS, CHINS, and MINS). In 1974, in response to reported abuses in

the nation's training and reform schools and the high numbers of juveniles being held in adult facilities, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (42 U.S.C. §§5601-5640), creating a federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention within the Department of Justice. The Act provided federal leadership in the reform of the treatment of status offenses and nonoffenders. It required states that received federal formula grants to remove noncriminal status offenders and nonoffenders (e.g., abused and neglected children) from secure detention and correctional facilities. The provisions for the deinstitutionalization of status offenders led to a decrease in the numbers of status offenders held in detention facilities and institutions by the early 1980s (Krisberg and Schwartz, 1983; National Research Council, 1982; Schneider, 1984a). Schneider (1984b), however, found that some children and adolescents who, prior to the move to deinstitutionalize status offenders, would have been charged with a status offense, were subsequently being charged with minor delinquent offenses (e.g., theft rather than running away). Therefore, Schneider asserted, they were still coming to the court at the same rate, but as delinquents rather than status cases. Amendments to the 1974 act in 1980 weakened the deinstitutionalization mandate somewhat by allowing detention and incarceration of noncriminal juveniles for violating a valid court order. Status offenders who did not comply with treatment ordered by the court could become criminal delinquents by virtue of being charged with criminal contempt of court.

Young people who might formerly have been processed through the juvenile justice system for status offenses may now be institutionalized in other facilities, such as private mental health and drug and alcohol treatment facilities. Very little is known about the number of youngsters confined to such institutions, the length of their institutionalization, or the conditions of their confinement.

Concern over housing juveniles with adult criminals led to other requirements under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. Sight and sound separation of juveniles and adults in detention and correctional facilities and removal of juveniles from adult jails and lockups were mandated. In 1988, the act was amended to require states to address disproportionate confinement of minority juveniles.

At the same time the federal agenda and the voices of reformers were calling for deinstitutionalization procedures and more prevention, the states seemed to be moving in the opposite direction (Schwartz, 1989). Between 1978 and 1981, lawmakers in nearly half the states enacted some form of tougher legislation with regard to handling serious and chronic juvenile offenders. In a handful of states, provisions included making it easier to prosecute juveniles in adult court by lowering the age of judicial waiver (three states); excluding certain offenses from juvenile court juris-

diction (four states); and enacting mandatory minimums or sentencing guidelines for juveniles (three states). The impact of these reforms was an increase in the detention rate on any given day by more than 50 percent between 1977 and 1985.

In response to public concern over crime, in particular violent crime, committed by children and adolescents, almost all states now have made these kinds of changes to the laws governing their juvenile justice systems since the early 1990s. These changes are described following a description of the current juvenile justice system processes.


Juvenile justice systems vary greatly by jurisdiction. The organization of courts, case processing procedures, and juvenile corrections facilities are determined by state law. Most juvenile courts have jurisdiction over criminal delinquency, abuse and neglect, and status offense delinquency cases. Criminal delinquency cases are those in which a child has committed an act that would be a crime if committed by an adult. Status offense delinquency cases are acts that would be legal for an adult, but are not allowed for juveniles, such as truancy, running away, incorrigibility (i.e., habitually disobeying reasonable and lawful commands of a parent, guardian, or custodian; also referred to in various statutes as unruly, uncontrollable, or ungovernable), or curfew violations. Some courts also have responsibility for other types of cases involving children, such as dependency, termination of parental rights, juvenile traffic cases, adoption, child support, emancipation, and consent cases (e.g., consent for a minor to marry, have an abortion, enlist in the armed services, or be employed).

Before any court processes come into play, a juvenile must be referred to the court. Referrals may be made by the police, parents, schools, social service agencies, probation officers, and victims. Law enforcement agencies account for the vast majority—86 percent in 1996—of delinquency referrals (Stahl et al., 1999). 3 The police are the principal gatekeepers of the justice system and play a central role in the processing of youths in both the criminal and juvenile justice systems. They have a great deal of contact with youthful offenders and at-risk youth, perhaps more than any other officials do in the justice system. Most of these contacts are undocumented and of low visibility (Goldstein, 1960); only a fraction reach the attention of juvenile court judges or youth detention authorities.

There is scant empirical data on police encounters with juveniles (Black and Reiss, 1970; Lundman et al., 1978; Wordes and Bynum, 1995). A study by Sealock and Simpson (1998), based on an analysis of Philadelphia birth cohort data in which police contacts with juveniles from 1968 through 1975 were recorded, is one of the few that deals with juveniles ' encounters with police. To further understand the nature of police interactions with juveniles, the panel commissioned an analysis by Worden and Myers (1999) of the data involving juveniles from the Project on Policing Neighborhoods, a multimethod study of police patrols in two cities (Indianapolis, Indiana, and St. Petersburg, Florida). The study involved systematic social observations of patrol officers in the field by trained observers who accompanied officers during their entire work shifts. Observations were based on spatial and temporal sampling, with shifts representing all times of the day and all days of the week. Data were gathered during summer 1996 in Indianapolis and summer 1997 in St. Petersburg. Observers recorded more than 7,000 encounters involving approximately 12,000 citizens. Of these encounters, 421 involved one or more citizens (a total of 626) who appeared to be under 18 years of age and who were treated by the police as suspected offenders. An encounter was defined as “any event in which there is face-to-face communication between a police officer and a member of the public” (Worden and Myers, 1999:13).

Consistent with past research, most of the encounters involved incidents of relatively low seriousness; 55 percent were for public disorder (e.g., disorderly behavior and loitering), nonviolent crimes (e.g., shoplifting and other theft), and traffic offenses. Less than one-tenth of the encounters concerned violent crimes. It appears that police may be initiating more of the encounters than in the past. Worden and Myers (1999) reported that previous research (primarily conducted in the 1960s and 1970s) found that the majority of police encounters with juveniles resulted from a request from a victim or complainant, and only one-quarter to one-third of encounters were initiated by the police themselves. In the study, half of the encounters with juveniles were initiated by the police. This finding may indicate an increase in proactive policing, although direct comparisons with past research are hindered by differences in measurement and sampling. The existence of a juvenile curfew in Indianapolis gave police in that city authority to stop juveniles after hours and contributed to a high percentage (61 compared with 37 percent in St. Petersburg) of their encounters with juveniles being police-initiated.

Worden and Myers (1999) found that only 13 percent of the encounters ended with the arrest of the juvenile(s). Table 5-1 shows the frequency with which each disposition in these encounters was the most authoritative that the police took. The categories are listed from least

TABLE 5-1 Disposition of Police Encounters with Juveniles and Adults

restrictive (release) to most restrictive (arrest). Over half (56 percent) of the encounters involve interrogation and/or searching of the suspects. As the table shows, dispositions were similarly distributed in police encounters with adults.

Worden and Myers (1999) analyzed factors that affected the likelihood of arrest in juvenile encounters with police. Arrests were significantly more likely when there was strong evidence against a suspect and when the offense was a serious one. The likelihood of arrest more than doubled when a juvenile showed disrespect for the police officer. Possession of a weapon also increased the likelihood of arrest. Female juveniles were significantly less likely to be arrested, independent of other factors, including seriousness of offense. 4 Worden and Myers concluded that “the situational factors on which research on police behavior has dwelt do not suffice to account for arrest decisions, however, and they are of even less value in explaining officers' choices among nonarrest alternatives” (1999:31).

Once a juvenile is taken into custody, it appears as if police are less likely now to deal informally with him or her than in the past. About 22 percent of juveniles taken into custody by police were handled informally within the department and released in 1998, compared with 45 percent in 1970 (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1999); 69 percent of juveniles taken into police custody in 1998 ended up in juvenile court and 7 percent in criminal (adult) court.

Although there are many differences among juvenile courts in case processing, there are stages that they all must go through: intake, petitioning, adjudication, and disposition. Figure 5-1 provides a simplified view of case flow through the juvenile justice system. Cases that are referred to the court are screened through an intake process, in which charges are delineated. In some systems, this process is done within the

juvenile delinquency history essay

FIGURE 5-1 Simplified view of case flow through the juvenile justice system. Source: Adapted from Snyder and Sickmund (1999).

court system; in others, it occurs outside the court system, for example, in a probation department, a state juvenile justice department, or the prosecutor's office. The intake screening determines whether a case should not be filed because of insufficient evidence, resolved by diversion to a program or specified set of conditions, or should proceed to formal processing in the juvenile court (i.e., petitioning, which is similar to indictment in criminal court). Depending on state law, a decision to waive a case to criminal court may also be made at intake processing.

If a case proceeds to formal handling, a petition is filed and the case is scheduled for an adjudicatory hearing in the juvenile court, or the case may be waived to criminal court. At the adjudicatory hearing, which establishes the facts of the case (similar to a trial in criminal court), the juvenile may be judged to be delinquent (similar to a finding of guilty in criminal court) and scheduled for a disposition hearing; the juvenile may be found not guilty, and the case may be dismissed; or the case may be continued in contemplation of dismissal. In the latter event, the juvenile may be asked to take some action prior to the final decision being made, such as paying restitution or receiving treatment. If a juvenile has been

adjudicated delinquent (i.e., found guilty), a disposition hearing (similar to sentencing in criminal court) is held to determine the appropriate sanction. Dispositions include commitment to an institution, placement in a group or foster home or other residential facility, probation, referral to an outside agency or treatment program, imposition of a fine, community service, or restitution. At any point during the process, some juveniles may be held in a secure detention facility. In 1996, juveniles were detained in 18 percent of criminal delinquency cases processed by the juvenile courts (Snyder and Sickmund, 1999).

Juvenile courts also vary by the extent of services for which they are responsible. Some courts oversee only the adjudication process, while others provide a full array of preadjudication and postdisposition services. In over half the states, juvenile courts administer their own probation services, and many are responsible for detention and intake as well (Torbet, 1990).

Some researchers have expressed concerns regarding certain juvenile justice procedures. As mentioned previously, the lack of a right to a jury trial may have consequences for the outcome of a trial. Also at issue is legal representation for juveniles. As in adult court, juveniles have the right to be represented by an attorney. The majority of states, however, allow juveniles to decide independently to waive their rights to an attorney without having had legal counsel prior to the decision (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1995b). This practice is inconsistent with the assumption that children are different from and should be treated differently than adults, in that it implies that juveniles can make the decision “voluntarily and intelligently, ” although studies suggest that juveniles are not as competent as adults to waive their rights in a “knowing and intelligent” manner (Feld, 1993:31).

Studies from 1980 to 1990 found that the majority of juveniles were not represented by an attorney, including the majority of youths who received out-of-home placement (Feld, 1993). Rates of representation varied between urban and rural jurisdictions, and among states and within states (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1995b).

Also of possible concern are the quality and impact of attorney representation. Some studies suggest that there are grounds for concern about the effectiveness of defense counsel in juvenile trials, possibly because of inexperience and large caseloads (Feld, 1993). Studies also indicate that presence of counsel in juvenile courts is related to differences in pretrial detention, sentencing, and case-processing practices (Feld, 1993). One study (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1995b) found that, in general, while unrepresented juveniles were as likely as represented juveniles to be adjudicated as delinquents, they were less likely to receive out-of-home placement for certain crimes than juveniles with attorneys. The

study also found that other factors, including the type of counsel, were more strongly associated with placement outcomes than the mere fact of being represented by counsel.

Juvenile courts processed nearly 1.8 million criminal delinquency cases 5 and 162,000 status offense delinquency cases in 1996 (Stahl et al., 1999). Figures 5-2 and 5-3 show how criminal and status delinquency cases, respectively, were handled by the courts in 1996, the most recent year for which data are available. A total of 56 percent of the criminal delinquency cases that were referred to juvenile courts in 1996 were formally handled by the court (petitioned); that is, these cases appeared on the official court calendar in response to the filing of a petition, complaint, or other legal instrument. Over the past 10 years, there has been an increase in the percentage of cases (from 47 percent in 1986 to 56 percent in 1996) handled formally for all juveniles, regardless of age, race, or gender. Criminal delinquency cases involving older juveniles, males, and blacks, however, are more likely to be petitioned than those involving younger juveniles, females, and whites or other races, respectively (Stahl et al., 1999). Arguably, formal handling of cases can be considered more punitive than release or diversion to other systems. Therefore, the increase in formal handling of juveniles who come into contact with the police or who are referred to juvenile court may be interpreted as a system that is becoming more punitive.

Diversion covers a wide range of interventions that are alternatives to initial or continued formal processing in the system (Kammer et al., 1997). The idea behind diversion is that processing through the juvenile justice system may do more harm than good for some offenders (Lundman, 1993). First offenders or minor offenders may be diverted to an intervention at intake processing or prior to formal adjudication. Juveniles may be diverted from detention while awaiting adjudication and disposition. After adjudication, minors may be diverted from incarceration by being placed on probation or given some other sanction or intervention.

One concern that is often raised about diversion programs is that they may result in net widening which is “a phenomenon whereby a program is set up to divert youth away from an institutional placement or some other type of juvenile court disposition, but, instead, merely brings more youth into the juvenile justice system who previously would never have

juvenile delinquency history essay

FIGURE 5-2 Juvenile court processing of criminal delinquency cases, 1996. Source: Stahl et al. (1999:Figure 2).

juvenile delinquency history essay

FIGURE 5-3 Juvenile court processing of petitioned status delinquency cases, 1996. Source: Stahl et al. (1999:Figure 16).

entered” (Shelden, 1999:4). A true diversion program takes only juveniles who would ordinarily be involved in the juvenile justice system and places them in an alternative program.

The array of interventions covered under the term diversion makes it difficult to generalize about them or their effects. Some researchers have found significantly lower recidivism rates among diverted juveniles than among controls who received normal juvenile justice system processing (e.g., Henggeler et al., 1993; Pogrebin et al., 1984). (For an overview of studies discussed in this section, see Table 5-2 .) Other research has found no difference in recidivism rates between juveniles diverted from the juvenile justice system and those who remained in it (Rausch, 1983; Rojek and Erickson, 1982) or more recidivism among diverted juveniles (Brown

TABLE 5-2 Interventions in the Juvenile Justice System: Evaluations of Diversion Programs

et al., 1989; Lincoln, 1976). The variety in findings may be due to the types of juveniles involved and the types of treatment and services provided.

For a diversion program to be successful, it may have to provide intensive and comprehensive services (Dryfoos, 1990); services that include the juveniles' families and take into account community, school, and peer interactions (Henggeler et al., 1993); and use experienced caseworkers (Feldman et al., 1983). Elliott and colleagues (1978) found that whether intervention occurred in the juvenile justice system or in another program, juveniles experienced increases in their perception of being labeled as delinquent and increases in self-reported delinquency. It is even possible that some diversion programs are more intrusive than traditional juvenile justice processing. Frazier and Cochran (1986b) found that juveniles in the diversion program they studied were actually in the system longer and had at least as much, if not more, official intervention in their lives than those not diverted.

One well-studied intervention for both juveniles diverted from incarceration as well as for juveniles at various stages of processing in the juvenile justice system is multisystemic therapy. Multisystemic therapy is a family- and community-based treatment derived from theories and research that trace the development of antisocial behavior to a combination of individual, family, peer, school, and community factors and their interactions. The intervention is not limited to the adolescent or the family but includes work on the intersections between various systems, such as family-school and family-peer interactions. Treatment is individualized to meet the needs of the adolescent and his or her family using empirically based treatment models, such as cognitive behavioral therapies, behavioral parent training, and structural family therapy (Henggeler, 1999). In addition, attention is paid to treatment fidelity through supervision of and support for treatment providers. A study that randomly assigned serious, violent juveniles either to multisystemic therapy or to the usual juvenile justice system processing (Henggeler et al., 1993) found that multisystemic therapy reduced recidivism at 2.4 years after referral to half of that for those who received the usual juvenile justice services. Borduin and colleagues (1995) found that juvenile offenders randomly assigned to multisystemic therapy, at four years after treatment, had better family relations and fewer psychiatric symptoms and were significantly less likely to be rearrested than those randomly assigned to individual therapy. A meta-analysis of family-based treatments of drug abuse found that multisystemic therapy had one of the largest effect sizes of all treatments reviewed (Stanton and Shadish, 1997).

A promising approach for youngsters for whom home-based programs have failed is multidimensional treatment foster care (see, e.g., Chamberlain, 1998; Chamberlain and Mihalic, 1998; Chamberlain and

Reid, 1998). This approach recruits, trains, and supports foster care families to implement a structured, individualized program for each youngster. Juveniles are placed in the foster care family for six to nine months, during which time their appropriate behavior is reinforced, they are closely supervised, and their peer associations are carefully monitored. Foster care families have daily contact with program staff to work out difficulties and review program plans. Juveniles also receive individual skill-focused treatment. Other components of the program include frequent visits with and weekly family therapy for biological parents (or guardians) to prepare them for after care and coordination with school and other needed service systems after their children return to their homes. Chamberlain and Reid (1998) compared chronic delinquent boys (with an average of 13 prior arrests and 4.6 prior felonies) who were randomly assigned to treatment foster care or to group homes in lieu of incarceration. Boys in treatment foster care were more likely to complete treatment and less likely to be rearrested or to spend time incarcerated than boys assigned to the group home.

Victim-offender mediation is one increasingly popular form of diversion. A national survey discovered 94 victim-offender programs dealing with juveniles in 1996, 46 of which were dedicated exclusively to them (Umbreit and Greenwood, 1998). The programs ranged from having 1 to 900 case referrals, with a mean of 136 cases. Referrals to victim-offender mediation are typically for vandalism, minor assaults, theft, and burglary (Umbreit and Greenwood, 1998). The vast majority of mediation cases are first-time offenders. Typically, mediation occurs prior to adjudication. Some pressure appears to be mounting to include more serious cases in mediation programs (Umbreit and Greenwood, 1998). Whether more serious or complicated cases can be handled through mediation remains to be seen.

Studies have consistently shown that victims tend to be more satisfied with the process of mediation than with court processes (Coates and Gehm, 1989; Marshall and Merry, 1990; Umbreit, 1990; Umbreit and Coates, 1992, 1993). This may be because victims are included in the mediation process only if they volunteer to do so. In their quasi-experimental study of four sites in the United States, Umbreit and Coates (1992:12) concluded that for offenders, “participation in mediation appears to not have significantly increased their satisfaction with how the juvenile justice system handled their case.” The study included interviews with victims and offenders who completed the mediation process. Two comparison groups were devised—the first of victims and offenders who had been referred to the mediation process but did not participate and the second victims and offenders who had not been referred to mediation in the same jurisdiction as the mediation sample, and matched on age, race, sex, and offense.

Over 90 percent of mediations resulted in a restitution plan agreed to by both victims and offenders (Neimeyer and Shichor, 1996; Umbreit and Coates, 1992) and significantly more juvenile offenders completed the agreed-on restitution than did those whose restitution was ordered by the court (Umbreit and Coates, 1993).

Findings on recidivism for juveniles who have been part of mediation programs are mixed. Schneider (1986) reported a significant reduction in recidivism among offenders in a mediation program. Other studies have found small but statistically nonsignificant reductions in recidivism among mediation program participants (Marshall and Merry, 1990; Umbreit and Coates, 1993).

Victim-offender mediation programs are one part of a larger diversion movement in juvenile justice that has been gaining attention worldwide —the restorative justice model. Under a restorative justice model, victims are given the opportunity to come face to face with the offender to negotiate restitution. In addition, restorative justice programs keep youth in the community and maintain community safety by community-based surveillance practices designed to limit the opportunities for juveniles to reoffend and strengthen rather than sever their connections with the community. These practices include monitored school attendance, monitored employment attendance, monitored program attendance, supervised community work service, supervised recreation, adult mentors and supervisors, training offenders' families to provide appropriate monitoring and disciplinary practices, day reporting centers, electronic monitoring, house arrest, and random drug testing. Placement in a secure facility is reserved for those juveniles who continue to offend or who pose a high risk to others. (For a more complete discussion of restorative justice, see Bazemore and Umbreit, 1995; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1998.) The restorative justice model is currently being evaluated in Australia.

On balance, the research on diversion and intensive probation (discussed in below) suggests that some community-based interventions can serve the needs of many juvenile offenders without added danger to the community. There also may be advantages to keeping juveniles in a less restrictive setting. Well-structured and well-run programs with appropriate services have the potential for improving the lives of diverted juveniles and their families and maintaining community safety.

Figures 5-2 and 5-3 , which illustrate juvenile court processing of criminal delinquency and petitioned status delinquency cases, respectively, do not include the percentages of detained juveniles, because reported

detention figures do not differentiate between preadjudication detention and postadjudication detention. Juveniles may be detained at any stage during the court process if it is believed that they pose a threat to the community, will be at risk if returned to the community, or may fail to appear at an upcoming hearing. Children and adolescents may also be detained for evaluation purposes. Juveniles who have been adjudicated delinquent and sentenced to incarceration may also be kept in secure detention until a placement in a long-term facility can be made. In 1996, 18 percent (320,900 cases) 6 of the 1.8 million criminal delinquency cases referred to the court resulted in detention, as did 6 percent (12,700) of the 162,000 status delinquency cases (Sickmund et al., 1998; Stahl et al., 1999). The percentage of criminal delinquency cases that result in detention has remained fairly stable over the past 10 years, and the percentage of status delinquency cases that result in detention has dropped. However, because the overall number of criminal delinquency cases coming to the court has increased, the number of cases that result in secure detention has increased, even though the percentage of cases detained has remained steady. Research consistently shows that juveniles who have been in detention are more likely to be formally processed and receive more punitive sanctions at disposition than those not placed in detention, after controlling for demographic and legal factors, such as current offense and history of past offenses (Frazier and Bishop, 1985; Frazier and Cochran, 1986a; McCarthy and Smith, 1986). Researchers have been unable to determine the variables that affect the initial decision to detain a juvenile, however. For example, Frazier and Bishop (1985), in an analysis of initial detention decisions, could explain less than 10 percent of variance in the decisions. Therefore, there may be unidentified factors related to the initial decision to detain that affect the impact of detention on eventual court dispositions.

It is important to remember that the court statistics do not refer to the number of juveniles detained, but only to the number of cases (in the course of a year, one juvenile may be detained in several cases). Based on one-day censuses of detention centers, it appears that the rate of detention of juveniles increased by 68 percent from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s (Wordes and Jones, 1998). The average length of detention in the mid-1990s was 15 days (Wordes and Jones, 1998).

Of all juvenile cases resulting in detention in 1996, 26 percent were for person offenses, 38 percent were for property offenses, 21 percent were for public order offenses, 12 percent for drug law violations, and 3 percent

for status delinquency cases (Snyder and Sickmund, 1999). Males are detained at a rate six times higher than females, and blacks are detained at eight times the rate of whites (Wordes and Jones, 1998).

The two generally accepted uses of preadjudication detention are to ensure that a juvenile will show up for his or her hearing and to prevent reoffending prior to adjudication. However, detention is also used as punishment, protection, and as a place to keep juveniles when more appropriate placements are unavailable (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1997). Intake workers and juvenile judges have a great deal of discretion in deciding whether to place a juvenile in detention. Several studies found evidence that detention rates varied in direct proportion to the availability of detention facilities (Kramer and Steffensmeier, 1978; Lerman, 1977; Pawlak, 1977). Anecdotal evidence suggests that whether a juvenile in crisis is kept in detention or sent to a mental health facility may depend on whether the juvenile's family has health insurance to cover private psychological or psychiatric treatment. The result of the use of detention for such diverse reasons is that a juvenile who has run away from an abusive home may be placed in detention alongside a juvenile awaiting trial for violent crimes.

Detention can be quite disruptive to children's and adolescents' lives. It separates them from their families, friends, and support systems, and it interrupts their schooling. Although some detention centers have many services in place to assess and treat physical and mental health problems and behavioral problems and to provide educational services, the scope and quality of services varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In addition, many detention centers have become overcrowded, jeopardizing their ability to provide services. Nearly 70 percent of children in public detention centers are in facilities operating above their designed capacity (Smith, 1998). Overcrowded conditions have been found to be associated with increased altercations between juveniles and staff and increased injuries to juveniles (Wordes and Jones, 1998). Even under the best of circumstances, providing services to an ever-changing, heterogeneous group of young people can be difficult. The average length of stay in juvenile detention centers is 15 days, but many youngsters may be there for only a few days, while some are there for much longer periods (Parent et al., 1994). For marginal students, even a few days of school missed because of detention may increase their educational difficulties.

The negative effects of being in detention and the overcrowded conditions in many detention centers have led to investigations of alternatives to detention. Table 5-3 summarizes the evaluations of alternatives to detention programs discussed in this section. A study in North Carolina (Land et al., 1998) examined 19 alternatives to detention programs around the state. The programs varied from site to site, but all were characterized

by the following factors: careful screening and interviews for case admission of secure custody-eligible juveniles; intensive monitoring and supervision; small caseloads with individualized attention; strict rules for compliance and curfew; contacts at nights and weekends; verification of compliance at home and school; inclusion of supportive community resources; and rapid placement into secure confinement if needed. Land and colleagues (1998) found the programs to provide less restrictive options to secure detention in a cost-effective manner without compromising public safety. Over three-quarters of the cases served by the alternative programs successfully avoided secure detention. The vast majority (80 to 90 percent) of the cases that failed in the alternative program and were sent to secure detention were for technical program violations, not for new offenses. Less than 5 percent of all alternative placement admissions committed new offenses while in the program.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation began a Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative in 1992 (Rust, 1999). Five urban jurisdictions—Cook County, Illinois (Chicago); Milwaukee County, Wisconsin; Multnomah County, Oregon (Portland); New York City; and Sacramento County, California —were awarded grants to establish programs to eliminate the inappropriate or unnecessary use of detention, reduce the number of delinquents who fail to appear for court or who commit a new offense, develop alternatives to secure detention rather than adding new detention beds, and to improve conditions and alleviate overcrowding in secure detention facilities. The final evaluation of the programs in Chicago, Portland, and Sacramento, by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, was due in 2000. Preliminary indications from the evaluation are that the programs achieved significant reductions in admissions to detention and alleviated overcrowding without increasing failure-to-appear rates or pretrial crime rates (Rust, 1999).

After adjudicatory hearings, cases in juvenile court are scheduled for disposition hearings, in which the sanction is determined. Juveniles may be put on probation, placed in a correctional institution or other out-of-home placement, sent to treatment or other programs, or given some other sanction, such as paying restitution or performing community service. The most common disposition is probation; over half of the cases adjudicated delinquent were placed on probation in 1996; 28 percent of those adjudicated delinquent in 1996 were sent to out-of-home placement. Males were more likely than females to be placed (29 and 22 percent of adjudicated delinquency cases involving males and females, respectively) and females were more likely to be put on probation (53 and 59 percent for males and females, respectively). A higher proportion of cases involving blacks and other races results in out-of-home placement than do cases

TABLE 5-3 Interventions in the Juvenile Justice System: Evaluations of Alternatives to Detention

involving white juveniles (32 percent for blacks and other races, 26 percent for whites in 1996) (Stahl et al., 1999).

Over half of juveniles adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court are put on probation, as are one-fifth of those nonadjudicated (found not guilty). One-third of the cases that do not receive formal juvenile court processing are also placed on probation at intake (Stahl et al., 1999). In 1996, 634,100 criminal delinquent cases and 58,300 status offense delinquent cases resulted in probation. These figures do not include juveniles who were under the supervision of probation departments after serving time in a residential facility. National figures for the latter group are not collected.

Probation is essentially surveillance designed to prevent reoffending, with the threat of punishment and to detect reoffending if it should occur. Surveillance alone may be insufficient to prevent reoffending. Research with adults has found that the most successful probation programs combine both treatment and surveillance (Petersilia, 1997).

The early founders of juvenile courts saw probation as one of the most significant components of the juvenile court system (Schlossman, 1983). Probation provided the opportunity to rehabilitate juveniles in their homes rather than incarcerating them. Probation officers could get

to know the individual juveniles and their families and therefore provide individualized guidance. As with other ideals of the juvenile court, the reality of probation did not always live up to its expectations, either at the beginning of the juvenile courts 100 years ago or today. Nevertheless, probation has remained the overwhelming dispositional choice for adjudicated offenders of juvenile courts since statistics were first kept in 1927 (Torbet, 1996).

There is a great deal of variety in the responsibilities and structure of probation departments from state to state and even within states. In general, juvenile probation departments have three basic functions: intake screening of cases referred to juvenile court, presentence investigations, and court-ordered supervision of juveniles. This section deals only with court-ordered supervision of juveniles who were given probation as their primary disposition. The use of probation officers to supervise juveniles following incarceration is covered in the section on after care; it is not always easy to separate the two conditions, however. The same parole officers may oversee juveniles whose primary sanction was probation (probationers) and juveniles who have been released from incarceration (parolees). Conditions of probation may be similar for both groups of juveniles. Both probationers and parolees may attend the same treatment programs while serving their probation.

There has been little evaluation of traditional probation practices,

with more research emphasis being focused on such alternatives as intensive supervision (Clear and Braga, 1995). Intensive supervision, as its name implies, involves more intense scrutiny and monitoring than traditional probation. Interest in intensive supervision probation has waxed and waned since the 1960s. Spurred by both increasing overcrowding in correctional facilities and the get-tough approach, intensive supervision programs grew in popularity in the late 1980s (Armstrong, 1991). Studies of intensive supervision for adult offenders have not found increased monitoring alone to reduce recidivism. In fact, increased monitoring may detect more cases of technical probation violations than regular probation (MacKenzie, 1997), leading to higher rates of measured reoffending if technical violations are included in recidivism measures.

A study by Land and colleagues (1990, 1992) examined an intensive supervision program for status delinquency cases. Status offenders were randomly assigned to regular probation or to intensive supervision. In addition to frequent visits with the juvenile and his or her family from the counselor (as often as daily at first, then at least weekly thereafter, compared with visits once every 90 days for regular probation), juveniles and their families in intensive supervision were directed to community programs to assist them. Based on individualized assessments and program plans, juveniles in the intensive supervision program were given behavioral objectives to be met and were regularly assessed on their progress. A year after treatment end, juveniles in intensive supervision had significantly fewer criminal delinquency referrals than did those in regular probation. There was no difference between the groups in status offense referrals. As the program matured and became routinized, it appeared to become less effective. Status offenders who entered the program after it had been in existence for 1.5 years were as likely to be referred for criminal delinquency as were those in regular probation. Land et al. (1992) noted that there were fewer referrals to services made in the mature program than occurred when it was new, and that staff received less attention and support after the program was well established. Intensive supervision coupled with treatment and well-supported staff appears to have the potential to keep status offenders who have not already been involved in criminal delinquency from committing criminal delinquent acts.

Most of the intensive supervision probation programs instituted beginning in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s have been targeted not at status offenders, but at high-risk juveniles for whom community safety demands more intense supervision than can be provided under routine probation (Armstrong, 1991). These intensive supervision programs vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some include short-term residential placements with intensive community-based services; others rely on frequent contact between the probation officer and the

juvenile. The definition of frequent also varies from daily to weekly, but it is always more frequent than traditional probation.

Several studies have evaluated intensive supervision of probationers. 7 A study in which juveniles were randomly assigned to one of three inhome programs in Detroit, Michigan, or to the state training school (the control group), found no significant differences in recidivism (measured by court appearances for new offenses) or self-reported criminal delinquency among all four groups during the two-year follow-up (Barton and Butts, 1991). The in-home programs cost only one-third the expense of incarceration in training schools. The evaluators concluded that intensive in-home programs were cost-effective and posed no increased danger to the community.

A three-year follow-up of juvenile offenders randomly assigned to regular probation or intensive probation in Contra Costa County, California, found little difference in recidivism (measured by rearrest, court appearances, incarceration, and self-reported offending) between the two groups (Fagan and Reinarman, 1991). Although the intensive program was designed to include more therapeutic programs than regular probation, in practice, the major difference was the number of contacts between probation officers and juveniles—weekly for intensive supervision and monthly for regular probation. The program was originally intended for serious and violent offenders, but many nonviolent, less serious offenders ended up in the program. The authors concluded that regular probation suffices for most juvenile offenders and that intensive supervision should be reserved for serious and violent offenders who have failed under regular probation conditions.

A number of researchers (e.g., Altschuler and Armstrong, 1991; Baird, 1991; Clear, 1991) argue that intensive supervision is warranted only for juveniles at high risk of serious reoffending. Defining which juveniles are high risk and therefore warrant intensive supervision, however, is a complicated and difficult task. Relying solely on the seriousness of the current offense is inadequate, as that alone is a poor predictor of future offending (see, for example, Wolfgang et al., 1972). Judicial judgments of dangerousness have been shown to be quite poor at accurately predicting which offenders are dangerous (Fagan and Guggenheim, 1996). Demonstrating the success or failure of intensive supervision programs may ride on their ability to identify the appropriate group of juveniles to serve.


Deprivation of liberty through incarceration is usually thought to be the most severe sanction that can be meted out by the justice system. 8 Of all juvenile criminal delinquency cases disposed in 1996, 18 percent (320,900 cases) resulted in detention. The type of offenses for which juveniles are detained include not only violent offenses but also property and drug offenses.

The Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement (CJRP), conducted on October 29, 1997, found that nearly 93,000 youngsters under age 18 were held in public or private detention, correctional, and shelter facilities (Gallagher, 1999). The CJRP, which collects individual data on each person under age 21 held in residential facilities, replaced the Children in Custody census, which collected aggregate data on persons under age 21 in each facility biennially from 1971 through 1995. Differences in methodology between the two censuses make direct comparisons of the numbers of juveniles in custody over time problematic. It appears that the numbers of juveniles in custody has grown steadily since 1975 (see Figure 5-4 ). It is impossible to determine, however, how much of the increase from 1995 to 1997 is real and how much is an artifact of the change in method of data collection. Nevertheless, the United States has a high rate of juveniles in custody—368 per 100,000 juveniles (Snyder and Sickmund, 1999)—a rate that is higher than the adult incarceration rate in most other countries (Mauer, 1997).

It is easy to forget that most children who are incarcerated will be out on the streets in a few years or months. What they learn through the juvenile justice system is likely to influence their behavior later. Their access to appropriate education and vocational training and to mental health services may make all the difference between successful reintegration into society and reoffending.

Conditions in juvenile facilities vary greatly, from those in which appropriate educational and other services are provided and staff are well trained to those in which many juveniles spend much of their time in cells with nothing to do, and where facilities are unsafe and unsanitary, services are lacking, and staff are poorly trained and may even be abusive. In 1995, Human Rights Watch (1995) documented physical abuse of juveniles in Louisiana's Tallulah Correctional Center for Youth. The New York Times (1998) documented continuing physical abuse and other problems in this facility in 1998, which “houses 620 boys and young men, age

juvenile delinquency history essay

FIGURE 5-4 Total number of youth under 21 in custody. Source: Data for 1975 to 1991 from Smith (1998); data for 1995 and 1997 from Snyder and Sickmund (1999).

11 to 20, in stifling corrugated-iron barracks jammed with bunks. . . . Meals are so meager that many boys lose weight. Clothing is so scarce that boys fight over shirts and shoes. Almost all of the teachers are uncertified, instruction amounts to as little as an hour a day, and until recently there were no books.” In late 1999, three boot camps in Maryland were closed and top juvenile justice officials lost their jobs after physical abuse of juveniles by staff was found to be widespread ( The Washington Post, 1999). The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported in June 1998 that boys in the Central Arkansas Observation and Assessment Center seldom saw daylight, were given clean clothing only every other week, and were subjected to the unsanitary condition of raw sewage backing up into shower drains whenever toilets were flushed (Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 1999).

In contrast, some facilities provide a wide range of programs in well-kept settings. The Giddings State Training School in Texas has modern educational facilities that are wired for the Internet and offers high school equivalency classes and vocational training. The facility has intensive treatment for drug abusers, sexual offenders, and capital offenders. The facilities are tended by the residents and are clean and well kept (Coali-

tion for Juvenile Justice, 1999). 9 Ferris School in Delaware, after years of fighting lawsuits, was rebuilt and restructured in the mid-1990s. Education is now stressed over punishment there. In fact, Ferris is the only education program in a juvenile secure care facility in the Mid-Atlantic region to receive accreditation (Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 1999).

Even in well-kept settings, however, some misbehaving youth are punished through isolation or deprivation of privileges. The panel could find no studies of the impact of these punishments on the behavior of juveniles either during incarceration or upon release.

The only national study of conditions of confinement in juvenile correctional facilities (Parent et al., 1994) found substantial and widespread problems concerning amount of living space, health care, security, and control of suicidal behavior. Crowded conditions are widespread in juvenile training and reform schools. In 1995, 68 percent of juveniles in public facilities and 15 percent in private facilities were in facilities that housed more juveniles than they had been designed to house (Smith, 1998). Overcrowded conditions are not only unpleasant, but also may be dangerous—both staff and juveniles have higher rates of injury in overcrowded facilities (Parent et al., 1994). Injury rates were also higher for both juveniles and staff in facilities in which living units were locked 24 hours a day, regardless of the percentage of youth incarcerated for violent crimes, than in less secure facilities. The study found that large dormitory sleeping arrangements were accompanied by high rates of juvenile-on-juvenile injuries. Single sleeping rooms were related to suicidal behavior, with the rate of suicide attempts increasing as the percentage of juveniles in single rooms increased (Parent et al., 1994). Apparently, rooms housing two or three juveniles are preferable to either single rooms or large dormitories.

Parent and colleagues (1994) also found serious deficiencies in health care for incarcerated juveniles. Health care screenings, which national standards say should occur within one hour of admissions, and appraisals, which should occur within seven days of admission, are often not completed in a timely manner. Timely screenings are important to identify injuries and acute health problems that may require immediate attention. Timely health appraisals are important to identify health care needs that require treatment during confinement and to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. In addition, the Parent et al. study found that health care screenings may be performed by staff with no health training. This was a particular problem in detention centers, where one-third of juveniles were screened by untrained staff.

Parent et al. (1994) also examined education, recreation, and mental health programming in juvenile facilities. They found that, in the early 1990s, 65 percent of juveniles in public facilities were in institutions with current court orders or consent decrees related to programming deficiencies. They could not determine which areas of programming were specified in the orders and decrees, however. Nevertheless, this finding points to widespread inadequacies in services available to juveniles held in residential facilities.

Educational Needs and Services

Many children and adolescents involved in the juvenile justice system have fared poorly in school and have significant educational needs. Although not as well studied as the mental health needs of these youngsters (discussed in the next section), many have not attended school recently and many perform below grade level. In addition, for most incarcerated juveniles, correctional education services are their last exposure to formal education (Dedel, 1997). In site visits made during their study, Parent et al. (1994) received estimates from language teachers in juvenile facilities that 32 percent of their students read at or below 4th-grade level, 27 percent at 5th-or 6th-grade level, 20 percent at 7th- or 8th-grade level, and 21 percent at or above 9th-grade level. A Massachusetts state court decision ( Green v. Johnson, 513F. Supp. 965, 968 D. Mass., 1981) estimated that 50 to 80 percent of children in juvenile facilities were handicapped under the definitions in the federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act.

The Parent et al. (1994) study found that nearly all juveniles are held in facilities that provide some kind of educational programming: 95 percent of juveniles in detention centers had access to educational programming, as did 97 percent in training schools, and 96 percent in ranches, camps, or farms. 10 The quality of the educational programming, however, appeared to vary greatly from site to site. The American Correctional Association standards recommend that educational programs in juvenile facilities use state-certified teachers, have a maximum student-to-teacher ratio of 15:1, and assess the educational status of juveniles to develop individualized educational plans. Only 55 percent of training school residents and 29 percent of ranch, camp, or farm residents are in facilities that meet all the recommended educational standards. The

Parent et al. (1994) study did not have access to information on educational outcomes to assess the effects of the educational programming on residents. Dedel (1997) reports that 75 percent of students in custody advanced less than a full grade level per year while in custody.

Mental Health Needs

A number of studies of incarcerated juveniles have found the prevalence of psychiatric disorders, diagnosed from structured interviews or clinical assessments, to be three to five times higher than in the general population of young people (Chiles et al., 1980; Davis et al., 1991; Eppright et al., 1993; Hollander and Turner, 1985; Lewis et al., 1987; McManus et al., 1984a; McManus et al., 1984b; Miller et al., 1982; Shelton, 1998; Steiner et al., 1997; Timmons-Mitchell et al., 1997). Conduct disorder was present in over 80 percent of incarcerated youth (Davis et al., 1991; Eppright et al., 1993; Hollander and Turner, 1985; Timmons-Mitchell et al., 1997). This finding is not surprising because the criteria for a diagnosis of conduct disorder includes delinquent and criminal behavior, such as truancy, arson, theft, breaking and entering, and assault. Other psychiatric disorders found among detained and incarcerated young people included depressive disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and psychotic disorders. Studies also report many times more personality disorders, especially borderline personality disorder, among incarcerated youth than among the general population of young people. At least half of juvenile detainees also report substance abuse (Davis et al., 1991; Timmons-Mitchell et al., 1997).

A study of randomly selected incarcerated boys and girls in Ohio found that girls displayed significantly more mental health problems (other than conduct disorder) than boys—84 percent of girls had a mental health disorder compared with 27 percent of boys. Studies of adult incarcerated women suggest that psychiatric disorders are also much more prevalent in adult incarcerated women than in either adult incarcerated men or the general population (Jordan et al., 1996; Teplin et al., 1996).

Juvenile offenders have been found to have a high rate of drug and alcohol use. In 1998, the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program found illegal substances in the urine of 40 to over 60 percent (depending on the city) of male juvenile arrestees (National Institute of Justice, 1999). An analysis of the National Youth Survey found a strong correlation between serious substance use and serious delinquent behavior (Johnson et al., 1993): 23 percent of juveniles who reported involvement in multiple serious crimes were current cocaine users, compared with 3 percent of nondelinquents. Drug and alcohol use often coexist with other mental health problems (McBride et al., 1999).

Young people with substance abuse or mental health disorders in juvenile correctional facilities have little chance of receiving either an adequate assessment or appropriate treatment. Furthermore, treatment is very rarely coordinated with services after youth are released. Longitudinal evidence suggests that delinquents with serious psychiatric disorders are less likely than others to desist from delinquency in their late teens or twenties (Hare et al., 1988; Robins, 1974). The lack of adequate mental health treatment in the juvenile correctional facilities represents a lost opportunity for these juveniles.

Evaluations of Treatments in the Juvenile Justice System

Although no treatment program works 100 percent of the time for 100 percent of the participants, there are treatment programs that have been found to reduce the rate of future offending, whereas some get-tough sanctions have been found to increase recidivism. The panel did not have the resources to examine all the literature relevant to treatment of juveniles under the control of the juvenile justice system (Lipsey and Wilson, 1998, alone found 200 experimental or quasiexperimental studies for their meta-analysis). Rather, we relied on published reviews (Krisberg and Howell, 1998; MacKenzie, 1997; Petrosino et al., 2000) and several metaanalyses (Gottschalk et al., 1987; Lipsey, 1995; Lipsey and Wilson, 1998; Mayer et al., 1986).

Lipsey and colleagues have performed several meta-analytic studies of treatments for juvenile offenders (Lipsey, 1995; Lipsey and Wilson, 1998). Meta-analysis allows the quantitative findings of many studies to be combined and statistically analyzed. Differences in study methods and procedures can be controlled for statistically, allowing a pattern of treatment effects across studies to be revealed. Effect size is the usual measure employed in meta-analyses. It should be noted that effect size is influenced as much by the nature of the comparison group as by the treatment programs being evaluated. Meta-analyses can be an extremely important aid to identifying good treatment programs, but their use cannot overcome problems of poor research design. In fact, when metaanalyses are not based on rigorous criteria for inclusion, the results can be misleading.

In a meta-analysis of 400 research studies of programs for delinquency reduction, Lipsey (1995) found that the average effect across all the programs studied was a 10 percent reduction in delinquency among participants in the program compared with a control group. However, there was wide variety from program to program, with some studies finding increased delinquency among participants in certain programs and studies of other types of programs finding a 30 percent improvement in the

program participants over the control group. Overall, Lipsey (1995) found that programs that targeted behavioral change in a relatively structured and concrete manner had a greater effect on reducing delinquency than programs that targeted psychological change through traditional counseling or casework approaches. Other meta-analyses have similarly found that cognitive-behavioral, skill-oriented, and multimodal programs have the best effects (Gottschalk et al., 1987; Mayer et al., 1986). This pattern held for programs conducted under the auspices of the juvenile justice system and for those run by other institutions.

Of particular concern are programs that increased delinquency. Lipsey (1995:74) says about them:

Most notable are the deterrence approaches such as shock incarceration. Despite their popularity, the available studies indicate that they actually result in delinquency increases rather than decreases. Unfortunately, there are distressingly few studies in this category, making any conclusions provisional. The studies we do have, however, raise grave doubts about the effectiveness of these forms of treatment.

A systematic review of evaluations of deterrence programs, such as Scared Straight, that involve exposing youngsters who have come in contact with the juvenile justice system to prison life and adult inmates was undertaken by Petrosino and colleagues (2000). None of the nine evaluations that involved random assignment of youngsters to the treatment or control groups found any positive effect on future delinquency. Seven of the studies found that the effects of the program were harmful, that is, youngsters in treatment were more likely to commit additional delinquent acts than were those in the control group who received no treatment.

Lipsey (1995) also found that the length of the program and how well it was planned and delivered affected how well the program reduced delinquency. Programs that were monitored to ensure that they were delivered as planned had larger effects than programs that were not monitored. More of an otherwise effective program appears to be better than less. In general, Lipsey (1995) recommended that programs should have 100 hours or more of total contact with the juvenile, delivered at two or more contacts per week, over a period of 26 weeks or longer. Because the average length of stay for juveniles in residential placement is less than four months (Smith, 1998)—significantly shorter than 26 weeks—it may be difficult to provide programs over a sufficient length of time to make a difference for many youth in residential placement. Continuity of programming after release may be a way to increase effectiveness. It should be noted, however, that Lipsey and Wilson (1998) found that characteristics of effective programming both inside and outside institutions differed.

Lipsey and Wilson (1998) performed a separate meta-analysis on 200 studies of all the experimental or quasi-experimental studies of the effects of interventions with serious juvenile offenders. They summarize their results as follows (Lipsey and Wilson, 1998:229-230): “The average intervention effect for these studies was positive, statistically significant, and equivalent to a recidivism reduction of about 6 percentage points, for example, from 50 percent to 44 percent (mean effect size = 0.12). The variation around this overall mean, however, was considerable.”

Lipsey and Wilson (1998:330) note that the primary lesson of their study is “that sufficient research has not yet been conducted on the effects of intervention with serious juvenile offenders.” They found that the dimensions that characterized good programs for incarcerated offenders differed from those for nonincarcerated offenders. Therefore, they searched separately for effective programs in these two settings. Programs that provided interpersonal skills and insight into their own behavior and programs that placed offenders into community-based teaching family homes were most consistently effective for incarcerated offenders. Individual counseling, teaching of interpersonal skills and insight into their own behavior, and behavioral programming were most successful for the nonincarcerated offenders.

Of course, no program is effective for all offenders. A variety of attempts have been made to match offenders to programs on the basis of assessed needs. Whether such matching can be the basis for improved results has been the subject of some debate (see, e.g., Andrews et al., 1990b; Lab and Whitehead, 1990). Because effective programming can be costly, benefits should be carefully determined and reported (MacKenzie, 1997).

Although studies have focused on recidivism rates for treatment programs, there seem to be few credible studies of effects of policies in residential facilities, such as television viewing, recreational privileges, or the use of isolation or of lockups that occur in training or reform schools designed for juveniles. Many juvenile correction systems employ a behavior modification strategy tying rewards (e.g., to purchase special food, watch TV, use the library, play athletic games) to compliance. These systems also typically link punishments to misbehavior. Although designed to teach inmates better behavior, empirical evidence has demonstrated that the strategy may backfire with some populations (Deci, 1971; Kruglanski et al., 1971; Lepper et al., 1997). Because the punishments used in reformatories involve physical force, lockups, isolation, and a variety of forms of deprivation, some juveniles may be learning that force is appropriate to obtain compliance. Studies are needed to learn about effects of lockups and of behavior modification strategies in order to

ensure that the juvenile justice system is not creating or exacerbating problems it is designed to alleviate.

After Care and Reintegration

Following incarceration, most juvenile offenders will return to the communities from which they came. As with the adult system, juvenile corrections officials have a poor record of controlling juvenile parolees released from secure detention into the community. As in the adult system, concerns have been raised that heavy caseloads and poor quality and delivery of services affect offender rehabilitation and public safety. This situation has led to the testing of models of intensive parole supervision and after care (Altschuler and Armstrong, 1994a). Knowing how difficult it is for all individuals to make major changes in complex behavior patterns, it should not be surprising that juvenile offenders may need assistance if they are to avoid reoffending. Even for those who received appropriate treatment programs while incarcerated, change may be difficult to maintain when they return to their old environment. For juveniles to succeed in reintegrating into the community, more emphasis may have to be placed on continued treatment rather than merely on surveillance and monitoring.

Intensive after-care programs have evolved over the past 10 years out of the adult supervision probation movement and juvenile intensive supervision probation programs (Altschuler and Armstrong, 1994a). The intensive after-care model, as designed by Altschuler and Armstrong (1994b), represents a reintegrative alternative to confinement and release into the community under traditional parole supervision. From initial confinement to transition into the community, the goals of intensive after-care programs are to prepare the offender for prosocial adjustment to life in the community and in social networks (e.g., family, peers, school, and employment). The after-care component combines surveillance and control of offenders in the community with the provision of treatment and services based on the offender's needs and an assessment of factors that might increase his or her chances of reoffending. The combination of treatment and surveillance is critical to the intensive after-care model. Reviews of the research suggest that community corrections programs that emphasize surveillance and control only may not be enough (Byrne and Brewster, 1993; Petersilia, 1997; Petersilia and Turner, 1993). Community-based corrections programs that balance the provision of treatment and rehabilitation services (i.e., individual and family counseling, drug treatment, and vocational or employment training and assistance) with offender surveillance and monitoring (i.e., drug testing, curfew, and electronic monitoring) should be carefully evaluated to learn what mix is effective.

Very few studies have been conducted that evaluate the effectiveness of juvenile corrections programs; even less is known about how juveniles adjust to the community when they are released from secure confinement. Although there is evidence that rehabilitation programs, in general, can work (Andrews and Bonta, 1994; Andrews et al., 1990a, 1990b; Gendreau and Ross, 1979; Palmer, 1975), more information is needed on what programs work best for whom.

There is evidence that elements of the confinement experience increase the probability of failure upon release (Byrne and Kelly,1989; Hagan, 1991; National Research Council, 1993; Shannon, 1988). Moreover, researchers have found that the provision of services to offenders may be more effective when administered in the community rather than in secure facilities (Lipsey, 1992). Some research has also shown that length of confinement has no effect on rearrest rates of juvenile parolees (Beck and Shipley, 1987; Cohen and Canela-Cacho, 1994; National Research Council, 1993).

The most promising programs and strategies for use in juvenile after-care programs include those that address the needs and risk factors for reoffending of high-risk juveniles leaving secure confinement. Lipsey and Wilson's (1998) meta-analysis suggests that programs that provide interpersonal skill training (i.e., social skills training), behavioral contracting, and cognitive-behavioral individualized counseling are best at reducing recidivism rates for noninstitutionalized youth. These are the types of treatment and rehabilitation programs offered in many intensive after-care programs.

There have been very few scientifically rigorous evaluations of juvenile after-care programs. In addition, intensive supervision programs often mix probationers and parolees, making it difficult to separate possible different effects on juveniles diverted from incarceration and on those released from incarceration. Generally, these studies have failed to find consistent evidence of the effectiveness of juvenile intensive supervision programs and after care in reducing reoffending (Altschuler et al., 1999). As noted in the discussion of probation, intensive supervision may simply bring more technical violations of parole conditions or other delinquent acts to the attention of authorities than would be the case under routine parole or probation. Outcomes in addition to rearrest or reincarceration should be considered in evaluating program success. Intensive supervision after-care programs often include goals similar to those found in the restorative justice model, such as restitution and reintegration. How successful programs are in having juveniles pay fines, complete victim restitution conditions, attend school, or find a job are some of the other areas that could be considered in addition to recidivism measures. Evaluations of after-care programs are summarized in Table 5-4 .

TABLE 5-4 Interventions in the Juvenile Justice System: Evaluations of After Care Programs

Some evaluations of intensive after care have indicated moderate benefits. For example, an evaluation of the Philadelphia Intensive Probation Aftercare Program, in which serious juvenile offenders in one institution were randomly assigned to intensive after care or typical probation, found that, although the same proportions of youths in after care as without after care had been arrested, those in after care had fewer arrests (Sontheimer and Goodstein, 1993). The Philadelphia youth in the intensive probation group who were arrested were significantly less likely to be convicted or reincarcerated than those assigned to typical probation. Youth participating in juvenile after care as part of the Maryland Drug Treatment Program performed no better in terms of alleged or adjudicated offenses than those in a control group; however, after-care participants did have significantly fewer new crimes against persons than controls (Sealock et al., 1995, 1997).

In an evaluation conducted by Greenwood and colleagues (1993) of two intensive after-care programs implemented in Detroit and Pittsburgh,

youth randomly assigned to either intensive after care or traditional supervision performed equally well when compared on the proportion of arrests, self-reported offending, and drug use during a 12-month followup period. Deschenes et al. (1996) conducted a quasi-experimental evaluation of youth participating in a program that combined an alternative to traditional residential confinement (three months of participation in a wilderness camp) with placement in intensive after-care supervision (treatment and surveillance) upon release. When compared with youth placed in a traditional residential facility (the control group), program participants did no better on measures of arrest and self-reported drug use. Program participants did, however, report less involvement in drug selling than the control group.

Other studies show less positive findings. Minor and Elrod (1990) found no significant differences in self-reported or officially recorded delinquency overall, although juveniles in intensive supervision with extensive offending histories had significantly fewer offenses during an

18-month follow-up than controls with similar backgrounds. In an experimental study conducted by Barton and Butts (1990), juveniles randomly assigned to intensive supervision had more delinquency charges than those randomly assigned to the control group, but these charges were less severe. When only criminal charges were considered, the two groups had similar levels of charges. Both groups also had similar levels of self-reported reoffending.

This research is far from conclusive. It seems clear that delinquent juveniles require more than intensive surveillance and control to affect rates of future offending. Determining the appropriate amount and type of treatment and services is clearly an issue in need of further research and clarification. Change among delinquents may involve some backsliding. Relapse is known to be part of other forms of habit change (e.g., smoking, drinking, and drug use) and relapse prevention has become a standard part of drug and alcohol treatment programs (Institute of Medicine, 1990, 1997).

No clear evidence shows whether services or treatment are better received in the community or in secure confinement. As for program content, more research is needed that untangles effects attributable to intensive supervision from those of treatment and rehabilitation provided along with the supervision. It is also unclear from existing intensive supervision evaluations which specific rehabilitation and treatment programs are effective and for whom (Altschuler et al., 1999). Several intensive after-care programs are currently being evaluated through grants from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.


Being caught by the police and caught up in the juvenile or criminal justice systems are especially hazardous for youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, because becoming involved in crime can produce not only future criminality, but also later problems in finding employment. These problems can be further conceptualized in terms of a process of “criminal embeddedness” (Hagan, 1993; Hagan and McCarthy, 1997).

For most individuals, the key to a successful transition from adolescence to adulthood is finding a job, and this involves social embeddedness. The personal contacts of individuals, friends, and families and the network of relations that flow from these contacts are important sources of social capital used in finding jobs and making job changes (Coleman, 1990; Granovetter, 1974). Youth from advantaged class backgrounds are more likely than others to have the social capital that derives from being socially embedded in job networks. This embeddedness facilitates finding and changing jobs.

However, just as early employment contacts can enhance the prospects of getting a job and subsequent occupational mobility, contacts with crime and the justice system seem likely, in a converse way, to increase the probability of unemployment. For example, criminal involvements of family and friends are more likely to integrate young people into the criminal underworld than into referral networks of legal employment. And youthful delinquent acts and justice system supervision are likely to further distance juveniles from the job contacts that initiate and sustain legitimate occupational careers. Criminal embeddedness is a liability in terms of prospects for stable adult employment. This embeddedness is compounded by the effects of becoming officially labeled and known as a criminal offender, especially in distressed community settings in which few jobs are available in any case.

These risks are reflected in a recent analysis of juveniles tracked from childhood through adulthood in a London working-class neighborhood (Hagan, 1993). This study reveals that intergenerational patterns of criminal conviction make youth especially prone to subsequent delinquency and adult unemployment (Hagan, 1993; Hagan and Palloni, 1990; Ward and Tittle, 1993). Other studies similarly show that working-class males with conviction records are uniquely disadvantaged in finding and maintaining employment (Laub and Sampson, 1995; Schwartz and Skolnick, 1964), and that a criminal arrest record can have negative effects on employment as much as eight years later (Freeman, 1992; Grogger, 1995; Thornberry and Christenson, 1984). Conviction and imprisonment have also been shown to have a permanent impact on legal earnings (Freeman, 1992; Hunt et al., 1993; Needels, 1996; Sampson and Laub, 1993). For example, Freeman's (1992) analysis of the Boston Youth Survey indicated that youths who were incarcerated had exceptionally low chances of employment; similarly, his analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth revealed that men who had been in jail or on probation experienced “massive long-term effects on employment ” (Freeman, 1992:217). Sampson and Laub (1993) found that unstable employment and a higher likelihood of welfare dependence characterized the lives of the delinquent boys in a prospective sample of 500 delinquents and 500 non-delinquents. Moreover, juvenile incarceration was found to have an indirect effect on the incidence of future crime, because “incarceration appears to cut off opportunities and prospects for stable employment [and] job stability in turn has importance in explaining later crime” (Laub and Sampson, 1995:256). Other data indicate that while more than half of state prisoners are employed before going to jail, only about a fifth of those on parole are employed following imprisonment (Irwin and Austin, 1994).

It is therefore important to emphasize the role of the police, courts,

and prisons in the development of these youthful criminal careers. Sullivan (1989) found in the more stable white neighborhood he studied that parents, using their well-developed social networks and resulting social capital, “sought to manipulate the system—and were often successful in doing so—by means of money and personal connections” (p. 196). In contrast, in both of the minority neighborhoods Sullivan studied, youth began to move further away from home to commit violent economic crimes and encountered more serious sanctions when they did so. These crimes produced short-term gains, but they also separated minority youths from the legitimate labor market, stigmatizing and further damaging their social and cultural capital in terms of later job prospects. Of the minority youth, Sullivan writes that “their participation in regular acts of income-producing crime and the resulting involvement with the criminal justice system in turn kept them out of school and forced them to abandon their earlier occupational goals” (p. 64). Court appearances and resulting confinements removed these youth from whatever possibility for inclusion in job referral networks school might provide and placed them in prison and community-based crime networks that further isolated them from legitimate employment.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Sullivan's work and other recent ethnographies of poverty and crime make the point that the material gains associated with embeddedness in the drug economy usually prove to be transitory. For example, in Getting Paid, Sullivan (1989) argues that although participation in the underground economy may yield temporary material gains, over time it becomes a limitation, and those involved “age out of youth crime and accept . . . low wage, unstable jobs” (Sullivan, 1989:250). Joan Moore, in Going Down to the Barrio, suggests a similar conclusion when she observes that “the very culture of defiance at best dooms the boys to jobs just like their fathers hold,” serving in the end “to keep working-class kids in the working class” (Moore, 1991:42). Felix Padilla echoes this theme in his ethnography of The Gang as an American Enterprise, noting that “instead of functioning as a progressive and liberating agent capable of transforming and correcting the youngsters' economic plight, the gang assisted in reinforcing it” (Padilla, 1992:163). In each of these ethnographies and in the related studies noted earlier, it is embeddedness in crime networks, including the juvenile and the criminal justice systems, that seals the economic fate of these young people.

Thus a number of studies now confirm that as time spent in prison increases, net of other background factors and involvements, the subsequent likelihood of disengagement from the legal economy increases. This is not surprising, given that even those in disadvantaged neighborhoods who do not have criminal records have difficulty finding employment. Hagan (1991), using data from a 13-year panel study, and Grogger (1995),

analyzing arrest data from the California Justice Department's Adult Criminal Justice Statistical System and earnings records from the California Employment Development Department, have demonstrated that even being charged and arrested are detrimental in the near term for occupational outcomes and earnings.


As discussed in Chapter 2 , arrests of girls, although smaller in number than those of boys, have increased at a faster rate. The police are not the only justice system agency to see an increase in the number of female juvenile offenders; increases also extend to juvenile courts. Between 1987 and 1996, the number of cases involving female juveniles that were petitioned to juvenile court increased 76 percent, while the number involving male juveniles increased 42 percent. Girls, however, still only made up a little over 20 percent of juvenile court criminal delinquency cases and about 40 percent of status delinquency cases in 1996 (Stahl et al., 1999).

The nature of the offenses for which girls are seen in juvenile court has changed over time. Girls are increasingly referred to juvenile court for violent crimes. The rate for violent female juvenile court cases increased 127 percent from 1987 to 1996. During the same period, the rate for male juveniles increased 68 percent. Property offense case rates also increased from 1987 to 1996 by 37 percent for girls and 4 percent for boys. Drug case rates, in contrast, increased faster for boys (123 percent) than for girls (100 percent) (Stahl et al., 1999).

The handling of girls in the juvenile justice system also appears to have changed somewhat over the past 30 years. Studies done during the 1970s found that girls were considerably more likely than boys to be referred to juvenile court for status delinquency offenses (e.g., running away from home, incorrigibility, truancy). Girls were also more likely than boys to be formally processed, detained, and sentenced to incarceration for status delinquency offenses (see, e.g., Andrews and Cohn, 1974; Chesney-Lind, 1973; Conway and Bogdan, 1977; Datesman and Scarpitti, 1977; Gibbons and Griswold, 1957; Pawlak, 1977). However, girls were less likely to be arrested for criminal delinquency offenses, to be formally charged if arrested, or to be incarcerated (Chesney-Lind, 1973; Cohen and Kluegel, 1979; Datesman and Scarpitti, 1977). More recent studies have equivocal findings, with some showing differences in treatment of males and females (Pope and Feyerherm, 1982; Tittle and Curran, 1988) and some showing no differences (Clarke and Koch, 1980; Teilmann and Landry, 1981; U.S. General Accounting Office, 1995c) with regard to dispositions of status delinquency cases.

Criminal delinquency cases involving females, however, are less likely

than cases involving males to be disposed of by detention or long-term confinement in secure facilities, after controlling for severity of offense and previous offenses (Bishop and Frazier, 1992). When contempt status (i.e., when the delinquency charge is for violation of a previously ordered condition of supervision) was introduced as a variable and interaction effects examined, however, Bishop and Frazier (1992) found that girls' risk of incarceration was substantially elevated in cases of contempt, whereas contempt had only a small impact on boys' risk of incarceration. In many cases, for girls, the original charge for which they were held in contempt was a status offense. In essence, for girls, the contempt charge means they are essentially treated as a criminal delinquent for a status offense, receiving harsher punishment for the contempt charge than for other criminal delinquency charges. Bishop and Frazier (1992:1183) reported that “the typical male offender who is not in contempt has a 3.9 percent probability of incarceration. The risk is increased only slightly, to 4.4 percent, when he is found in contempt. In sharp contrast, the typical female offender not in contempt has a 1.8 percent probability of incarceration, which increases markedly to 63.2 percent if she is held in contempt.”

In a study conducted on a geographically diverse, longitudinal (nine years of data) sample of approximately 36,000 court referrals, Johnson and Scheuble (1991) found that, after controlling for the nature of the offense, past offending, and other background variables, girls were more likely than boys to have their cases dismissed and boys were more likely than girls to be put on probation or to be locked up.

Very few programs address the unique needs and problems of female juvenile offenders. In a meta-analysis of juvenile prevention and intervention programs, the author reported that only 8 percent of the programs primarily served girls (Lipsey, 1992). When females get involved in the juvenile justice system, there are fewer options for them than for boys. Although delinquent girls share some problems with delinquent boys, they also have unique problems, including higher rates of childhood sexual victimization and depression (see Chapter 3 ) and greater, more central parenting roles. Yet programs are rarely tailored specifically for the needs of girls and their experiences.


In response to the rise in violent crime by juveniles during the late 1980s and early 1990s, states around the country made changes to their juvenile justice laws. These changes mainly involved making it easier to transfer juveniles to adult court, changing sentencing structures, and modifying or removing traditional confidentiality provisions. Between

1992 and 1997, 47 states and the District of Columbia changed their laws in at least one of these ways. State laws have also been changed in two other areas: regarding the rights of victims of juvenile crimes and in correctional programming. Table 5-5 indicates the type of changes made in each state between 1992 and 1997.

Ease of Transfer to Criminal Court

Determining which children belong in juvenile court has been an issue since the court's beginnings (Tanenhaus, 2000). There are a number

TABLE 5-5 How States Have Stiffened Laws Relating to Juvenile Justice in 1992-1997, by Type of Change

of ways in which courts have excluded certain juveniles from juvenile court jurisdiction. These include setting an age above which the juvenile court no longer has jurisdiction and various mechanisms for transferring juveniles under that age to criminal court.

Maximum and Minimum Ages of Jurisdiction

State laws set a maximum age for adolescents for which the juvenile court has original jurisdiction. This age varies by state and sometimes by offense. In Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina, the highest age of juvenile court jurisdiction in criminal delinquency cases is 15; that is, anyone age 16 and older is handled in the criminal (adult) court. In Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin, juvenile court jurisdiction applies through age 16. In the remaining states and the District of Columbia, the highest age of jurisdiction is 17 (Griffin et al., 1998). Assuming that children under a certain age cannot be responsible for their behavior, 15 states specify the lowest age for juvenile court jurisdiction. In North Carolina, the lowest minimum age is 6 years; it is 7 in Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York; 8 in Arizona; and 10 in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin (Snyder and Sickmund, 1999). In practice, very few children under the age of 10 appear before the juvenile court for delinquency charges.

Lowering the maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction is one of the most drastic steps a state can take, because it moves an entire age group of adolescents into the adult system. In recent years, only three states have changed their laws to lower the maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction. In 1993, Wyoming dropped its maximum age from 18 to 17. In 1995, New Hampshire and Wisconsin lowered their maximum ages from 17 to 16 (Torbet et al., 1996). Although it is difficult to determine exactly how many juveniles these changes affected, 17-year-olds accounted for 24 percent of the arrests of all those under 18 in 1998. Therefore, moving 17-year-olds to the criminal justice system could reduce the case flow in the juvenile system by as much as one-fourth. The fact that so few states have chosen this option suggests that legislative concern has been focused on serious and violent crime rather than all juvenile crime (Dawson, 2000).

Transfer Mechanisms

From the inception of the juvenile court, juvenile court judges have had the discretion to waive jurisdiction to the criminal court. These waivers generally fit one of three case types: serious offense, extensive

juvenile record, or juvenile near the age limit. In the first case, the offense with which the juvenile is charged is so serious that the sanctions available to the juvenile court are felt to be insufficient. These cases usually involve violent crimes, most often murder. The second type of case involve juveniles with extensive histories of arrests and juvenile court sanctions who are deemed unable to benefit from juvenile court. In the third type of case, the juvenile is very close to the age limit of the juvenile court's jurisdiction. These cases are waived because the juvenile court would not have jurisdiction over the particular youth for a long enough period of time or because the juvenile is thought to be appropriate for adult court (Zimring, 1998).

All states have some mechanism for treating juveniles, under certain conditions, as adults (Torbet and Szymanski, 1998). How the decision to transfer is made is governed by state law and therefore varies from state to state. The state laws, including the District of Columbia, use one or more of the following methods to place a child in the adult criminal court: judicial waiver, prosecutorial direct file, and statutory exclusion. Judicial waiver, in which the transfer decision is left to the discretion of the juvenile court judge, is the traditional method that juvenile courts have used for transfer. Statutory changes in recent years have removed some of the judicial discretion and given it to either the prosecutor, through direct file, or to the state legislature, through statutory exclusions.

During the 1990s, most states made it easier to transfer juveniles to adult court (Torbet and Szymanski, 1998). The most common ways in which state laws were changed were by adding offenses that allow or mandate transfer to criminal court and lowering the age at which certain juveniles could be tried in criminal court.

Judicial Waiver. Most states and the District of Columbia have laws that permit juvenile court judges to waive jurisdiction from the juvenile court to the criminal court under certain conditions. The transfer decision is up to the juvenile court judge. There are three types of waiver proceedings: discretionary waiver, mandatory waiver, and presumptive waiver. There is also a provision known as reverse waiver, as well as a special transfer category described as “once an adult, always an adult.”

In all, 46 states give juvenile court judges the discretion to decide whether a matter will be tried in the juvenile court or the criminal court (Griffin et al., 1998). Some states require that the prosecutor initiate the process by filing a motion. Other states allow any party or the court to initiate the action.

The discretionary statutes in most states specify criteria similar to those set forth in Kent v. United States (383 U.S. 541, 566-67 [1966]) that should be considered by the juvenile court in deciding whether to transfer

jurisdiction to the criminal court. Generally, the states require the court to consider the following factors in the exercise of its discretion: whether a waiver of jurisdiction would serve the interests of the juvenile and the public; whether public safety requires it; whether there are further services available for the juvenile through the juvenile court system; and whether the child is amenable to rehabilitation (Griffin et al., 1998).

The statutes in 14 states provide for mandatory waivers in cases in which the age and offense criteria are met. Mandatory waiver proceedings are initiated in the juvenile court; however, the involvement of the juvenile court in a mandatory waiver case is minimal. Generally there is a preliminary hearing to determine if the case is one to which the mandatory statute applies. If the threshold criterion is met, the court has the authority only to appoint counsel and to issue interim detention and transfer orders (Griffin et al., 1998); the juvenile court judge may not opt to keep the case in juvenile court. Mandatory waivers leave no room for judicial discretion.

In 15 states, the statutes designate cases in which waiver to the adult criminal court is presumed to be appropriate (presumptive waiver). In these cases, the burden in the waiver hearing is on the child rather than the state. If a child who meets the age, offense, or other criteria specified in the statute fails to show that he or she is amenable to treatment or that his or her retention in the juvenile court does not jeopardize public safety, the case must be transferred to the criminal court.

The statutory criteria that activate presumptive waiver cases fall into three broad categories (Griffin et al., 1998). The first category focuses primarily on the current offense. In the second category, the statutes presumptively require a waiver for an older child, even if the offense for which the child was accused would not otherwise raise the presumption. The third category emphasizes the child's previous juvenile offense history over all other factors.

There are laws in 23 states that provide some mechanism for a child who is being tried in the criminal court to petition to have the case transferred to the juvenile court (Griffin et al., 1998). These provisions are sometimes referred to as reverse waiver. In some states, the statutes authorize the transfer from criminal court to juvenile court even if the case arrived in criminal court by direct file, statutory exclusion, or waiver. Some statutory provisions permit the criminal court to transfer a case to the juvenile court for disposition. Generally when the offense the criminal court is considering is one that was excluded from juvenile court by statute or one in which the prosecutor exercised the discretion to file the case directly in the criminal court, the criminal court's decision is governed by the same considerations and best interests standards as those

that the juvenile court must take into account when deciding whether to waive jurisdiction.

A total of 31 states and the District of Columbia have created a special transfer category which is referred to as “once an adult, always an adult” (Griffin et al., 1998). Most states with such statutes provide that once a child has been convicted in the criminal court, all subsequent offenses require criminal prosecution. In Mississippi, even if a child was not convicted on the first adult-prosecuted offense, he or she will be prosecuted in the criminal court for any subsequent offenses. The California statutes limit the application of the “ once an adult, always an adult” provision to children who are at least 16 years of age and require that any subsequent offenses must be those for which waiver to the adult court would be appropriate.

Prosecutorial Direct File . The statutes in 15 states designate a category of cases that may be tried in either the juvenile court or the criminal court (i.e., the juvenile and criminal courts have joint or concurrent jurisdiction) (Griffin et al., 1998). In those states, the prosecutor has the authority to decide in which court to file the case; the juvenile court judge has no part in the decision. The state laws vary widely regarding the category of the offenses, the age of the child, the seriousness of the offense, and the extent of the child's juvenile offense history that are to be considered in deciding where to file.

Statutory Exclusion. Certain offenses are excluded by statute from juvenile court jurisdiction in 28 states. The laws provide that a child who has reached a certain age and is accused of a designated offense will be tried as an adult in the criminal court. All proceedings against the juvenile occur in the criminal court in the same manner as if the offense had been committed by an adult. These laws focus on the nature of the offense, rather than on the background or needs of the offender. Some states exclude only the most serious offenses, while others exclude offenses based on age. For example, in New Mexico a child who is at least 15 years of age and is accused of first-degree murder is excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction. Mississippi excludes all felonies committed by juveniles who are 17 years of age. Among the offenses excluded by Indiana is the misdemeanor offense of carrying a handgun without a license. The focus in some states is not so much on the nature of the offense and the age of the juvenile as the previous juvenile offense history. Arizona excludes any felony committed by a juvenile who is at least 15 years of age if the juvenile has been previously adjudicated for two or more offenses that would have been felonies if committed by an adult (Griffin et al., 1998).

Sentencing Structure

Traditionally, sanctions imposed by juvenile courts were to be based on the needs of the offender, with an emphasis on the future welfare of the juvenile (Torbet et al., 1996). Juvenile court judges had a great deal of discretion in the disposition they selected for an individual. Sanctions could be indeterminate in length; that is, juveniles could stay under the oversight of the court until they were too old to be under juvenile court jurisdiction. The traditional goal of sanctions was rehabilitative. State legislative changes in recent years have moved the court away from its rehabilitative goals and toward punishment and accountability. Laws have made some dispositions offense-based rather than offender-based. Offense-based sanctions are to be proportional to the offense and have retribution or deterrence as their goal. Strategies for imposing offense-based sentences in juvenile court include blended sentences, mandatory minimum sentences, and extended jurisdiction (Torbet and Szymanski, 1998). All these sentencing options allow for longer sentences than might have been available under traditional juvenile courts.

Blended Sentences

Blended sentences allow the imposition of a combination of juvenile and adult correctional sanctions. 11 The form of the blended sentences varies from state to state. In some states, a juvenile or criminal court may impose a sanction in either the juvenile or the criminal system. In some states, the juvenile or the criminal court may sentence a youth to the juvenile corrections system to be followed by a sentence in the adult corrections system, which may be suspended if the juvenile successfully completes his juvenile sanctions. In a few states (Colorado, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Texas), the juvenile court may impose a sentence that goes beyond the age of its jurisdiction, at which point the case is transferred to adult corrections. In Texas, for example, juveniles as young as 10 can be sentenced to as many as 40 years for certain crimes and can be transferred to the adult corrections system any time after they turn 16 if approved by the sentencing court at a transfer hearing, and automatically

at age 21 if the sentence has not been completed. Because these blended sentences are often longer and more severe than those that traditional juvenile courts could impose, the laws frequently provide for more procedural safeguards for the juveniles subject to these penalties (Torbet et al., 1996).

Proponents of blended sentences see them as a less severe option than outright transfer of juveniles to criminal court. Systems that give juveniles a suspended criminal sentence that only becomes operational if they violate the terms of their juvenile disposition, as well as ones that require a reevaluation of the juvenile after a period in the juvenile correctional system, are intended to give juveniles who commit serious offenses a final opportunity to avoid serious criminal sanctions (Dawson, 2000). Some critics of blended sentencing plans note, however, that the juvenile courts do not provide all the same safeguards of the accused's rights as do the criminal courts, even though blended sentencing can result in adult sanctions. Other critics say that blended sentences represent a procedural and substantive convergence between juvenile and criminal courts and erode the rationale for a separate juvenile justice system (e.g., Feld, 1997).

Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Since 1992, a number of states have modified their laws to allow for mandatory minimum sentences for certain serious crimes. In Massachusetts, for example, a juvenile age 14 or older convicted of murder must receive a sentence of at least 15 years for first-degree murder and at least 10 years for second-degree murder (Torbet et al., 1996). Some states have instituted progressive or graduated sanctions that legislatively tie type of disposition to both current offense and past offense history.

Capital Punishment

The United States is among a handful of countries to have legitimized the use of capital punishment for juveniles. In 23 states, capital punishment is an option for offenders who were under the age of 18 at the time of their offense. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of capital punishment for those over age 16 in a decision made in 1989. Only Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia have actually executed juveniles. The practice has been condemned by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the American Bar Association, the Children's Defense Fund, and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

Extended Jurisdiction

In response to criticisms that the length of commitment to the juvenile system is too short, some states have increased the maximum age of the juvenile court's jurisdiction over offenders. Many states allow a judge to commit a juvenile to be held in the state's juvenile corrections system up to age 21 (even though the court's jurisdiction for hearing and disposing of cases ends when a juvenile is 16 or 17). In California, Oregon, and Wisconsin, the extended age is 25 and in Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, and New Mexico, the juvenile jurisdiction extends for the full term of commitment, regardless of age.


Traditionally, the rehabilitative philosophy of the juvenile court led to protocols to protect the identity of and information about juveniles who came before it. Proceedings were closed to the public. The identity of juveniles was not disclosed. There was limited access to court records and the records could be sealed or expunged after a certain length of time. These measures were aimed at minimizing the stigma attached to court involvement and promoting the goal of rehabilitation. As state legislatures began stressing punishment and retribution over rehabilitation, many states changed their laws concerning confidentiality in the juvenile court.

As of the end of 1997, 30 states permitted or required open juvenile court hearings in cases involving juveniles charged with violent or serious offenses or repeat offenders (Torbet and Szymanski, 1998). And 22 of those states either created or modified their open hearing statutes between 1992 and 1997. For example, in 1997, Idaho added language to its statute requiring open hearings for all juveniles 14 or older charged with an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult. States have also changed laws regarding the release of the name of a juvenile to the general public or the media. As of the end of 1997, 42 states allowed the release of a minor's name or picture under certain conditions, such as being found guilty of a serious or violent offense (Torbet and Szymanski, 1998).

Another area of legislative change involves access to juvenile court records. Although court records traditionally have been available by court order to any party who can show a legitimate interest, a number of states now allow access to a wide variety of people or agencies, including law enforcement, social service agencies, the schools, victims, and the general public. A number of states mandate notification of a juvenile's school when the child or adolescent is found guilty of particular offenses.

For example, in North Dakota, if a child or adolescent is found guilty of a sexual assault, the court must notify the child's school superintendent or principal. Juvenile records, fingerprints, and photographs are increasingly being integrated into centralized repositories. In some states, juvenile records are kept in a separate centralized system, but in others they are merged with the centralized criminal system, including sex offender registries (Torbet et al., 1996; Torbet and Szymanski, 1998).

Traditionally, juvenile records could be sealed or expunged after a specified amount of time without offending. These provisions allowed young people who had been successfully rehabilitated to clear their records so that, in effect, the proceedings would be treated as if they had never occurred (Hurst, 1985). Recent changes in state laws have lengthened the amount of time before records can be sealed or have prohibited the sealing of records for some crimes. As of the end of 1997, 25 states had made such changes (Torbet and Szymanski, 1998).

Victims' Rights Legislation

The traditional juvenile court model did not include consideration of the victims of juvenile offenders. During the past 10 years, concerns about violence by juveniles, the victims' rights movement, and interest in a restorative justice approach led to changes in state law that provided for consideration of the victims of juvenile crime. Such legislation includes measures to allow victims to be informed of hearings and dispositions, to attend hearings, to make statements before disposition or sentencing, and to be notified if an offender is released. Between 1992 and 1997, 32 states passed laws dealing with the rights of victims of juvenile crime (Torbet et al., 1996; Torbet and Szymanski, 1998).

Correctional Programming

In a number of states, changes in transfer and sentencing laws have led to changes in laws and administrative rules concerning corrections. These changes included allowing juveniles convicted as adults to be housed in separate facilities or in juvenile facilities until a certain age, creating special programs for juveniles convicted as adults, and enhancing programs in the juvenile correctional system. Between 1992 and 1995, these laws focused on the need for secure detention of violent juvenile offenders; more recently, they have focused on authorizing and funding community-based interventions and supervision of offenders (Torbet and Szymanski, 1998).


Most of these legislative changes are too recent for research to provide much information about their impact either on practices regarding juvenile offenders or on the young people themselves. In addition, the many inadequacies in the data available on juveniles at various stages of the system make it difficult to examine their effect on changes in practice.

The number of juveniles who are sent to criminal (adult) court nationally is not known (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1995a). In 1994, about 21,000 persons under the age of 18 were convicted of a felony in a state criminal court (Brown and Langan, 1998). And 40 percent of them were convicted of a violent offense, compared with only 18 percent of all felony convictions of those over 18. An estimated 12,000 of the 21,000 were juveniles who had been transferred through judicial waiver, prosecutorial direct file, or statutory exclusion. The remainder were in states whose maximum age for juvenile court jurisdiction is 15 or 16 (i.e., states in which 16- or 17-year-olds are defined as adults). Bishop and Frazier (2000) suggest that the above figures may be a substantial undercount. Prosecutors alone reported filing 27,000 juvenile cases in adult court in 1996 (DeFrances and Steadman, 1998), and 10,000 cases were judicially waived in 1996 (Stahl et al., 1999).

Transfer to Criminal Court

Judicial waivers have been tracked for a number of years, but data on cases transferred by prosecutorial direct file or statutory exclusion are not systematically counted. Waivers by juvenile judges have remained fairly constant over the period 1986 to 1996, representing between 1.0 and 1.6 percent of all petitioned cases (Sickmund et al., 1998). There is some evidence that a similar percentage of cases was transferred in the early years of the juvenile court. About 1 percent of cases were waived by the Milwaukee Juvenile Court in the early 20th century (Schlossman, 1977). In a study of the Chicago juvenile court, Jeter (1922) reported that the percentage of boys transferred to adult court per year was usually less than 1 percent.

Despite some stability in the overall proportion of cases transferred through judicial waiver, there is variety by type of offense. Between 1986 and 1996, cases involving person offenses (i.e., homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, simple assault, other violent sex offenses, and other offenses against persons) were the most likely to be sent to criminal court by juvenile court judges; about 2 percent of person offense cases resulted in judicial waiver (Sickmund et al., 1998; Stahl et al., 1999). In the late 1980s, there was a dramatic increase in waivers for drug offense cases,

which increased from 1.2 percent in 1986 to 4.1 percent in 1991. By 1996, the percentage of drug offenses waived dropped back down to 1.2 percent. It seems unlikely that changes such as those seen in waived drug cases were due to changes in legislation. The peak occurred during the height of the war on drugs and the rise in youth violence, which was often associated with drug dealing. Waiver decisions may have been influenced by the general antidrug tenor of the period. Alternatively, the drug cases seen in juvenile court during the early 1990s may have been much more serious offenses than in the years before and after. Research, including data collection, to explain such trends remains to be done.

National data on the number of cases transferred through direct file or statutory exclusion are not available. A study by the U.S. General Accounting Office (1995a), based on data from five states, the District of Columbia, and counties in five additional states, found that the percentage of cases sent to criminal court by prosecutorial direct file ranged from less than 1 percent (in Utah) to 10 percent in Florida and 13 percent in Arkansas. At least in some states, the change to prosecutorial direct file appears to have resulted in more juveniles being processed in adult criminal court.

Recent changes in statutory exclusion laws have generally increased the population of juveniles potentially subject to transfer to the criminal courts, but no national data are currently available to determine the actual number of juveniles affected by exclusion laws, the characteristics of such juveniles, or the offenses for which they are transferred. A 1985 study of 12 jurisdictions (Gragg, 1986) reported that juveniles transferred by legislative exclusion tended to be younger and to have fewer prior arrests and placements than juveniles transferred by other means.

Research has examined the impact of various aspects of transferring juveniles to criminal courts, including studies on the types of cases most likely to be transferred, comparisons of sentences in juvenile and criminal courts, and comparisons of recidivism between transferred and non-transferred juveniles.

Types of Cases

In an analysis of judicial transfer decisions in Boston, Detroit, Newark, and Phoenix from 1981 to 1984, Fagan et al. (1987a) found that age at the time the offense was committed, age of delinquency onset, and seriousness of offense were the factors that most influenced juvenile judges' decisions to transfer a case to criminal court. The cases most likely to be waived involved older juveniles charged with serious, violent offenses, predominantly homicide. Poulos and Orchowsky (1994) examined the factors influencing judicial transfer between 1988 and 1990 in the state of

Virginia. Using multivariate logistic regression, they found that the factors most important to juvenile judges' decisions to transfer a case included current offense, prior record, and age. Most likely to be transferred were juveniles who were charged with homicide, rape, or drug sales; older juveniles; juveniles who used a gun in committing the offense; and those with prior felony person or drug adjudications or prior commitment to a residential juvenile corrections facility (learning center). Judges in metropolitan courts in Virginia were less likely to transfer cases than were those in rural counties. A small study of judicially transferred cases in New Mexico found similar results (Houghtalin and Mays, 1991). Podkopacz and Feld (1996) analyzed transfer motions filed between 1986 and 1992 in Hennepin County, Minnesota, and determined that in addition to age, present offense, and weapon use, the recommendations of probation officers and clinical evaluators significantly affected the eventual judicial waiver decision. They also found prior correctional interventions to be significant: youths with no prior program placements and those with only a few (1 to 3) were less likely to be certified to adult court than youths with four or more placements.

In contrast to the findings on judicial transfers, Bishop and Frazier (1991) found that juveniles transferred through prosecutorial waiver (direct file) in Florida from 1979 to 1981 were less often violent or chronic offenders: 55 percent of those waived were felony property offenses and only 29 percent were felony person offenses. Clarke (1996), in a study of automatic transfer (offenses legislatively excluded from the juvenile court) in Cook County, Illinois, from 1992 to 1994, found that 39 percent of the transfers were for drug or weapon offenses, 25 percent were for murder, and 22 percent were for armed robbery. The proportion of transfer cases for murder had dropped from nearly half of those transferred by judicial waiver from 1975 to 1981 to a quarter under automatic transfer. Clarke (1996) concluded that Illinois's automatic transfer provisions failed to identify and therefore protect the public against serious violent juvenile offenders. Instead, they prosecuted and stigmatized many juveniles who did not represent a threat to public safety and who could benefit from the more rehabilitative programs of the juvenile court.

A high proportion of the juveniles transferred to adult court are minorities. For example, blacks and Hispanics made up 94.7 percent of those transferred in the Cook County, Illinois, study (Clarke, 1996). Hispanics and American Indians made up 67 percent of judicially transferred cases in the New Mexico study (Houghtalin and Mays, 1991). The preponderance of minorities among transferred juveniles may be explained in part by the fact that minorities are disproportionately arrested for serious crimes. In the Fagan et al. (1987a) analysis, the effects of race on the judicial transfer decision were found to be indirect.

One reason given for transferring juveniles to criminal court is that the juvenile court cannot provide adequate sanctions for some offenses. Research on the likelihood and length of sentence in criminal versus juvenile court has mixed results. Brown and Langan (1998), in a national sample, found that a higher percentage of juveniles transferred to adult court were sentenced to incarceration than were those who remained in juvenile court: 63 percent of juveniles transferred to criminal court were sentenced to prison terms and 16 percent to jail terms. Prison sentences averaged 9.25 years. Only 21 percent were given probation. In comparison, only 31 percent of juveniles found guilty of person offenses in juvenile court were sentenced to out-of-home placement, and 53 percent were put on probation (Stahl et al., 1999).

A comparison of robbery and burglary cases in New Jersey and New York suggested that processing juveniles in the criminal court resulted in higher rates of incarceration, but not lengthier sentences than processing in the juvenile court (Fagan, 1995). Fagan also found higher rates of rearrest and reincarceration among young people processed for robbery in the criminal courts than in the juvenile courts; no such differences were found for burglary cases. A comparison of cases transferred to adult court with those adjudicated in juvenile court in St. Louis found that transferred youth did not receive greater punishment than they would have received in juvenile court (Kinder et al., 1995). The U.S. General Accounting Office (1995a) study of transferred juveniles found great variability in incarceration rates by state. In Vermont, for example, one-third of juveniles convicted of violent, property, or drug crimes in criminal court were incarcerated, while Minnesota incarcerated over 90 percent of the transferred juveniles convicted of those three types of crime. Pennsylvania incarcerated 90 percent of transferred juveniles in violent and drug offense cases, but only 10 percent in property cases.

There is some evidence that length of sentence varies in the juvenile and adult systems according to type of offense. For example, Podkopacz and Feld (1996) found in their Hennepin County, Minnesota study that for youths adjudicated of property offenses, the juvenile courts imposed longer sentences than did the criminal courts, while youths convicted of violent offenses in criminal courts received substantially longer sentences than their juvenile counterparts. Length of sentence and actual length of stay in a facility may differ, however. The length of stay in a juvenile facility appears, on average, to be much shorter than that in adult prison. Although national data on length of sentences given in juvenile court are not available, national average length of stay in long-term juvenile facili-

ties was about 8 months in 1990 (Parent et al., 1994) and was down to about 4 months in 1995 (Smith, 1998).

There appears to be variation by state in length of stay, however, with some states well above the national average. For example, in California, the average length of stay in Youth Authority institutions was 25.7 months in fiscal year 1997-1998 (California Youth Authority, 1997-1998); in Texas, the average length of stay in Texas Youth Commission facilities was 23 months for violent offenders (Criminal Justice Policy Council, 1999) and 16.5 months for all offenders in fiscal year 1999 (special data analysis done by the Criminal Justice Policy Council for this report). The California and Texas figures are similar to lengths of stay in reform schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

An analysis was prepared by panel member Steven Schlossman of length of stay in Michigan's Lansing Industrial School for boys and in the New York House of Refuge. In the Michigan reform school, average length of stay was 29 months in the 1870s, dropping to 21 months in the 1890s. In the New York House of Refuge, the average length of stay in 1925 was 20 months. Because there are no national historical figures, it is impossible to tell if the national average length of stay is similar to or has actually dropped considerably over the course of the past century.

Studies have found higher recidivism rates among juveniles who had been transferred to adult court than among those who remained in the juvenile system, even when severity of offense was controlled (Podkopacz and Feld, 1996); the researchers concluded that transfer to adult court may be more likely to increase recidivism than to lessen it (Bishop et al., 1996; Fagan, 1995; Winner et al., 1997). These studies have noted that the higher recidivism rates may be attributable to a number of possible factors: the juvenile system may have correctly identified and consequently transferred youths likely to recidivate; law enforcement may be more vigilant of youths who had been through the adult court; treatment in the juvenile system may have been effective in preventing repeat offending; or adult incarceration may have encouraged further criminality. More research is needed to replicate these studies and to determine the effects on subsequent recidivism of processing in the juvenile versus the adult systems. Studies in New York (Singer and McDowall, 1988) and Idaho (Jensen and Metsger, 1994) on the general deterrent effects of legislative waiver statutes indicate that waiver laws in those two states did not have a deterrent effect on rates of juvenile violent crime.

Levitt (1998) examined the relationship between the relative punitiveness of the juvenile and adult systems and arrest rates. Using state-level

panel data from the censuses of public and private juvenile facilities and censuses of adult prisons collected by the Department of Justice for the period 1978-1993, he found that in states in which the adult system was more punitive 12 than the juvenile system, violent crime rates decreased significantly at the age of majority. In states in which the adult system was more lenient than the juvenile system, violent crime rates increased at the age of majority. This suggests that it is the relative punitiveness of the system, not whether it is the juvenile or adult system per se, that may deter crime among young people in the short term. Levitt did not find any long-term relationship between the punitiveness of the sanctions imposed on juveniles and their adult criminal behavior.

The number of juveniles affected by blended sentencing is not known on a national level. There is some information at the state level, suggesting that blended sentencing may result in relatively lengthy sentences. For example, in 1996 in Texas, the average blended sentence imposed for all offenses was 10.5 years, ranging from an average of 5 years for burglary to 31 years for capital murder (Texas law permits blended sentences up to 40 years). The percentage of commitments to the Texas Youth Commission that were blended sentences increased from about 2 percent in 1990 to nearly 8 percent in 1996. The addition of 16 offenses eligible for blended sentencing in 1996 led to an increase from 4.7 percent of commitments in 1995 to 7.6 percent in 1996. The majority of juveniles receiving blended sentences in 1996 in Texas were Hispanic (42 percent) and black (32 percent). Nearly one-third of those receiving blended sentences in 1996 were 14 years old or younger (Criminal Justice Policy Council, 1997). The impact of these laws on ultimate sanctions for juveniles sentenced under them will not be known for some years to come; this is an area that is ripe for research to begin.

The effect of these legislative changes, overall, appears to be an increase in the number of juveniles held in adult state prisons. That is not to say that all juveniles who are tried as adults and found guilty end up in adult prison. States have adopted a variety of means to deal with sanctioning these juveniles, including blended sentences that allow juveniles to begin serving time in a juvenile facility and finish their sentence in an adult facility. Some states (e.g., Texas, New York) have created special secure facilities under the auspices of the juvenile or adult corrections

department to house youth found guilty in criminal court. Nevertheless, some of the juveniles sentenced as adults are incarcerated in adult prisons, where the emphasis is on punishment and few services are available.

Youth in Adult Prisons

Between 1985 and 1997, the number of offenders under 18 admitted to state prisons more than doubled, from 3,400 in 1985 to 7,400 in 1997 (Strom, 2000). And 61 percent of those under 18 sent to state prison in 1997 had been convicted of a violent offense. Juveniles arrested for violent offenses are more likely to end up in state prison now than in 1985. In 1997, 33 of every 1,000 juveniles arrested for a violent crime were sentenced to prison, compared with 18 per 1,000 in 1985. Nearly two-fifths of the juveniles sent to state prison in 1997, however, were not there for violent offenses—22 percent had been convicted of a property offense, 11 percent of a drug offense, and 5 percent of a public order offense (Strom, 2000).

Juveniles remain a very small percentage of the total state prison population. Those under 18 make up less than 1 percent of the inmates in state prisons, a figure that has remained steady since the mid-1980s. Since 1985, juveniles have consistently made up about 2 percent of new admissions to state prisons (Strom, 2000).

Minority juveniles are disproportionately represented among juveniles sent to adult prison. In 1997, minorities made up three-quarters of juveniles admitted to adult state prisons, 13 with blacks accounting for 58 percent, Hispanics 15 percent, and Asians and American Indians 2 percent (Strom, 2000). Males accounted for 92 percent of the juveniles admitted to state prisons in 1997.

Based on current sentencing and release policies, prison officials estimate that 78 percent of those who were admitted to prison prior to their 18th birthday would be released by age 21 and 93 percent would be released by age 28 (Strom, 2000). The fact that 90 percent of juveniles admitted to prison had not completed high school, coupled with the paucity of services available to them in adult prison, does not bode well for their reentry into society.

Historical Perspective

To provide some historical perspective on juveniles in state prison, panel member Steven Schlossman analyzed a detailed sample of prison-

ers at San Quentin and Folsom prisons in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 14 Between the 1870s and the 1930s, mid-teens were committed to San Quentin and Folsom prisons, but in very small numbers and percentages. The largest shares were in the 1870s to 1890s, when 3.7 percent of the inmates were between ages 14 and 17. With the creation of California 's juvenile court in 1903 and reform schools for juvenile offenders (see, Schlossman, 1989, for historical details), juveniles under age 18 were eliminated entirely from Folsom by the 1910s. Juveniles under age 16 were eliminated from San Quentin and those ages 16 and 17 declined to less than 1 percent of the inmate population in the 1910s and afterward. This is similar to the percentage of juveniles in adult prisons nationally today (Strom, 2000).

Racial and ethnic minority groups (black, Hispanic, Chinese, Hawaiian, American Indian, Japanese) were represented among the mid-teens committed to San Quentin and Folsom prisons, but only in two decades was there notable overrepresentation of any group: the Chinese in the 1870s, at the height of anti-Chinese period in California; and Hispanics in the 1930s, a period of severe deprivation and outmigration of Mexicans from California following large-scale immigration in the 1920s. Overall, race does not appear to have been a significant factor in influencing commitment patterns to state prison. Whites, not minorities, constituted the overwhelming majority of both mid-teen and adult offenders sent to San Quentin and Folsom prisons between the 1870s and the 1930s (see Table 5-6 ).

Just as today, a substantial percentage of juveniles in San Quentin and Folsom prisons were sentenced for property offenses (burglary and theft) rather than violent offenses against persons (murder, robbery, assault, rape). Over two-thirds of 14- and 15-year-olds in these two state prisons in the late 19th century were sentenced for property crimes. In the early 20th century—when the share of juveniles in adult prison declined considerably—a new pattern of commitment began to emerge. Their offense profile became significantly more violent; it became as common for juveniles sent to San Quentin or Folsom to have committed a person offense as a property offense. Nonetheless, half of the juveniles who were sent to these state prisons had been committed for property rather than person offenses.

The average length of sentence for juveniles committed to San Quentin and Folsom prisons in the 19th century was 3.5 years (compared to under 2 years for reform schools), much shorter than the 6.8 year national average for juveniles in state prisons in 1997 (Strom, 2000). By the 1920s to

TABLE 5-6 Race Distribution (Weighted Percentages) by Decade for Those Under 18 and Those Age 18 and Older in San Quentin and Folsom Prisons

1930s, the average sentence length for juveniles more than doubled to 8 years, more comparable to today's average.


The origin of the juvenile court reflects an abiding tension between safeguarding children and protecting society. This tension has been present historically and continues to be present today in the policy debates dealing with the juvenile justice system. The balance between rehabilitative goals and concerns about the best interests of the child, on one hand, and punishment, incapacitation, and protecting public safety, on the other, has shifted over time and differed significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Given the local nature of juvenile justice in the United States, there has never been a single dominant vision of how to deal with delinquent children in law or in practice. The delinquency jurisdiction of the

juvenile courts today, as in the past, continues to include both children who break criminal laws and children who commit status delinquency offenses.

Policies of the last decade have become more punitive toward delinquent juveniles, but especially toward juveniles who commit violent crimes. Punitive policies include easier waivers to adult court, excluding certain offenses from juvenile court jurisdiction, blended juvenile and adult sentences, increased authority to prosecutors to decide to file cases in adult court, and more frequent custodial placement of adjudicated delinquents. The great majority of recent changes in juvenile justice law and practice have not been evaluated. Research to date shows that juveniles transferred to adult court may be more likely to recidivate than those who remain under juvenile court jurisdiction. Furthermore, there are negative effects of detention and incarceration of juveniles on behavior and future developmental trajectories. Detained and incarcerated juveniles have higher rates of physical injury, mental health problems, and suicide attempts and have poorer educational outcomes than do their counterparts who are treated in the community. Detention and incarceration also cause severe and long-term problems with future employment, leaving ex-offenders with few economic alternatives to crime. Recent research also demonstrates that many serious as well as nonserious offenders can be treated in the community without endangering public safety.

At the same time that laws have become more punitive, innovative approaches to providing services within the juvenile justice system have been introduced. In addition, a fair amount of evaluation research on some programs has been undertaken. Contrary to those who claim that rehabilitative efforts are a waste of time because nothing works, efforts at diverting children and adolescents from detention or incarceration and providing services for them in the community show some promise. Research on treatment programs in correctional institutions suggests that cognitive-behavioral, skill-oriented, and multimodal programs have the best results in terms of recidivism reduction. Research on intensive after-care programs is less conclusive, but it seems clear that delinquent juveniles require more than just intensive surveillance and control to affect rates of future offending and help them successfully reintegrate into society. Experiments with the restorative justice model point to ways in which juvenile offenders can be held responsible for their offenses, make restitution to victims, and receive services aimed at reintegrating them into society.

Information about the number of juveniles in custody—in detention or juvenile correctional facilities—is very poor. Data on the conditions under which juveniles are incarcerated and the types of services available to them are minimal. From the available data, it appears that the rate of juveniles placed in custodial institutions has increased substantially in

the past two decades, leading to widespread overcrowding in detention and correctional facilities. The average length of stay, nationally, in public custodial institutions appears to have decreased. There is a great deal of variety by state, however, in average length of stay in long-term public facilities, with some states reporting average stays that are well above the national norm. The trend toward privatization of juvenile correctional facilities may further complicate understanding of juveniles in custody.


Being placed in secure detention disrupts a young person's life and increases the juvenile's likelihood of receiving formal processing and punitive sanctions. Secure detention and correctional facilities have become increasingly crowded, impairing their ability to provide adequate services to their heterogeneous populations. Overcrowded conditions also increase the risk of injury to both staff and juveniles. Research on alternatives to secure detention and confinement have found them to pose no greater risks to the public than secure detention or confinement. In addition, alternatives to detention or confinement tend to be less costly.

Recommendation: The federal government should assist the states through federal funding and incentives to reduce the use of secure detention and secure confinement, by developing community-based alternatives. The effectiveness of such programs both for the protection of the community and the benefit of the youth in their charge should be monitored.

Research has shown that treating most juvenile offenders within the community does not compromise public safety and may even improve it through reduced recidivism. Considering the negative effects of detention and incarceration, community-based treatment should be expanded. Evaluation components should be built into program delivery with the goal of improving services, expanding the use of programs that work, and ending support for programs that are shown to be ineffective. Replication of programs that have been found successful, such as treatment foster care or multisystemic therapy, is particularly important to advancing knowledge about what works and for whom.

Recommendation: Federal and state funding should be provided to replicate successful research-based community-based treatment programs for all types of offenders with continuing evaluations to ensure their safety and efficacy under the specific circumstances of their application.

OJJDP sponsors a biennial Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement that provides minimum information. This instrument identifies juveniles in custody on the specific date of the survey and therefore over samples juveniles in long-term confinement. Furthermore, neither this instrument nor the newly designed Juvenile Residential Facility Census (begun in October 2000), which collects basic data on size, structure, security arrangements, and ownership of facilities designed to house juveniles, as well as information about the provision of health care, education, substance abuse treatment, and mental health treatment in those facilities, yields information about children or youth housed in jails, adult institutions, or mental hospital facilities. OJJDP is planning a Survey of Youth in Residential Placement that will help to inform the public about conditions of confinement. It should be a matter of public accountability for facilities that hold juveniles in secure confinement to report on a regular basis on the conditions under which those juveniles are kept and the types of services provided.

Recommendation: The Congress should provide adequate funds to OJJDP and the Bureau of Justice Statistics in order to assure proper data collection on conditions of confinement as well as new funds to develop national data collection systems to measure the number and characteristics of children and adolescents outside the juvenile jurisdictions, those transferred to criminal court, and those held in adult prisons or jails.

Despite the large amount of descriptive literature about the juvenile justice system, little research has identified how different laws regarding juvenile crime or different practices in confinement affect juveniles in the juvenile justice system. For example, do behavioral modification programs used in secure facilities have an influence on behavior of juveniles after release? Are there long-term effects of isolation used as punishment for disobedient juveniles in confinement? Are there special benefits for particular educational programs carried out in juvenile institutions? Studies of a variety of policies and practices should be undertaken, with evaluations of psychological, educational, and physical effects on the juveniles, as well as measures of recidivism.

Recommendation: The federal government should assist the states in evaluating the effects of correctional policies and practices such as the use of behavior modification programs, physical restraints, and isolation on incarcerated juveniles, as well as determining the effectiveness of educational and psychological programming in correctional facilities.

The American Correctional Association has set minimum standards that facilities for juveniles should meet, but there is little information on the extent to which these standards are met, nor have the standards been evaluated to determine their impact on incarcerated juveniles. An evaluation of these standards in conjunction with on-going work by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention on performance-based standards in juvenile corrections would lead to the development of standards that improve outcomes for juveniles who are incarcerated.

Recommendation: Congress should provide funds for an independent evaluation of the adequacy of the American Correctional Association standards for juvenile detention and correctional facilities to ensure that the needs of juveniles in these facilities are met. The evaluation should include both short- and long-term effects on juveniles. States should be encouraged to adopt those parts of the standards that prove to be effective.

Knowledge about the operations of the juvenile justice system and the effects of a juvenile's involvement with the system is completely inadequate. Much remains to be learned at all stages of processing in the system, from the interaction of juveniles and the police, to the factors considered by various juvenile justice system personnel in decision making, to the effects of juvenile justice system involvement on juveniles' development and future life course. Many areas of juvenile justice system policy currently must rely on anecdotal evidence and best guesses.

Recommendation: Congress should provide funding for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in collaboration with other relevant federal agencies (such as National Institute for Mental Health, National Institute on Child Health and Human Development), to develop a research agenda with the goal of expanding knowledge needed for policy making in the following areas:

How police decisions and current police practices affect the number, type, and outcomes of juveniles in the system;

The nature of decisions made in juvenile court by various professionals, including probation officers, judges, prosecutors, and other key actors;

The extent, systemic effects, costs, and cost-effectiveness of the various possible dispositions of juvenile cases;

Long-term effects of transferring juveniles to adult court and incarcerating them in adult facilities;

The effect of using informal sanctions for juveniles committing first offenses if they are not serious crimes.

The benefits and disadvantages of secure confinement versus providing services in the community; and

Identifying appropriate treatments for female juveniles.

Even though youth crime rates have fallen since the mid-1990s, public fear and political rhetoric over the issue have heightened. The Columbine shootings and other sensational incidents add to the furor. Often overlooked are the underlying problems of child poverty, social disadvantage, and the pitfalls inherent to adolescent decisionmaking that contribute to youth crime. From a policy standpoint, adolescent offenders are caught in the crossfire between nurturance of youth and punishment of criminals, between rehabilitation and "get tough" pronouncements. In the midst of this emotional debate, the National Research Council's Panel on Juvenile Crime steps forward with an authoritative review of the best available data and analysis. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice presents recommendations for addressing the many aspects of America's youth crime problem.

This timely release discusses patterns and trends in crimes by children and adolescents—trends revealed by arrest data, victim reports, and other sources; youth crime within general crime; and race and sex disparities. The book explores desistance—the probability that delinquency or criminal activities decrease with age—and evaluates different approaches to predicting future crime rates.

Why do young people turn to delinquency? Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice presents what we know and what we urgently need to find out about contributing factors, ranging from prenatal care, differences in temperament, and family influences to the role of peer relationships, the impact of the school policies toward delinquency, and the broader influences of the neighborhood and community. Equally important, this book examines a range of solutions:

  • Prevention and intervention efforts directed to individuals, peer groups, and families, as well as day care-, school- and community-based initiatives.
  • Intervention within the juvenile justice system.
  • Role of the police.
  • Processing and detention of youth offenders.
  • Transferring youths to the adult judicial system.
  • Residential placement of juveniles.

The book includes background on the American juvenile court system, useful comparisons with the juvenile justice systems of other nations, and other important information for assessing this problem.


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In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Juvenile Delinquency

Introduction, general overviews.

  • Theoretical Foundations
  • Families and Delinquency
  • Schools and Delinquency
  • Peers and Delinquency
  • Communities and Delinquency
  • Individual Factors and Delinquency
  • Demographic Differences in Delinquency
  • Anti-Delinquency Programs and Policies

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  • Adverse Childhood Experiences
  • Delinquency and Crime Prevention
  • Developmental and Life-Course Criminology
  • Gangs, Peers, and Co-offending
  • Juvenile Courts
  • Marvin Wolfgang
  • Prisons and Jails
  • School Policing
  • Self-Report Crime Surveys
  • Social Ecology of Crime
  • Substance Use and Abuse
  • The Juvenile Justice System

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Juvenile Delinquency by Terrance J. Taylor LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009 LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0026

Juvenile delinquency has received substantial recognition as a pressing social problem. What is encompassed by the term “juvenile delinquency,” however, is quite broad. Thus, various texts on “juvenile delinquency” may often focus on different topical issues. For example, some may examine serious and persistent youth violence, while others may focus on programs designed to prevent youth from engaging in more benign, everyday disorderly activities. In addition to general overviews and theoretical foundations of juvenile delinquency, the following readings are organized into key domains of risk or protective factors associated with delinquency. Specifically, topical areas include family, schools, peers, and community factors. Additionally, race, ethnicity, and delinquency are intertwined (although not always in the way that people expect). Finally, efforts to prevent and respond to juvenile delinquency are examined.

A number of excellent texts providing overviews of juvenile delinquency as a social problem exist. Some of these—for example, Shoemaker 2005 —focus on theoretical approaches for understanding the etiology of delinquency; others, such as Snyder and Sickmund 2006 , are purely descriptive, while still others, such as Howell 2003 , provide an important link between theory and policy. Consistent with a perception of an emergent “youth violence epidemic” and an emphasis on targeting serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders during the late 1990s and early 2000s, a number of relevant works emerged during this period. Thus, Howell, et al. 1995 and Loeber and Farrington 1998 provide excellent entrees into these areas. Similarly, a concern about increasing delinquency among very young offenders (those younger than twelve years old) provides the context for Loeber and Farrington 2001 . Tonry and Moore 1998 is a compilation of essays on youth-violence research and policy written by top scholars, providing an excellent introduction to the topic. Regardless of their emphases or scope, the following texts provide thorough coverage for those interested in learning more about juvenile delinquency.

Howell, James C. 2003. Preventing and reducing juvenile delinquency: A comprehensive framework . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

An excellent book examining history, trends, and anti-delinquency programs. Packed with detailed coverage of the issues, couched within the “Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Comprehensive Strategy,” this book is a must-read for undergraduate and graduate students, but also very useful for policymakers.

Howell, James C., Barry Krisberg, J. David Hawkins, and John J. Wilson, eds. 1995. Serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders: A sourcebook . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

A compilation of research studies examining serious, chronic, and violent juvenile offenders. Examines patterns and trends, risk factors, and strategies associated with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Comprehensive Strategy for dealing with these youth.

Loeber, Rolf, and David P. Farrington, eds. 1998. Serious and violent juvenile offenders: Risk factors and successful interventions . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Another excellent compilation of studies associated with serious and violent juvenile offenders. Provides detailed information about the issue and ways in which society responds.

Loeber, Rolf, and David P. Farrington, eds. 2001. Child delinquents: Development, intervention, and service needs . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

A comprehensive introduction to research on young delinquents. Coverage of topics ranges from known risk factors to prevention and intervention programs aimed at child delinquents.

Shoemaker, Donald J. 2005. Theories of delinquency: An examination of explanations of delinquent behavior . 5th ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

A very good undergraduate- or graduate-level text providing a comprehensive introduction to theories of juvenile delinquency.

Snyder, Howard N., and Melissa Sickmund. 2006. Juvenile offenders and victims: 2006 national report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

A publication from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention providing facts and figures about American juvenile offending and victimization. The definitive government source for recent figures. Available online .

Tonry, Michael, and Mark H. Moore. 1998. Crime and justice: A review of research . Vol. 24, Youth violence . Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

A collection of essays from the leaders in the field. This volume focuses specifically on the problem of youth violence.

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  • v.41(1); 2017 Feb

Juvenile delinquency, welfare, justice and therapeutic interventions: a global perspective

Susan young.

1 Imperial College London, London, UK

2 Broadmoor Hospital, Crowthorne, UK

Richard Church

3 South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK

This review considers juvenile delinquency and justice from an international perspective. Youth crime is a growing concern. Many young offenders are also victims with complex needs, leading to a public health approach that requires a balance of welfare and justice models. However, around the world there are variable and inadequate legal frameworks and a lack of a specialist workforce. The UK and other high-income countries worldwide have established forensic child and adolescent psychiatry, a multifaceted discipline incorporating legal, psychiatric and developmental fields. Its adoption of an evidence-based therapeutic intervention philosophy has been associated with greater reductions in recidivism compared with punitive approaches prevalent in some countries worldwide, and it is therefore a superior approach to dealing with the problem of juvenile delinquency.

Recent years have seen sustained public and academic interest in criminality and mental health, with attention often focused on antisocial behaviour by children and adolescents. The scale of the problem of juvenile delinquency has provoked mixed responses from governments and the media across the world, with calls for improved rehabilitation and support for juvenile offenders competing with voices advocating more punitive approaches. 1 Meanwhile, decades of rigorous academic scrutiny have shed light on the complex and diverse needs of children who come into conflict with the law. 2 – 5 Much of the growing body of literature on juvenile offenders shows considerable overlap between criminological, social and biomedical research, with a consensus emerging around the significance of a developmental understanding of the emergence of juvenile delinquency.

Importantly, juvenile offenders have consistently been identified as a population that suffers from a markedly elevated prevalence and severity of mental disorder compared with the general juvenile population. 6 , 7 Meeting the needs of these young offenders presents practical and ethical challenges concerning treatment and management, including liaison with other agencies.

What is juvenile delinquency?

Who counts as juvenile.

Juvenile delinquency is a term commonly used in academic literature for referring to a young person who has committed a criminal offence, although its precise definition can vary according to the local jurisdiction. The specific reasons underlying these differences are unclear, but they may arise from the lack of an agreed international standard. 8

A ‘juvenile’ in this context refers to an individual who is legally able to commit a criminal offence owing to being over the minimum age of criminal responsibility, but who is under the age of criminal majority, when a person is legally considered an adult. The minimum age of criminal responsibility varies internationally between 6 and 18 years, but the age of criminal majority is usually 18 years.

In some cases individuals older than 18 years may be heard in a juvenile court, and therefore will still be considered juveniles; indeed, the United Nations (UN) defines ‘youth’ as between 15 and 24 years of age. The term ‘child delinquents’ has been used in reference to children below the age of 13 who have committed a delinquent act, 9 although elsewhere ‘children’ are often defined as being under 18 years of age. The term ‘young offenders’ is broad, and can refer to offenders aged under 18 years or include young adults up to their mid-20s.

What is a crime?

A ‘delinquent’ is an individual who has committed a criminal offence. Delinquency therefore encompasses an enormous range of behaviours which are subject to legislation differing from one jurisdiction to another, and are subject to changes in law over time. Whereas acts of theft and serious interpersonal violence are commonly considered to constitute criminal offences, other acts including alcohol consumption and sexual behaviour in young people are tolerated to very differing degrees across the world. Sometimes these differences arise as a consequence of historical or cultural factors, and they may be underpinned by traditional religious laws, such as in some Middle Eastern countries. Some offences may be shared between jurisdictions but be enforced to differing standards – for instance, ‘unlawful assembly’, often used to prevent riots, is applied in Singapore to young people meeting in public in groups of five or more as part of police efforts to tackle youth gangs. Furthermore, ‘status offences’ – acts that would be permissible in adults but criminalised in children, such as consumption of alcohol or truancy – not only vary between jurisdictions, but contribute to discontinuity when comparing juvenile delinquency with adult populations in the same jurisdiction.

Lack of clarity can also arise in jurisdictions where a young offender is processed via a welfare system rather than a youth justice process. Countries with a high minimum age of criminal responsibility may not technically criminalise young people for behaviour that would normally be prosecuted and therefore classed as ‘delinquent’ elsewhere.

Not all incarcerated juveniles are ‘delinquent’, since some may be detained pre-trial and may not be convicted of an offence. Even if convicted, it would be wrong to assume that every ‘juvenile delinquent’ meets criteria for a diagnosis of conduct disorder; offences vary considerably and may not be associated with a broad repertoire of offending behaviour. Also, most ‘juvenile delinquents’ do not pose an immediate risk of violence to others, and the vast majority of convicted juveniles serve their sentences in the community.

To meet the diagnostic criteria of conduct disorder requires evidence of a persistent pattern of dissocial or aggressive conduct, such that it defies age-appropriate social expectations. Behaviours may include cruelty to people or animals, truancy, frequent and severe temper tantrums, excessive fighting or bullying and fire-setting; diagnosis of conduct disorder can be made in the marked presence of one of these behaviours. 10

Overall, the term ‘juvenile delinquent’ is used extensively in academic literature, but requires some care. It can be a potentially problematic term, and in some contexts can strike a pejorative tone with misleading negative assumptions. For several years the UN has used the phrase ‘children in conflict with the law’ to describe the breadth of the heterogeneous group of individuals under the age of 18 who have broken the law or are at risk of doing so.

General principles of juvenile justice

Welfare v. justice models.

The sentencing of an individual convicted of a criminal offence is largely driven by three key considerations: retribution (punishment), deterrence and rehabilitation. In the case of juvenile offenders the principle of rehabilitation is often assigned the greatest weight. 11

Special consideration for juveniles within the criminal justice system is not a new concept. In Roman law, the principle of doli incapax protected young children from prosecution owing to the presumption of a lack of capacity and understanding required to be guilty of a criminal offence. Most countries have some provision for special treatment of children who come into conflict with the law, however, the degree to which this is provided varies across the world. 1 , 12 In some countries a ‘welfare’ model prevails, which focuses on the needs of the child, diagnosis, treatment and more informal procedures, whereas other countries favour a ‘justice’ model, which emphasises accountability, punishment and procedural formality.

Belgium is frequently cited as an example of a country with a strong welfare process, supported by a high minimum age of criminal responsibility of 18 years. Similarly, France built a strong welfare reputation by placing education and rehabilitation at the centre of youth justice reforms in the 1940s. New Zealand in 1989 established the widely praised system of Family Group Conferencing as an integral part of youth justice, with a focus on restoration of relationships and reduction of incarceration that would be considered part of a welfare approach. In contrast, the UK and the USA have traditionally been associated with a justice model and low age of criminal responsibility – 10 years in England and Wales, and as low as 6 years in several US states.

Within welfare or justice models, a young person may at some point be ‘deprived of liberty’ – defined as any form of detention under official authorities in a public or private location which the child is not permitted to leave. Locations in which children may be deprived of liberty include police stations, detention centres, juvenile or adult prisons, secure remand homes, work or boot camps, penitentiary colonies, locked specialised schools, educational or rehabilitation establishments, military camps and prisons, immigration detention centres, secure youth hostels and hospitals. 13

Between the less and more punitive systems

The UN supports the development of specialised systems for managing children in conflict with the law. When the first children's courts were set up in the USA in the 1930s, they were widely praised as a progressive system for serving the best interests of the child. Although informality was championed as a particular benefit, in the 1960s substantial concerns arose about due process and the protection of the legal rights of minors. The subsequent development of formal juvenile courts occurred in the context of a continuing ethos of rehabilitation of young people, with a move away from incarceration of juveniles in the 1970s, especially in Massachusetts and California. However, following a marked peak in juvenile offending statistics during the 1980s and 1990s, public and political opinion swung firmly in a more punitive direction. This was accompanied by legal reforms that increased the severity of penalties available to juvenile courts and lowered the age threshold for juveniles to be tried in adult criminal courts.

When the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child entered into force in 1990, the USA was not a signatory owing to 22 states permitting capital punishment of individuals who had committed their crimes as juveniles. It is reported that 19 juvenile offenders were executed in the USA between 1990 and 2005. Although this number may represent a small percentage of the total who faced the death penalty in the USA during that period, the practice was widely criticised by international bodies and organisations. 14 A landmark ruling in the US Supreme Court 15 outlawed the execution of juvenile offenders in the USA, but to date a small number of countries worldwide still implement this practice, sometimes as a result of religious laws.

However, it would be wrong to assume that welfare systems are automatically preferable to a juvenile justice approach, since welfare arrangements can be equally coercive in terms of deprivation of liberty of juveniles. They may lack due process, safeguards for obtaining reliable evidence from young people, processes for testing evidence, and procedures for scrutiny or appeal following disposal.

Trends in youth crime

The USA witnessed a dramatic increase in arrest rates of young people for homicide and other violent crimes in the 1980s and 1990s, sometimes referred to as the ‘violence epidemic’. 16 The ensuing moral panic led to harsh and punitive policy changes in juvenile justice and, although official statistics document a subsequent fall of 20% in court case-loads between 1997 and 2009, victimisation surveys have indicated a degree of continuity in high levels of offending, consistent with a reported increase in juvenile offending between 2000 and 2006. 17

In common with the USA and several other high-income countries, the UK also experienced a rise in juvenile offending in the 1980s and 1990s, but figures from the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales appear to indicate a general improvement in recent years. Between 2009/2010 and 2014/2015 a 67% reduction has been observed in the number of young people entering the juvenile justice system for the first time, a 65% reduction in the number of young people receiving a caution or court disposal and a 57% reduction in the number of young people in custody. 18 These figures support an overall decrease in juvenile offending noted since the early 1990s. 19

Youth crime figures from Australia have documented a 4% reduction in the overall number of young offenders in 2013/2014, 20 although the number of violent offences committed by young people in the urbanised and densely populated region of Victoria has increased by 75% between 2000 and 2010. 21

The Nordic countries have witnessed an increase in the number of law-abiding youths from 1994 and 2008. 22 In Sweden, both objective levels of juvenile crime 23 and self-reported involvement in juvenile crime 24 have fallen between 1995 and 2005. Similarly in Finland, where, despite fluctuating trends in juvenile drug use, juvenile property and violent crime is reported to have decreased between 1992 and 2013. 25

To summarise, whereas regional and annual trends in juvenile offending are observed and expected, a global trend characterised by decreased juvenile offending appears to have emerged in recent years. Indeed, UN data from a sample of 40 countries lend support to this conclusion, indicating a decrease in the proportion of juveniles suspected (10.9% to 9.2%) and convicted (7.5% to 6%) of crime between 2004 and 2012, respectively. 26

Juvenile gang membership

Influence on crime involvement.

One of the features of urbanisation across the world has been the rise of youth gangs, groups of young people often defined by geographical area, ethnic identity or ideology; recent reports indicate a rise in groups with extremist views. Explanatory models for the rise in youth gangs include factors such as economic migration, loss of extended family networks, reduced supervision of children, globalisation and exposure to inaccessible lifestyle ‘ideals’ portrayed in modern media.

Authorities in Japan attributed a surge in serious youth crime in the 1990s primarily to juvenile bike gangs known as ‘bosozoku’, who were deemed responsible for over 80% of serious offences perpetrated by juveniles, putatively bolstered by a crackdown on yakuza organised crime syndicates. 27 Although difficult to quantify, gang involvement appears to feature in a large proportion of juvenile offences, and there is evidence that gang membership has a facilitating effect on perpetration of the most serious violence including homicide. 28

Mental health

Compared with general and juvenile offender populations, juvenile gang members exhibit significantly higher rates of mental health problems such as conduct disorder/antisocial personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 29 Gang members, compared with non-violent men who do not belong to a gang, are far more likely to utilise mental health services and display significantly higher levels of psychiatric morbidity, most notably antisocial personality disorder, psychosis and anxiety disorders. 30 Gang membership has also been positively correlated with an increased incidence of depressed mood and suicidal ideation among younger gang members. 31 Prevalence of ADHD is significantly greater in incarcerated youth populations (30.1%) than in general youth population estimates (3–7%), 32 therefore it may be reasonable to expect a similarly increased prevalence in juvenile gang members. ADHD has also been associated with a significantly increased risk of comorbid mood/affective disorder. 33

Forensic child and adolescent psychiatric services

Increased awareness of constitutional and environmental factors that contribute to juvenile offending has strengthened a public health perspective towards the problem, and in the UK entry into the youth justice system has been adopted as an indicator of general public health. 34

Dictionaries frequently define ‘forensic’ as meaning ‘legal’, implying a relationship with any court of law. Indeed, many forensic psychiatrists, particularly in child and adolescent services, undertake roles that encompass multiple legal domains relevant to mental health, including criminal law, family and child custody proceedings, special educational tribunals, and immigration or extradition matters.

Specialist forensic psychiatric services vary considerably between countries, 35 but usually forensic psychiatrists assess and treat individuals in secure psychiatric hospitals, prisons, law courts, police stations and in the community under various levels of security, supervision and support. In some countries there has been a trend towards forensic psychiatrists working almost exclusively with courts of law, providing independent specialist opinion to assist the court.

In the UK, forensic child and adolescent psychiatry has emerged as a clinical subspecialty. Some services are based in specialist secure hospitals for young people and cater for the relatively small number of high-risk young offenders with the most severe mental disorders. In the absence of such specialist resources, young people may be managed in suboptimal environments such as juvenile prisons, secure residential placements or secure mental health wards for adults, or even fail to receive treatment at all.

In light of growing evidence-based interventions for juvenile offenders within a public health framework, 36 the role of child and family mental health services may increase over time. Aside from direct clinical roles, practitioners in forensic child and adolescent psychiatry are also well placed to work with a wide range of partner agencies on the planning and delivery of broader interventions for the primary and secondary prevention of juvenile delinquency.

Prevalence of mental health problems among juvenile offenders

Rates of mental health problems among juvenile offenders are significantly higher than in their non-offender peers, with two-thirds of male juvenile offenders in the USA suggested as meeting criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder. 37 One in five juvenile offenders is estimated to suffer severe functional impairment as a result of their mental health problems. 38 Paradoxically, these needs are often unmet, 39 , 40 despite evidence of increased contact with mental health services, particularly among first-time juvenile offenders. 41 , 42 Of additional concern are the reported associations between mental health problems and mortality in incarcerated juveniles, 43 including an elevated suicide rate for males. 44 Mental health problems must be a target in interventions for juvenile offenders; however, treatments which focus solely on clinical problems are unlikely to result in benefit for criminogenic outcomes. 45 There is therefore a clear need for effective interventions which address both the clinical and criminogenic needs of these individuals.

Evidence-based treatments for mental health problems

Treatment of ptsd.

Estimates regarding the prevalence of PTSD among juvenile offenders suggest that 20 to 23% meet the clinical criteria, 46 , 47 with prevalence rates significantly higher among females than males (40% v . 17%). 46 Moreover, with 62% experiencing trauma within the first 5 years of life 47 and up to 93% experiencing at least one traumatic event during childhood or adolescence, 48 this should be a target for intervention.

Cognitive–behavioural therapy (CBT) is regarded as the most effective intervention for adults with PTSD 49 and also has demonstrated efficacy for juvenile non-offenders. 50 , 51 There is limited evidence suggesting a significant reduction in self-reported symptoms of PTSD following group-based CBT in male juvenile offenders, 52 and of an adapted version of CBT, cognitive processing therapy, 53 also resulting in a significant reduction in self-reported symptoms of PTSD and depression compared with waitlist controls. 54

A trauma-focused emotion regulation intervention (TARGET) has received preliminary empirical support for use in this population. TARGET resulted in nearly twice as much reduction in PTSD symptom severity as treatment as usual (TAU), 55 in addition to significant reductions in depression, behavioural disturbances and increased optimism. 56

Mood/anxiety disorders and self-harm

Juvenile offenders in the UK present with a high prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders (67% of females, 41% of males), self-harm (11% of females, 7% of males) and history of suicide attempts (33% of females, 20% of males). 57 Similarly high prevalence has also been observed cross-culturally, namely in the USA, 37 , 58 Switzerland 59 and Finland. 60

Despite such high prevalence, there appears to be a paucity of high-quality evaluations regarding the effectiveness of interventions for juvenile offenders with mood and/or anxiety disorders, or problems with self-harm. However, the limited evidence that is available suggests that group-based CBT may aid symptom reduction. 61 Recovery rates for major depressive disorder following group-based CBT are over double those for a life skills tutoring intervention (39% v . 19%, respectively), although no significant difference was noted at 6- or 12-month follow-up. CBT also resulted in significantly greater improvements in self- and observer-reported symptoms of depression and social functioning. 62

However, group-based CBT is not reported to be significantly different from TAU in reduction of self-harm, 63 whereas individual CBT is not significantly different from TAU in outcomes for depression, anxiety, conduct disorder or PTSD. 64 Yet recruitment to and retention in intervention seems good, suggesting that CBT is feasible to implement in juvenile offender populations. 64

Evaluations of alternative interventions have posited muscle relaxation as effective in improving juvenile offenders' tolerance of frustration. 65 Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) has also been reported to significantly reduce incidences of physical aggression in a juvenile offender population 66 and among juvenile non-offenders expressing suicidal ideation. 67 It significantly reduced serious behavioural problems and staff punitive actions among juvenile offenders within a mental health unit, although no similar significant reductions were observed for those without mental health problems. 68

Evidence-based treatments for conduct disorder: family approaches

Relationships with family and peers are recognised as key factors in the criminogenic profile of juvenile offenders. 69 Multisystemic therapy (MST) is a family-focused intervention targeting characteristics related to antisocial behaviour, including family relationships and peer associations, 70 with evidence from US and UK studies suggesting MST is a beneficial intervention for juvenile offenders. When compared with conventional services offered by juvenile offending services, MST was associated with a significant reduction in the likelihood of reoffending, 71 maintained 2 and 4 years post-treatment. 72 , 73 Offenders engaging in MST are reported to be significantly less likely to become involved in serious and violent offending. 73 , 74 Significant improvements have also been observed in both self- and parent-reported delinquency, 74 family relations and interactions, 73 and home, school, community and emotional functioning. 71 A cost offset analysis of MST among UK juvenile offenders suggested that combining MST and conventional services provides greater cost savings than conventional services alone, as a result of its positive effects on recidivism. 75 Qualitative impressions of MST from juvenile offenders and their parents indicate that key components of a successful delivery of MST include the quality of the therapeutic relationship and ability to re-engage the offender with educational systems. 76

Some evidence also exists regarding the efficacy of MST when delivered to non-offender antisocial juvenile populations outside the USA and the UK. Compared with TAU, MST resulted in a significantly greater increase in social competence and caregiver satisfaction, and a significant reduction in referrals for out-of-home placements, in Norwegian juveniles exhibiting serious behavioural problems. 77 However, no significant difference between MST and TAU was reported in outcomes for antisocial behaviour and psychiatric symptoms in Swedish juvenile offenders. 78 MST was also found to have no significant benefit over TAU in outcomes including recidivism in a sample of Canadian juvenile offenders. 79 These differing outcomes have been posited as the result of barriers in transferring MST from US and UK populations owing to differing approaches to juvenile justice between countries (i.e. a welfare v . justice approach). 78 The heterogeneous nature of studies concerning MST in juvenile offender populations prevent a firm conclusion being drawn as to its superiority over alternative interventions, although this does not diminish the positive outcomes which have been observed. 80

Substance misuse

Motivational interviewing represents a promising approach for juvenile offenders, particularly as a treatment for substance misuse. 81 Group-based motivational interviewing has received positive feedback from participants when implemented with first-time juvenile alcohol or drug offenders, 82 and compared with TAU, juvenile offenders in receipt of motivational interviewing have greater satisfaction and display lower, though not statistically significant, rates of recidivism at 12-months post-motivational interviewing. 83 There is therefore preliminary evidence for the acceptability and feasibility of motivational interviewing for substance-misusing juvenile offenders, but future research regarding long-term outcomes is warranted. To date, motivational interviewing for difficulties faced by juvenile offenders beyond that of substance misuse does not appear to have received much research attention. Juvenile offenders are known for their difficulty to engage in rehabilitative services, therefore further investigation of the effectiveness of motivational interviewing in encouraging engagement is warranted.

Preliminary investigations have also developed a conceptual framework for the delivery of mindfulness-based interventions (MBI) to incarcerated substance-misusing juveniles, with qualitative impressions suggesting this is a potentially feasible and efficacious intervention. 84 Although literature regarding the effectiveness of MBI in juvenile offenders is scarce, qualitative feedback has indicated positive reception of this style of intervention, with particular improvements in subjective well-being reported by juvenile participants. 85

Employment and education

Engaging juvenile offenders with education and skills-based training is an important component of successful rehabilitation, with positive engagement in meaningful activities associated with improvements in areas such as self-belief 86 and protection against future participation in criminal activities. 87 It is concerning therefore that an evaluation of the use of leisure time over a 1-week period by probationary juvenile offenders in Australia indicated only 10% of this time was spent engaging in productive activities, such as employment or education, with 57% used for passive leisure activities, a level 30% higher than that of their non-offender peers. 88

Efforts to engage juvenile offenders in vocational and/or occupational activities have shown benefits in a number of areas. A specialised vocational and employment training programme (CRAFT) emphasising practical skills was evaluated against conventional education provision to juvenile offenders in the USA. Over a 30-month follow-up period, those engaged in CRAFT were significantly more likely to be in employment, to have attended an educational diploma programme and to have attended for a significantly longer period of time. 89 Benefits have also been reported with regard to risk of reoffending, with an after-school programme in the USA incorporating practical community projects, educational sessions and family therapy resulting in a significant reduction in recidivism at 1-year follow-up. 90

Qualitative investigations of US juvenile offenders suggest there is not a lack of interest in pursuing education among this population, but rather a disconnection with educational systems when education providers are perceived not to care about students' progress. 91 Ensuring education providers are perceived as proactive and caring in this regard may therefore be an important consideration for efforts to engage juvenile offenders with educational systems. Significant barriers to engagement include difficulties in obtaining accurate information regarding the offender's educational history, in addition to identifying community-based education providers willing to accept previously incarcerated juveniles on their release. 92

Language and communication

Difficulties with language and communication skills appear to be prevalent among juvenile offenders, with estimates of those falling into the poor or very poor categories ranging from 46 to 67%; overall, up to 90% of juvenile offenders demonstrated language skills below average. 93 Specifically, high rates of illiteracy are reported in this population, 94 with evidence to suggest that an awareness of such problems among juvenile offenders themselves is associated with dissatisfaction and poor self-esteem. 95 These difficulties may act as barriers to engagement in therapeutic interventions, particularly those delivered in group settings, as well as re-engagement with educational systems. Awareness of the challenges these young people face with regard to confidence and ability to communicate is important, and potential involvement of a speech and language therapist could be considered. Preventing deficits in language and communication through effective schooling and appropriate support in the early years of life may serve as an aid to effective engagement in rehabilitative interventions, and may also mitigate the risk of engagement in criminal activities in the first instance.

Delivery of therapeutic services

Common challenges to a therapeutic youth justice pathway.

There are common obstacles to smooth care pathways between different parts of systems, such as in transitions between secure settings and the community, between prisons and secure psychiatric settings, and between child and adult services. In some jurisdictions individuals can only be treated pharmacologically against their will in a hospital setting, a safeguard which limits the extent to which individuals can be treated in prison, but there is still great scope for intervention by prison mental health teams in juvenile prisons.

Factors associated with good outcomes

A meta-analysis has revealed three primary factors associated with effective interventions for juvenile offenders: a ‘therapeutic’ intervention philosophy, serving high-risk offenders, and quality of implementation. 96 These findings are consistent with factors posited as correlating with good outcome in residential centres for troubled adolescents and juvenile offenders: good staff-adolescent relations, perception of staff as pro-social role models, positive peer pressure, an individualised therapeutic programme approach, developmentally appropriate programmes and activities, clear expectations and boundaries, and placement locations which allow for continued family contact. 97 , 98

In the community, coercive styles of engagement have been found to be less successful at achieving adherence among juvenile offenders than a client-centred approach. 99

Factors associated with poor outcomes

‘Scared Straight’ programmes expose juveniles who have begun to commit offences to inmates of high-security prisons, yet these approaches have been discredited due to evidence that risk of recidivism may in fact increase following such exposure. 100 Similarly poor outcomes have been observed in programmes modelled on military boot camps, in which harsh discipline is considered to be of therapeutic benefit, 101 and initiatives such as curfew, probation and hearing juvenile cases in adult court were also shown to be ineffective in reducing recidivism. 13

Over recent years it has been repeatedly demonstrated that exposure to juvenile court itself appears to have a detrimental effect on juvenile offending. 102 – 104 This may be partially explained by effects of labelling, stigma and negative self-image associated with a criminal conviction, but also the practical consequences of sentences, including assortment of delinquent peers in community or prison sentences. Incarceration presents several additional harms, including disturbance of care and pro-social relationships, discontinuity in education, association with delinquent peers, and exposure to violence. Half of detained young offenders in the UK reported victimisation during their current prison term, 57 while 12% of incarcerated youth in the USA reported sexual victimisation in the previous year. 105 International agreements state that deprivation of liberty (such as juvenile prison) should be used as a last resort and for the shortest time necessary, so should be reserved for the highest-risk offenders. The cost of juvenile antisocial behaviour is known to be high, and to fall on many agencies. 106 The current climate of austerity in public services demands that any interventions should be not only effective, but also cost-effective, raising a clear challenge – and opportunity – for the implementation of interventions for this population of vulnerable young people. For example, parenting programmes have demonstrated sustained benefits for this population, 107 , 108 with economic analysis indicating gross savings of £9288 per child over a 25 year period. 109 Considered together with wider costs of crime, these gross savings exceed the average cost of parenting programmes (£1177) by a factor of approximately 8 to 1.


Many argue that we have a long way to go before arriving at ‘child friendly’ juvenile justice. 110 Around the world there are variable and inadequate legal frameworks that are not age-appropriate, there is a lack of age-appropriate services and establishments, and a lack of a specialist workforce, leading to challenges around training and supervision to work with this vulnerable population. In the UK and other high-income countries worldwide, forensic child and adolescent psychiatry is a multifaceted discipline incorporating legal, psychiatric and developmental fields. This approach has navigated clinical and ethical challenges and made an important contribution to welfare and justice needs by its adoption of an evidence-based therapeutic intervention philosophy.

Declaration of interests S.Y. has received honoraria for consultancy, travel, educational talks and/or research from Janssen, Eli Lilly, Shire, Novartis, HB Pharma and Flynn Pharma.

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'Inventing and Re-Inventing the Juvenile Delinquent in British History'

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2011, Memoria Y Civilizacion

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ENGLISH (EN BAS EN FRANÇAIS): This article considers the way in which attitudes to juvenile delinquency in Britain in the period 1830-65 were linked to enduring and powerful stereotypes of the criminal body. Both traditional historiography and its Foucauldian critics have tended to confine their attention to the writings of a small number of contemporary humanist reformers. The latter emphasised the strength of environmental forces in moulding the young criminal, and the need for “reformatories” to be built to purge him or her of those nefarious influences. In reality, however, the debate was more complex than this. The kind of hereditarian explanations of crime familiar from work on adult (particularly habitual) offenders can also be found in discussions of juvenile delinquents. Thus alongside the more well-known environmental explanations of youth offending, there existed a discourse drawing on physiognomic, phrenological and anthropological theories which offered body – particularly facial – characteristics as “proof” of an innate propensity to crime. Cet article montre comment le débat sur le « problème de la délinquance juvénile » en Grande-Bretagne dans la période 1830-1865 puisait dans les stéréotypes très enracinés et durables de l’existence d’un « corps criminel ». L’historiographie traditionnelle, tout comme la critique foucaldienne, a eu tendance à limiter son analyse aux écrits d’un petit nombre de réformateurs humanistes. Ces derniers mettaient en exergue une explication de la criminalité juvénile fondée sur le milieu et préconisaient la mise en place d’un système de maisons de redressement (« reformatories ») qui devait permettre de libérer les jeunes des mauvaises influences de leur environnement. En réalité, le débat fut beaucoup plus complexe. Le type d’explications innéistes du comportement criminel des adultes (en particulier des récidivistes) que l’on rencontre couramment dans les écrits de l’époque, trouve son écho dans le débat sur la délinquance juvénile. Cet article met en évidence l’existence, pendant toute la période, d’un discours, trop souvent occulté, inspiré par les théories de la physiognomonie, de la phrénologie et de l’anthropologie, qui affirmait que des tares physiques « prouvaient » l’existence de pulsions criminelles innées. Pour le texte en entier et en libre accès en français, voir https://journals.openedition.org/rhei/367?lang=fr

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132 Juvenile Delinquency Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

🏆 best juvenile delinquency topic ideas & essay examples, 💡 interesting topics to write about juvenile delinquency, 📌 simple & easy juvenile delinquency essay titles, 👍 good essay topics on juvenile delinquency, ❓ research questions on juvenile delinquency.

  • The Impact of Media on Juvenile Delinquency Besides, the media have been at the forefront of the fight against juvenile-related crimes. In this view, this document aims at critically evaluating the role of various forms of media in escalating juvenile delinquency, and […]
  • Methodologies Used to Measure Acts of Juvenile Delinquency Before moving into the aspects of measurement of actions of juvenile delinquents, it is necessary to define and know what a juvenile delinquent is, and what actions fall within the ambit of juvenile delinquency.
  • The Broken Homes and Juvenile Delinquency The level of measurement in this study will be to assess the frequency of involvement in crime by the children from the broken homes as well as those from the two parent families.
  • Poverty Areas and Effects on Juvenile Delinquency The desire to live a better life contributes to the youths engaging in crimes, thus the increase in cases of juvenile delinquencies amid low-income families. The studies indicate that the fear of poverty is the […]
  • Developing Solutions to the Juvenile Delinquency Problem These include the creation of a creative activity center, the mandatory introduction of art classes in schools, and the implementation of urban sports programs.
  • The Issue of Juvenile Delinquency At the onset of the industrial revolution, public awareness concerning the fair and ethical treatment of children in workplaces emerged. The role of supervising and guiding children is left to other children, grandparents, or hired […]
  • Juvenile Delinquency The defenders of the system on the other hand appreciate the marked role of juvenile justice system in rehabilitating juvenile delinquents and are advocating for the conservation of the system and reforming critical structures that […]
  • Juvenile Delinquency: Causes and Intervention The role of the family and parents cannot be discounted in the causes of juvenile delinquency. The courts and the lawyers are involved in the trial and sentencing of juvenile offenders.
  • Juvenile Delinquency in Ancient and Modern Times The only policy related to juvenile delinquency existing in ancient Greece was the law that prohibited the youth in ancient Greece from beating their parents.
  • The Rise of Juvenile Delinquency and the Influence of Drugs Additionally, parents are the ones who know the strengths and weaknesses of the children since they spend most of their time together, their suggestions and views towards the crime committed should be handled with a […]
  • Single Parenthood and Juvenile Delinquency in Modern Society The proposal seeks to establish the relationship between single parenthood and the increase in juvenile delinquency. I propose addressing child delinquency from the perspective of social and family background to understand the risks associated with […]
  • The Problem of Juvenile Delinquency The addition of family context to the existing perception of adolescent crimes could be used to explore the core reasons for the crimes and to define possible methods for the prevention of juvenile crimes. The […]
  • Problems of Juvenile Delinquency The main aim of writing this paper is to carry out an examination of a juvenile delinquent in order to understand what pushes them into doing the act and applicable solutions which can be applied […]
  • The Cognitive Theory in Juvenile Delinquency At this stage, a child can perform certain actions repeatedly and also be able to differentiate the means of doing actions.
  • Theories of Juvenile Delinquency Research showed individuals’ attitudes toward crime may herald their criminal behavior, in agreement with criminological theories such as control theory, learning theory and psychological theories like the theory of reasoned action.
  • Juvenile Delinquency: Social Disorganization Theory Hence, according to Lopez and Gillespie, tenets of the social disorganization theory have been resourceful in the present-day juvenile delinquency system.
  • Adolescent Diversion Project in Juvenile Delinquency Treatment in Michigan The focus of the program is to prevent future delinquency by creating social attachments to family and other prosocial youth by providing community resources and keeping individuals away from the juvenile justice system which can […]
  • The Relationship Between Parental Influence and Juvenile Delinquency Parents that do not allow their children to play with their neighbors, or discourage their children from associating with particular families lead to the children developing a negative attitude towards the families.
  • Juvenile Delinquency and Affecting Factors The information gathered, synthesized, and analyzed in the research with the help of the proposed question has future value as it identifies factors that can be impacted by the society representatives.
  • Juvenile Delinquency: Impact of Collective Efficacy and Mental Illnesses The perception of collective efficacy can be defined as the consideration that the people in a neighborhood are trustable and can do their part to partake in social control to benefit a specific community.
  • Juvenile Delinquency: a Case Analysis The tracking of the juvenile from juvenile court to adult court and then through the system is shown in the outline below: Arrest.
  • Implementing an Arts Program to Help Curb Juvenile Delinquency and Reduce Recidivism Therefore, the pieces of art will be customized to rhyme with society needs of the targeted children and the adolescents. Some of the enrollees to this program will be delinquents.
  • Role of Family in Reducing Juvenile Delinquency Players in the criminal justice system recognize the contribution of family and familial factors to the development of criminal and delinquent tendencies and their potential to minimize minors’ engagement in illegal and socially unacceptable behaviors.
  • Juvenile Delinquency is a Product of Nurture These criminals have been exposed to unfavorable conditions in their lives such as violence and poverty and turn to criminal behavior as a coping mechanism.
  • Gangs and Juvenile Delinquency Hallsworth and Silverstone argues that although there have been a lot of violence, the main source is not quite clear and people live by speculations that the violence is linked to the emergence of a […]
  • Juvenile Delinquency: Three Levels of Prevention It is made up of programs and ideals which are effective in treatment of the offender, reintegrating them in the society and limiting them from committing similar offenses. In conclusion, though most prevention programs are […]
  • Day Treatment Centers and Juvenile Delinquency One of the core aspects that should not be disregarded is that such programs may be used as a particular assessment tool that would help to identify needs of a juvenile, and this approach may […]
  • Court Unification and Juvenile Delinquency Speaking about the given issue, it is important to give the clear definition of this category and determine who could be judged by the juvenile court.
  • Prevent Juvenile Delinquency in the USA Due to this fact, it is possible to describe the existing problem as the increase in the number of crimes that children commit.
  • Juvenile Delinquency: Risk Assessment The investigatory processes to know the individual’s character and personality involve the use of complex and simple approaches, and these serve to provide organizations or institutions dealing with child welfare with important information that would […]
  • Life Without Parole and Juvenile Delinquency The United States is one of the few countries which recognize the necessity of sentencing juveniles to life without parole. This is the main and only advantage of this approach.
  • Juvenile Delinquency and Reasons That Lead to It Irrespective of the cause of juvenile delinquency, juvenile drug abuse is certainly most commonly related directly to either an increase or a decrease in any form of juvenile delinquency. This correlates to the increase in […]
  • The Concepts of Nature and Nurture in Modern Psychologist to Explain Juvenile Delinquency Hence any behavior exhibited by a juvenile that is in total contrast with the value demands of the larger society can be termed as Juvenile Delinquency. On the one hand, it is believed that Juvenile […]
  • Criminology Theories and Juvenile Delinquency From the point of view of labeling theory, the initial drinking and the first fight at the party is John’s primary deviance.
  • Juvenile Delinquency in the United States According to Pennsylvania laws, children at the age of 10 and above can be trialed as adults for first- and second-degree murders.
  • Juvenile Delinquency and the Importance of Socialization At the time of the incident, according to the authors of the article, twenty students out of a total of thirty had arrived for the lecture.
  • Theories and Suggestions on Juvenile Delinquency The other factor is that the norms that governed relationships in the different family and societal set-ups such as in the school and the workplace are being challenged.
  • The Phenomenon of Juvenile Delinquency They are very important in the proceedings and even have additional authority to propose a waiver of the subject. The judges are the other officials in a juvenile court system.
  • The Juvenile Delinquency Rate In order to reduce the rate of crime committed by young people in my community, there is a need to educate the youth in matters of drug and substance abuse.
  • Juvenile Delinquency Recidivism Prevention Many studies have been carried out to examine the rates of recidivism among juveniles and the ineffectiveness of the juvenile prison.
  • Juvenile Delinquency: The Columbine Shootings This paper seeks to discuss and analyze the casual theory of juvenile delinquency by describing an instance of juvenile delinquency as highlighted in the mass media, by describing the casual theory of juvenile delinquency with […]
  • Juvenile Delinquency Theories in the United States School and family are extremely important to juveniles regarding their worldview, and the failure of those communities to guide them may result in turning to questionable ideals and morals.
  • Crime Prevention and Juvenile Delinquency As a specific jurisdiction that will serve as the basis for assessing and implementing the provisions of the crime prevention program, the District of Florida will be considered.
  • Adolescent Psychology and Juvenile Delinquency I will also promote the idea that when it comes to identifying the factors that contribute to the development of delinquency in youth, one must be willing to consider the effects of the combination of […]
  • Juvenile Delinquency, Its Factors and Theories Under the individual risk factors, it is prudent to note that a lack of proper education coupled with lower intelligence might pose a serious risk to a minor in terms of engaging in criminal activities […]
  • Factors Associated With Juvenile Delinquency Further, the authors propose that the family should be the main focus of prevention and clinical interventions and that establishment of social policy and programs should be directed to the family.
  • Combating Juvenile Delinquency: Projects Management In order to prevent and reduce juvenile violence, the City of Hampton develops and implements various activities that were mentioned above, promoting the importance of moral standards.
  • The Issue of Juvenile Delinquency: Recent Trends Violence and other criminal actions attract the attention of the government and the general public, as they affect the life of the society adversely.
  • Juvenile Delinquency Investigation The social learning theory that is a part of it suggests that children observe the behavior of others and replicate it.
  • Juvenile Delinquency’ Causes and Possible Treatments They investigated the issue in different perspectives but came up to the decision that the best way to treat young offenders is to utilize multisystemic therapy.
  • Juvenile Delinquency: Criminological Theories These include the broken windows theory, the culture of the gang theory and the social disorganization theory. Cohen developed the culture of the gang theory to explain the origin of juvenile delinquency.
  • Juvenile Delinquency and Criminal Gangs The proliferation of criminal gangs in my area of jurisdiction, as director of the county juvenile court, represents a nationwide problem. In the 1990s, the rate of crime rose in most parts of the world.
  • Juvenile Delinquency, Treatment, and Interventions The performance of the child in school is one of the individual factors that are likely to cause the child to get involved in violent behaviors.
  • Poverty and Juvenile Delinquency in the United States
  • Roles of Family, School, and Church in Juvenile Delinquency
  • Understanding Juvenile Delinquency and the Different Ways to Stop the Problem in Our Society
  • Juvenile Delinquency and Crime as an Integral Part of the American Society
  • Impact of Television Violence In Relation To Juvenile Delinquency
  • The Vicious Circle of Child Abuse, Juvenile Delinquency, and Future Abuse
  • Juvenile Delinquency, Domestic Violence, and the Effects of Substance Abuse
  • The Explorers Program as a Preventative Measure in Juvenile Delinquency
  • Juvenile Delinquency, Youth Culture, and Renegade Kids, Suburban Outlaws by Wooden
  • The Alarming Rate of Juvenile Delinquency and Cases of Teenage Suicides in the U.S
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  • The Effects of Neighborhood Crime on the Level of Juvenile Delinquency
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  • The Impact of Television Violence and Its Relation to Juvenile Delinquency
  • The Lack of Strong Parental Figures Causes Juvenile Delinquency
  • Theories of Juvenile Delinquency: Why Young Individuals Commit Crimes
  • Using Drugs and Juvenile Delinquency
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  • What Is the Best Way to Combat Juvenile Delinquency?
  • The Marxist Crime Perspective On Juvenile Delinquency Of African Americans
  • The Failures of the Act of Juvenile Delinquency in the United States
  • Juvenile Delinquency And Its Effects On The Adult Justice System
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  • Preventing and Dealing with Juvenile Delinquency
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  • Exploring the Root Causes of the Problem of Juvenile Delinquency
  • The Rise of Juvenile Delinquency and the Flaws of the Juvenile Justice System
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  • The History of the Juvenile Delinquency and the Process of the Juvenile Justice System in Malaysia
  • The Issue of Juvenile Delinquency Among Girls in the United States
  • What Is the Importance of Studying Juvenile Delinquency?
  • Does Authoritative Parenting Impact Juvenile Delinquency?
  • What Are the Factors of Juvenile Delinquency?
  • What Are Juvenile Delinquency Causes and Solutions?
  • What Type of Problem Is Juvenile Delinquency?
  • How Can Family Structures Play a Role in Juvenile Delinquency?
  • What Is the Concept of Juvenile Delinquency?
  • How Do You Explain Juvenile Delinquency?
  • How Does Poverty and the Environment Cause or Contribute to Juvenile Delinquency?
  • What Are the Leading Causes of Juvenile Delinquency?
  • How Does Family Contribute to Juvenile Delinquency?
  • How the Juvenile Delinquency Impact Society?
  • Why Is Juvenile Delinquency a Problem?
  • What Factors Cause Juvenile Delinquency?
  • What Is the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency?
  • What Are the Types of Juvenile Delinquency?
  • What Is an Example of a Juvenile Delinquent?
  • How Can We Prevent Juvenile Delinquency?
  • How Does Juvenile Delinquency Affect the Community?
  • How Does Juvenile Delinquency Affect Education?
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  • What Is the Nature of Juvenile Delinquency?
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Understanding the social construction of juvenile delinquency: insights from semantic analysis of big-data historical newspaper collections

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  • Published: 11 May 2024

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juvenile delinquency history essay

  • Yu Zhang 1   na1 ,
  • Adam Davies   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-0610-2732 2   na1 &
  • ChengXiang Zhai 2  

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Massive historical newspaper collections contain rich information about the historical development of social issues and constitute a unique resource for studying the social construction of issues such as juvenile delinquency. However, manual analysis of millions of pages of newspaper articles is infeasible. In this paper, we propose a suite of computational methods, including cross-context lexical analysis, dynamic semantic analysis, and valence analysis, to facilitate the study of historical social construction. We apply these methods to ProQuest Historical Newspapers \(^{\textrm{TM}}\) collection in the period of 1790–2006 to study the social construction of juvenile delinquency over this period. Our results show that the proposed methods are effective in revealing insights regarding the social construction of juvenile delinquency, leading to a better understanding of this complex issue and specific hypotheses for further study. Overall, our study shows the great promise of leveraging natural language processing techniques for analyzing historical news data to study social construction of societal issues.

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Viewed from the perspective of social construction, criminality is not inherent in an act or a person but a social phenomenon defined by a social reaction [ 1 ]. It constitutes a social process wherein behavior is determined and classified as a social issue, such as crime or juvenile delinquency. This process of social categorization is an integral aspect of social construction. However, the manner in which social construction is enacted in society remains somewhat ambiguous. Critical constructivism posits that knowledge and phenomena are socially constructed through an ongoing dialogue involving culture, institutions, and historical contexts [ 2 ]. How can we effectively describe and explore this dialogue in our research? For instance, what forms of data can we employ to elucidate the social process involved in constructing the concept of juvenile delinquency? A significant challenge emerges in sourcing systematic data that adequately measures this social process as it manifests in everyday social life [ 3 ]. It becomes imperative to discern the dialogue that shapes the definitions of “juvenile" and “delinquency" within specific social contexts. Additionally, national statistics in England did not begin disclosing the ages of offenders until 1834 [ 3 ], even though the issue of juvenile delinquency dates back much earlier. Digital newspaper archives offer potential resources for data.

News outlets function as platforms through which social contexts can be comprehended. Individuals rely on news to gain insights into the social realm and make informed choices. Throughout this process, the societal contexts presented in news stories are assimilated by the public, regardless of whether they align with underlying realities. Over time, news contributes to the construction of social reality [ 4 ]. For instance, some scholars posit that journalists or news organizations may gravitate towards reporting certain “unusual” stories, thereby presenting a skewed reality aimed at shocking, entertaining, or exciting readers [ 5 ].

In this paper, we understand the social construction of juvenile delinquency as formulated by Hydén [ 6 ] to unveil the process by which social problems are shaped and evolve: juvenile delinquency represents a social construction that exploits the societal implications of age to differentiate between children and adults, under the assumption that children should not be subjected to trials in adult criminal courts or correctional facilities. The origins of how the term “juvenile delinquency” became entrenched in human society remain somewhat enigmatic, given that comprehensive statistics on juvenile offenders were not published until the mid-1830s. Historical newspapers provide a valuable avenue for examining the emergence of juvenile delinquency as a significant social concern, including when, where, and why it was recognized as such. Drawing from these news articles, we can observe how the descriptions of juvenile delinquency have transformed over different time periods. By performing semantic analysis of historical newspapers, we study linguistic shifts in related terminology and investigate the inception and evolution of the term “juvenile delinquency” throughout history. This approach allows us to assess the gradual development of behaviors associated with juvenile delinquency and how they are recognized as societal issues within the context of social construction. We aim to understand the history and process of how juvenile delinquency evolved as a social problem, particularly before the establishment of juvenile courts in the early 20th century. The central research questions driving this investigation are:

How has the meaning of juvenile delinquency changed over time?

How have public attitudes towards juvenile delinquency changed over time?

How can the answers to (1) and (2) inform our understanding of how juvenile delinquency has been constructed as a social problem?

Although our work is driven by specific questions about juvenile delinquency, the approach to studying social construction that we develop in this work is not limited to juvenile delinquency—our exploratory framework and the suite of computational methods we employ here are, in principle, applicable in studying the historical social construction of any other concept of interest. Our primary contributions are as follows:

We propose an exploratory framework for studying historical social construction by leveraging current computational techniques in text mining and natural language processing.

We extend several of these techniques to improve their suitability in studying historical social construction. For instance, we extend the Cross-Context Lexical Analysis (CCLA) methodology to operate at the level of aggregated concepts rather than individual terms, and further develop an approach to generate explanations of historical semantic dynamics revealed by CCLA.

We carry out the first computational analysis of the social construction of juvenile delinquency, yielding important insights that can serve as a foundation for future study. For example, we find that there is a substantial shift in the semantics of juvenile delinquency and associated concepts in the period of 1870–1890 (immediately preceding the institution of juvenile courts in the US), and that this period marks the start of an increasingly positive construction of juvenile delinquency over time (relative to crime in general).

A brief history of juvenile delinquency

Juvenile delinquency, a term coined after 1800, traces its roots back to a long-standing history of delinquent behavior among young individuals [ 7 ]. The transition from agrarian to commercial economies during the late Middle Ages in Europe triggered a shift in societal dynamics. Urban migration surged as rural populations sought survival in cities, resulting in declining living standards and heightened poverty. Economic hardships led families to struggle in retaining control over their children, often resulting in child abandonment and increased misconduct [ 8 ].

To address this predicament, communities introduced the binding-out system, a practice where children were placed as apprentices within other families. As the challenges mounted, dedicated institutions like the London Bridewell emerged in 1553 to house homeless children, later evolving into the House of Correction in 1555 [ 9 ]. Similar establishments proliferated across England, providing a platform for young offenders to work and reintegrate into society upon release.

The 1800s marked a significant turning point as juvenile delinquency surged in Britain due to worsening poverty. Historical British Parliament records illuminate the extent of this issue [ 10 ]. This trend persisted, with a notable increase in juvenile offenders evident in British Home Office statistics from 1846 [ 11 ]. This era saw the emergence of the reformatory movement, advocating specialized treatment for young offenders. These efforts culminated in the establishment of the Juvenile Court in England, later renamed the Youth Court, with the capacity to address both criminal and noncriminal juvenile cases [ 12 ].

In early North American colonization, the family unit played a crucial role in juvenile social control [ 13 ]. However, by the 18th century, poverty eroded family bonds, leading communities to place children with other families under the doctrine of loco parentis , effectively turning these children into indentured servants within their new households. Alternatives like almshouses were provided for those unable to find suitable families. Notably, this migration pattern extended beyond Europe, as children from overcrowded Bridewells and poorhouses in England were transported to the Americas as indentured servants [ 12 ].

The industrial revolution in North America further reshaped the landscape, dismantling family ties and spurring juvenile misbehavior [ 12 ]. Legislation was introduced to address this growing issue, leading to the establishment of houses of refuge. These institutions utilized apprenticeships to occupy young individuals until they reached the age of legal adulthood. However, as the 19th century dawned, economic difficulties persisted, prompting an influx of youths to urban areas brimming with both leisure activities and criminal opportunities.

In response, innovative strategies were devised to combat the challenge of juvenile delinquency. During the mid-19th century, governmental authorities assumed control of juvenile delinquency institutions from philanthropic groups, giving rise to refuge and reform schools. These institutions often sentenced children to remain until reaching the age of majority or achieving reform. The cottage or family system emerged between 1857 and 1860, dividing youths into units with distinct schedules and activities. Yet, despite these endeavors, the success of reform schools remained uncertain [ 13 ].

The trajectory of juvenile delinquency and its social implications continued to evolve. As the efficacy of reform schools came under scrutiny, juvenile misbehavior persisted, prompting a Federal committee’s establishment in 1961 to address the issue. Sociologists were encouraged to experiment with prevention projects rooted in diverse sociological theories [ 12 ]. Both community-based and agency-run programs were implemented, but their outcomes were modest [ 14 ]. A distinctive link between juvenile delinquency and poverty emerged, underlining the necessity of wealth and power redistribution within society. However, the history of juvenile justice unveiled a persistent cycle of responses that often failed to address systemic problems, as the dominant social class wielded social institutions to maintain the status quo, complicating efforts to effectively rehabilitate delinquents [ 12 ].

This historical analysis provides a broad overview of juvenile delinquency, but it falls short of revealing how the social significance of juvenile delinquency has evolved over time and how public perceptions of it have shifted. Within our analysis, our goal is to identify corresponding patterns in our newspaper data. This societal process, encompassing the definition, categorization, and response to juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice, culminates in the social construction of juvenile delinquency as a societal concern. Through semantic analysis, our aim is to clarify how the linguistic patterns within newspaper articles illustrate the formation of juvenile delinquency.

Social construction theory of juvenile delinquency

Juvenile delinquency stands as a prominent social problem [ 15 ]. Within the realm of sociology, a social problem is characterized as a condition or behavior that is widely perceived as harmful [ 16 ]. Such issues encompass undesirable and detrimental circumstances such as crime, delinquency, and poverty, prevalent within human society. But how does a social condition evolve into a social problem? Is a social problem merely a tangible existence, or is it a concept forged through societal construction? In the domain of sociology, a social problem consists of both objective and subjective dimensions [ 17 ]. The objective aspect postulates that a social problem represents a reality-an objective condition stemming from inherent dysfunctions within a society. Yet, the objective facet alone is insufficient, for social conditions must gain acknowledgment as harmful by the public to attain the status of a social problem. The subjective aspect of a social problem concerns how a problem is defined. Different societies may interpret harm differently. Blumer [ 18 ] contended that a society only recognizes a social problem if it acknowledges its existence. This process commences with divergent interests, intentions, and objectives that interact to ascertain whether a condition assumes the role of a social problem. From these conflicts emerges a specific condition that society identifies, addresses, and ultimately defines as a social problem. These collective definitions constitute a repetitive and selective process, where various detrimental social conditions vie for societal recognition, with only a few emerging as genuine concerns (see Fig.  1 ).

figure 1

The funnel of social problem processing

This process derives its theoretical basis from the perspective of social constructionism. According to this view, a human-created world exists in contrast to the external world [ 19 ]. The world takes shape, evolves, and becomes a social creation through everyday thoughts and actions-an ongoing process of social construction [ 20 ]. The essence of social constructionism lies in the collective societal perception of a target population or situation, reinforced through social processing [ 21 , 22 ]. This social processing, encompassing government policies, can acknowledge, legitimize, or reshape social constructions [ 23 ]. Additional factors involved in this process include politics, culture, socialization, history, the media, literature, religion, and more [ 24 ].

Throughout this process, interest groups contend with one another and more powerful factions to gain societal recognition for certain conditions, elevating them to the status of social problems. Strategies may encompass leveraging emotions, political figures, and mass media. For instance, influential groups can draw attention to particular conditions by disseminating newspaper stories infused with agitation, concerns, and sensationalism. These themed narratives, reiterated across different reports, both reflect and shape these conditions, eventually cementing them as social problems. The mass media, including newspapers, thus offers a means to conduct a historical analysis of social construction.

Research has delved into how mass media constructs crime and justice historically [ 25 ]. Serving as a crucial platform for social and political struggle, mass media projects the official reality of crime and delinquency, encompassing shifts in historical and social contexts related to race, class, and gender relations [ 26 , 27 ]. However, pressures stemming from political and cultural hegemony could distort reality within mass media [ 26 ]. Marginalized groups, including the impoverished, the working class, women, and people of color, might find their voices silenced in mass communication. News serves as a tool wielded by the powerful [ 28 , 29 , 30 ], functioning as an ideological mechanism [ 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 ]. It unveils how commonplace thought processes contribute to structures of dominance [ 25 ] and the process of social construction.

In this paper, we analyze a massive historical newspaper collection in order to study the history and process of the social construction of juvenile delinquency. Before the establishment of the juvenile justice system in the nineteenth century, no distinct legal category existed for deviant youth behavior. The journey of how and when juvenile delinquency emerged as a social problem captivates our inquiry. Do social problems result from the intrinsic malfunctions of society, or do they emerge from a competitive funnel where various harmful social conditions vie for recognition? For example, the linguistic stability of the term “reformatory schools” during a specific era reflects the classification and processing of children’s misbehavior as a societal reality during that period. The way law enforcement and communities address such misbehavior, whether through incarceration or community programs, unveils multifaceted struggles among societal factions. Consequently, the frequency of “reformatory schools” usage may fluctuate across different decades. How can we delve into the intricacies of these dynamics? We address these questions by harnessing natural language processing techniques to analyze historical newspaper data, as elaborated below.


Manual analysis of hundreds of years of newspaper data is infeasible because of the high-volume information, difficulty in searching the historical newspapers, and challenges in defining and quantifying relevant measures for studying social construction. Fortunately, the availability of digital forms of historical newspapers (e.g., the Library of Congress and ProQuest Historical Newspapers \(^{\textrm{TM}}\) ) Footnote 1 and the recent progress in machine learning-driven techniques for analyzing such data for social science [ 35 , 36 ], particularly in the domains of natural language processing [ 37 , 38 ] and information retrieval [ 39 ], have opened up an exciting opportunity for using computational algorithms to assist researchers in analyzing historical newspapers to study the social construction of juvenile delinquency.

The primary dataset we used for this research is a subset of the ProQuest Historical Newspapers \(^{\textrm{TM}}\) (PHN) collection, which we received through the Cline Center for Advanced Social Research and the University of Illinois Library. This subset contained \(\sim\) 58.2 million segmented newspaper article files from 25 newspaper titles worldwide. Footnote 2

Analysis methods

To examine and understand the social construction process of juvenile delinquency , we focus on answering the following research questions:

Addressing these questions requires methods for semantic analysis of meanings of terms in text data, semantic associations of related terms, and how the meanings of a concept vary across different contexts (e.g., different regions or time periods). We also need to address the challenge that a concept such as juvenile delinquency can be expressed using many different terms and thus we must aggregate information about all those variations of terms to fully represent a concept. Finally, in order to analyze public attitude, we must also be able to analyze the valence (positivity or negativity) of sentiment in each context.

Below, we discuss how we address these challenges by leveraging semantic analysis techniques based on word embedding representation and developing new methods suitable for answering our research questions. First, we describe the basic analysis methods, including the word embedding representation and how it can be used to quantify semantic associations of words, term aggregation methods to capture variations of the expression of the concept juvenile delinquency, and lexical categorization to facilitate interpretation of associated terms of a concept. Building on these basic analysis methods, we proceed to discuss additional analysis techniques that can be used to answer our research questions by discovering historical semantic dynamics and analyzing public sentiment. Footnote 3

figure 2

A schematic of our analysis modules. Arrows \(X \rightarrow Y\) denotes that the output of X is used as an input for Y , and orange headings denote endpoints of the analysis (i.e., results that are not used as inputs to any module)

The overall process of analysis is illustrated in Fig.  2 , where we see that the first step is to obtain a semantic representation of all words using latent vectors (i.e., word embeddings), which then provides a basis for all the subsequent analysis steps, including specifically (1) Cross-Context Lexical Analysis for discovering the change points, where we saw significant changes of the semantics of the concept juvenile delinquency, (2) Topic Analysis around a change point to facilitate semantic interpretation with meaningful lexical categories, and (3) Valence Analysis to reveal the sentiment dynamics around a change point and some specific positive/negative terms that can facilitate interpretation. Below we will explain all the component techniques in detail.

Semantic analysis using word embeddings

We may model the semantic change of juvenile delinquency -related terms over time by training word2vec [ 40 ] models on each decade of text data in PHN, denoted \(C_i, i \in [1, k]\) , Footnote 4 giving us a term vector \(v_t\) for every term t occurring in \(C_i\) . Footnote 5 Such embedding representations map each term to a vector in a latent semantic space such that semantically associated terms have similar vectors, allowing us to compute terms’ semantic association by comparing their corresponding term vectors. That is, given terms t ,  s , we compute the semantic association of t and s in the word embedding model for a given decade \(C_i\) using cosine similarity over the corresponding term vectors \(v_t, v_s\) , i.e., \(\mathop {\textrm{sim}}\limits (t, s | C_i) = \cos (v_t, v_s)\) , enabling us to measure how semantic associations between various terms change over time by comparing \(\mathop {\textrm{sim}}\limits (t, s | C_i)\) and \(\mathop {\textrm{sim}}\limits (t, s | C_j)\) for different decades \(C_i, C_j\) .

Term aggregation

The concept of juvenile delinquency (both as a behavior and as individuals engaging in it) has historically been expressed using a variety of terms such as “young criminality” or “juvenile offenders”. Footnote 6 As our goal is to study juvenile delinquency at the concept-level, not term-level, it is necessary to develop analysis methods for aggregating observations over multiple terms. We begin by collecting a set of “JUDEL terms” which have historically been used to express this concept: first, we consulted a domain expert to provide a set of known seed terms \(T_0 = \{t_i\}_{i=1}^n\) (including, e.g., “juvenile delinquency”, “young offenders”, and “cosh boys”), then computed a list of the k -nearest neighbor terms by aggregating the term-level neighbors with respect to each term and normalizing by term frequency. That is, for relative term-frequency measure \(\mathop {\textrm{freq}}\limits _T(t | C) = \frac{\mathop {\textrm{freq}}\limits (t | C)}{\sum _{t' \in T} \text {freq}(t' | C)}\) and query term q , we compute aggregated similarity scores between T and q in context C as:

This similarity measure may be used to rank each \(q \in V_C\) (where \(V_C\) is the vocabulary of the word-embedding model trained on C ) by its similarity to T . We generate a list of aggregated nearest-neighbor terms \(T_i'\) as the top- k terms with the highest aggregated similarity to \(T_0\) in context \(C_i\) . We manually inspect the top 25 terms (i.e., \(k = 25\) ) for each context \(C_i\) partitioned by decade i with \(i \in [1, m]\) for m number of decades in the dataset to find additional terms \(T_{i,\text {JUDEL}} \subseteq T'\) referring to juvenile delinquency rather than related, non-coreferential terms (e.g., “reformatories” appears at or near the top of the nearest-neighbors lists for each decade from 1850–1910, but does not refer specifically to juveniles engaging in delinquent behaviors or such behaviors themselves), expanding the list of terms from the original seed terms \(T_0\) to the final list of “JUDEL terms” \(J = \cup _{i=1}^{m} T_{i,\text {JUDEL}} \cup T_0\) .

Lexical Categories

In order to better understand the kinds of associations revealed by generating k -nearest neighbor lists with respect to JUDEL in a given period, we can decompose the set of neighbor terms hierarchically using WordNet [ 41 ], positioning each term in a hierarchy of lexical categories. For example, we may categorize the terms according to whether they refer to juvenile delinquency -related events or behaviors (e.g., “juvenile delinquency”, “youth crime”), to individual juvenile persons engaging in delinquent behaviors (e.g., “juvenile delinquents”, “young criminals”), or to the penal institutions in which these individuals serve sentences for their criminal behavior (e.g., “penitentiaries”, “reformatories”).

Discovering historical semantic dynamics

To address our first research question about how the semantic meaning of juvenile delinquency change has changed across the years, we need a tool to perform a comparative analysis of semantics across different contexts such as different time periods. For this purpose, we leverage the existing Cross-Context Lexical Analysis method [ 42 ], and develop techniques to extend it to concept-level analyses and better interpret the results it yields.

Cross-context lexical analysis

The cross-context lexical analysis (CCLA) approach was initially proposed by Massung [ 42 ] as a general approach for quantifying the degree of similarity of a term’s meaning/usage in different contexts. Given a term that we are interested in studying (e.g., juvenile delinquency) and two contexts (e.g., two adjacent time periods) that we want to compare in terms of their coverage of the term, CCLA works by first computing the similarity of a query term with respect to other terms in the first context to form a context-specific term similarity profile for the query term, repeating this process for the second context, and comparing the similarity of both profiles across the two contexts.

Formally, let \(V_C=\{t_1,..., t_{|V_C|}\}\) be the set of all terms in our vocabulary for context (decade) C , and let \(T \subseteq V_C\) be any subset of these terms that we wish to consider in our analysis (detailed further below). Given a particular term \(t_i \in V_C\) , the term similarity profile of term \(t_i\) in context C is defined as the vector \(v_T(t_i,C)\) of similarity values between term \(t_i\) and all other terms in context C , i.e.,

Intuitively, the term similarity profile of a term shows what kind of terms are most strongly associated with a target term \(t_i\) in the context C . If term \(t_i\) is “juvenile delinquency", the profile would indicate what kind of (other) terms are often used together with “juvenile delinquency" in the context of C . Those semantically associated terms thus reflect how the term \(t_i\) is discussed in the context of C . Since low similarity values are not as meaningful (e.g., we can learn more about the meaning of a word by looking at the semantics of its most closely associated terms than less associated terms [ 43 ]), we are generally only interested in the top- \(\mathop k\limits\) terms in the similarity profile that have the highest similarity values; so for our study, we find the k -nearest neighbor term embeddings for a query term in two contexts \(C_1, C_2\) , and use the union of these terms to construct the term similarity profile in each period, effectively truncating the vocabulary to terms which are nontrivally associated with the query term in either period. Specifically, we find two sets of terms \(S_1, S_2\) that occur in the vocabularies for both contexts (i.e., \(S_1, S_2 \subset V_{C_1} \cap V_{C_2}\) ) and whose corresponding vectors are in the top- \(\mathop k\limits\) most similar terms to query term t in contexts \(C_1, C_2\) (respectively), and compute term profiles \(v_T(t, C_1), v_T(t, C_2)\) over the union of these terms \(T = S_1 \cup S_2\) . CCLA is the degree of semantic consistency of query term t between contexts \(C_1, C_2\) , measured by the cosine similarity of the two neighbor term profiles of term t between the two contexts:

We employ this approach by computing the CCLA score for each pair of subsequent decades \(C_i, C_{i+1}\) and plotting a time series of these scores across all decades to analyze the semantic (in)stability of the term over time (see Fig.  5 ). Of particular interest for our purposes are periods of rapid change in the meaning of the query, which correspond to “dips” in the CCLA time series.

Aggregating CCLA

Since the original CCLA is designed for analyzing semantic changes of just one term, we need to extend it to cover all the variants of the terms describing the concept of juvenile delinquency.

In prior work [ 36 ], we approached term aggregation in Cross-Context Lexical Analysis (CCLA) by replacing all terms related to a concept (e.g., for the general concept of juvenile delinquency , these terms include “juvenile delinquency”, “young offenders”, “juvenile delinquent”, etc.) with an aggregator token (e.g., “JUDEL”) in text pre-processing. This allowed for a more comprehensive historical semantic analysis of a general concept, particularly one that is referred to using many different words over time, than would be possible by examining any individual term. However, this also means that the influence of each distinct term in the aggregator term is conflated, making it impossible to add, remove, or perform CCLA with respect to any individual constituent term without retraining all word embedding models across all contexts (decades). To address this concern, we propose an alternative approach to term aggregation by taking the frequency-weighted average of the CCLA scores of all terms of interest in each time period. Weighting scores by frequency means that terms which are most often used to describe the target concept are more influential in the aggregated CCLA score than those that are used only a few times in a given time period. That is, for JUDEL terms J , contexts \(C_1, C_2\) , and frequency \(f(t) = f(t, C_1) + f(t, C_2)\) , the aggregated CCLA score is given by:

We applied aggregated CCLA to the entire period of the data by first segmenting the data into a segment of a decade each and then use CCLA to compute a score of any two adjacent decades and then plot the curve to examine where there is the greatest change. The CCLA method can reveal the time points when the semantics of juvenile delinquency have changed significantly. Those time points can then guide us to further understand the public attitude towards juvenile delinquency in the adjacent periods and provide evidence for or against the competing social construction hypotheses discussed above.

Explaining changes

To better understand the potential changes of public attitude, we identified the neighbor terms whose association with JUDEL has changed most significantly during a given period of interest from \(C_i\) to \(C_{i+1}\) , i.e., terms \(t: \mathop {\textrm{sim}}\limits (J, t | C_{i+1}) \gg \mathop {\textrm{sim}}\limits (J, t | C_{i})\) . However, simply knowing that a given neighbor term t changes in association with JUDEL does not tell us how or why it changed; so in order to better understand these terms’ relationship with JUDEL, we extract mutual neighbor terms \(t'\) that have a high similarity with both JUDEL and the neighbor term t by creating a “mutual neighbors list” ranking each \(t'\) by its joint similarity with both J and t . One option for computing this joint similarity measure is to simply take the weighted average of the similarities \(\mathop {\textrm{sim}}\limits (J, t' | C)\) and \(\mathop {\textrm{sim}}\limits (t, t' | C_{i})\) and adjusting the balance between similarity with J and t using parameter \(\lambda \in (0, 1)\) , i.e.,

We found that doing so often yields terms which are highly related to either J or t , but not both; and that, for practical purposes, modulating \(\lambda\) simply selects between these two options (e.g., a smaller or larger \(\lambda\) “selects” J or t as the priority, respectively). As we are interested in finding “mutual neighbors” \(t'\) which are associated with both t and J , we experiment with an alternative formula where the linear weighted average above is substituted with a weighted harmonic mean, which heavily preferences \(t'\) that are associated with both t and J over those associated with only one of them, yielding the following \(\mathop {\mathrm {joint-sim}}\limits\) measure:

Analyzing public sentiment

Our second research question is about how the public attitude towards juvenile delinquency might have changed over time. To answer this question, we need to go beyond what CCLA can generate to further analyze the sentiment of the coverage of juvenile delinquency. Specifically, CCLA can only indicate which periods saw the greatest change in the usage and context of JUDEL terms over time, but it does not provide a precise characterization of this change. The word clustering approach described earlier can facilitate understanding of the public attitude towards JUDEL from specific perspectives such as People, Institution, and Events/Actions. However, to test the social construction hypothesis, we need to further understand their positive and negative social construction throughout history by analyzing the sentiment of the content covering juvenile delinquency in the periods where its semantics has changed.

To this end, we apply the valence analysis approach developed by Charlesworth et al. [ 44 ] to characterize the positive and negative valence of juvenile delinquency in each decade, reflecting changes in public attitude regarding this topic. This technique works by comparing a set of query terms Q representing a social group of interest (in our case, juvenile delinquency ) to an inventory of terms T with human-annotated valence scores \(\mathop {\textrm{valence}}\limits (T)\) that capture the average “pleasantness of a stimulus” experienced by human subjects when they encounter the term [ 45 ], Footnote 7 finding the terms \(T_Q \subset T\) which are most associated with Q in \(C_i\) using a word embedding model, and computing the average valence of these most-associated terms. However, it is not enough to directly define \(T_Q\) as the most-associated terms via \(\mathop {\textrm{sim}}\limits\) , as this may yield a list of terms that is more representative of a general social or demographic category of which Q is a member (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, class, etc.), biasing the results toward the category and not the specific group indicated by Q . To correct for this, a comparison group \(Q'\) in the same category is used as a foil to normalize for such category-level associations. Finally, we may compute the valence of Q in context \(C_i\) as \(T_Q\) , the average valence of the \(\mathop {\mathrm {top- k }}\limits\) most-associated valence terms to Q in \(C_i\) normalized for associations with Q , using the mean average-cosine score ( \(\mathop {\textrm{MAC}}\limits\) ) over each term \(q \in Q\) :

and computing \(\mathop {\textrm{valence}}\limits (Q) = \text {avg}\mathop {\textrm{valence}}\limits (T_Q)\) , the average valence of \(T_Q\) . We perform this valence analysis with \(Q = J\) and \(Q'\) as the set of JUDEL terms J with age-denoting words removed (e.g., “juvenile delinquency” and “young offender” are substituted for “delinquency” and “offender”, respectively) to examine the general positivity or negativity in news media coverage of juvenile delinquency relative to criminality in general, and observe how this sentiment changed over time.

We have so far discussed how we can use computational methods to address the first two research questions. To address the third research question and understand how the changes in 1 and 2 relate to the construction of juvenile delinquency as a social problem, we will synthesize the results generated from answering the first two questions and analyze them with consideration of any known historical activities that happened during those periods (e.g., establishment of the juvenile court). This will be further discussed in detail in the next section, where we report all the results and attempt to extract some overall insights about the social construction of juvenile delinquency.

Overview of historical dynamics

To see the overall dynamics of juvenile delinquency , we first examine the raw frequency of the terms expressing this concept (across a small subset of high-frequency “JUDEL terms”, as discussed above).

figure 3

Normalized document frequencies, where the y-axis is the proportion of articles each year that contain each term

figure 4

Normalized document frequencies including “juvenile court” and “reformatory/reformatories”

Figure  3 shows the normalized document-frequency of the most prominent (highest-frequency) JUDEL terms over time in the ProQuest data. Overall, we see that there are two “peak-frequency” periods: 1800–1850 and 1940–1970, showing interesting changes of terms describing JUDEL. Through \(\sim\) 1835, young offenders was the most common term, followed by juvenile offenders from \(\sim\) 1835 through \(\sim\) 1860, when all terms plateau at a low relative frequency. After \(\sim\) 1930, juvenile delinquency rapidly moves to become the dominant term used to refer to the associated concept, and this trend continues up to the present day. We also see that in this period, the term juvenile delinquents appears to be replacing the term young offenders. Until \(\sim\) 1860, relative frequencies of the terms visualized in Fig.  4 vary substantially until \(\sim\) 1860 to \(\sim\) 1930, at which point there is a clear plateau (with only brief, minor deviations like that of juvenile offender(s) in \(\sim\) 1880) until \(\sim\) 1930, when juvenile delinquency rapidly moves to become the dominant term used to refer to the associated concept, and remains so through at least \(\sim\) 1980. Footnote 8 Additionally, the relative frequency of juvenile delinquency from 1945–1965 is greater than that of all other terms at any other period, and the other JUDEL terms remain at a low frequency throughout this period. Thus, 1945–1965 is the period in which the concept of juvenile delinquency was discussed the most, and this discussion relied far more on the specific term juvenile delinquency than other terms (unlike earlier periods).

There are a few simple observations we can make on the basis of this frequency information. First, in the period of 1800–1835, “young offenders” was the most common term, followed by “juvenile offender”. Young offenders simply adds the term “young” to “offender”, vaguely naming a group of people who committed a broad category of offensive behaviors, but does not clearly distinguish specific categories of offensive behavior (e.g., it could be criminally offensive, or merely socially offensive without any implication of unlawfulness). Additionally, it is important to note that “young” did not clearly distinguish between children and adults, as the specific categorization of juvenile crime versus adult crime had not yet emerged (as discussed above). During this time, the term of “juvenile delinquency” started emerging. On September 16 in 1825, the Manchester Guardian newspaper started using the term “juvenile delinquent” to refer those young people who committed bad behaviors. In 1828, the Manchester Guardians (March 7) was the first in our dataset to use the term “juvenile delinquency”. In 1825 through 1860, the appearance of the term of juvenile indicated the gradual coining of new term to describe the specific group. Compared to “young”, “juvenile” not only refers to young age, but also means physiologically immature or undeveloped. This term change was laying a foundation to build a separate juvenile court, by forming views that youth are less culpable than adults, more capable of change and rehabilitation, and more deserving of protection from the harsh and punitive conditions of the adult criminal justice system [ 46 ]. After the juvenile court was established around 1900, the term “juvenile delinquency” quickly became the dominant term used to refer to such behavior. This evolution in terminology and its alignment with the concept of a distinct court system reflect a shifting societal perspective on youthful offenders and the need for a specialized approach to address their actions.

Change point discovery

To discover the specific time periods where the semantic changes happened, we applied CCLA to the list of JUDEL terms (described above) during the last few centuries. The aggregated CCLA score across all decades is shown in Fig.  5 .

figure 5

Time series of normalized, aggregated CCLA scores across all JUDEL terms

Recall that the CCLA score indicates the semantic similarity of terms associated with JUDEL between two adjacent decades. Thus a higher CCLA score (y-axis value) means that the two adjacent decades have similar discussions of JUDEL, whereas a low score means that there is more difference between the terms associated with JUDEL in those two decades. These CCLA scores are intended to capture the collective semantic shift of the JUDEL terms throughout history. More precisely, they represent the similarity of the meaning of these terms between different contexts – in this case, the contexts are time periods, and the “similarity in meaning/representation" can be understood as semantic stability over time. Thus, the “peaks" correspond to periods of relative semantic stability (e.g. in 1890–1910 or 1940–1960), and the “valleys" (e.g. in 1870–1890 or 1910–1930) correspond to periods of change.

From the results in Fig.  5 , we see that the period of most rapid change (i.e., lowest point on y-axis) and period of sharpest change relative to the periods immediately before and after (i.e., biggest “dip") is from 1870–1890, corresponding to the most significant Footnote 9 semantic change in the concept of juvenile delinquency, and represents the greatest break from the periods before and after.

figure 6

Normalized document frequencies of “juvenile court” and “reformatory”

CCLA tells us that the subjective perception and discursive context of juvenile delinquency (on the part of US news media reporters), and likely its construction as a social problem changed more during 1870–1890 than any other period. Criminal institutions like reformatories were not infrequently discussed during this period (see Fig.  6 ), but the pattern revealed by CCLA is not simply a matter of how often juvenile delinquency (or those engaging in such behavior) was discussed (as shown in Fig.  4 ). Rather, it appears that discussions of juvenile delinquency shifted substantially prior to the changes in penal institutions around \(\sim\) 1900 (i.e., the institution of juvenile courts), which itself preceded the transition to juvenile delinquency as the term-of-choice for describing the concept that it does today and the corresponding increase in discussion of this concept overall from \(\sim\) 1945–1965. Thus, US news media shifted its representation of juvenile delinquency well before corresponding changes in criminal law or frequency of media coverage occurred. It is possible that this shift corresponds to a changing social construction of juvenile delinquency, precipitating later changes in law and popular nomenclature. However, this does not tell us precisely how the social construction of juvenile delinquency changed in 1870–1890. We further analyze the changes in this period in the following section.

Semantic analysis of articles in the changing period

How can we better interpret the rapid semantic change in 1870–1890? One way to do so is by examining the neighbor terms that changed the most in their association with JUDEL (i.e., the collection of JUDEL terms, as described above) in each period.

Topical analysis

CCLA results in the preceding section measure the general semantic dynamics of juvenile delinquency as represented in newspapers. However, it is not clear whether and how the public recognized juvenile delinquency as a specific social problem. How did the public evaluate young people who engage in criminal behaviors? What type of behavior was evaluated as juvenile delinquency? What type of institutions did the society implement in response? In this section, we systematically examine the trends of the topics reflecting people’s attitudes toward juvenile delinquency, examining the “semantic neighbors” of JD over time and group them into three categories: (1) institutions, (2) behaviors, and (3) persons.

The items in each column of Fig.  7 are the semantic “nearest-neighbors” to the aggregated JUDEL embedding in the period of 1860–1900 (i.e., the change point identified above, 1870–1890, bookended by an additional decade on either end to highlight the changes in this period), and may be interpreted as the terms which were most consistently associated with the concept of juvenile delinquency throughout the relevant period. Note that several of the JUDEL terms appear in Table 1, which means that such terms are the nearest neighbor of other JUDEL terms in the word embedding space for both decades (as we do not consider a term to be its own neighbor). For example, “young offenders” appears on the list for each of the four decades except the 1870s.

figure 7

The top-25 aggregated nearest neighbors to JUDEL surrounding the “change point” in 1870–1890 (bookended by a decade on each side for comparison). Columns are decades and rows are the most-associated terms in each period listed in descending order

In Fig.  8 , we consider the top-25 most-related terms to the aggregated JUDEL embedding in each decade from 1860–1900. (As there is considerable overlap between these terms in each decade, we are left with a list of 36 terms.) To better understand the relationships between these neighbor terms and discussion of JUDEL, we visualize the lexical relationships between each neighbor term as a semantic network using WordNet [ 41 ], allowing us to break down neighbor terms by word category:

figure 8

Semantic network of JUDEL neighbors, constructed by querying WordNet for hypernym relations until a common parent hypernym (“entity”) is found. Red nodes are JUDEL neighbors, blue nodes are hypernyms of each neighbor in the WordNet hierarchy (all the way up to the common hypernym of all WordNet entries, “entity”), and arrows denote the direction of the hypernymy relation (e.g., “prison” is a type of “correctional institution”). Singleton red nodes disconnected from the rest of the graph—i.e., “penal”, “feebleminded”, and “incorrigible”—did not have hypernyms in WordNet

These visualizations suggest some potentially interesting interpretations of people’s attitudes. We observe that this network allows us to partition nearly all terms into a small number of (non-overlapping) categories, like “person”, “behavior”, and “institution”. (See Section A for details on how and why we suggest this partition.) Below, we present a manual analysis of several articles retrieved from PHN, each of which includes at least one JUDEL term and one of the semantic neighbors, to provide additional context on how neighbor terms relate to juvenile delinquency . We do not correct OCR (Optical Character Recognition) errors present in newspaper article texts when providing excerpts, to give an appropriate representation of the quality of texts used in analyses, as our intention is to maintain the authenticity of the original content (including any imperfections introduced during the digitization process).

Terms associated with institutional view

figure 9

The structure WordNet sub-taxonomy of JUDEL neighbors, following the same format as Fig.  8 . (In this case, we understand structure as being a proxy for institution , as each of the neighbors are either descended from institution or are of its parent, structure .)

In 1860, three articles of the New York Times and three articles of the New York Daily Tribune discussed a bill to set up a reformatory school for juveniles. These articles collectively underscored society’s acknowledgment of the necessity to regulate and reform juvenile delinquency through dedicated institutions. The legislative action signified society’s growing recognition of JUDEL as a pressing concern, leading to a need for legal institutions to regulate it (Fig. 9 ).

On 2/17/1860, a New York Times article stated that the legislature “introduced a bill to incorporate the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents in New-York.” We can find more details regarding how reformatories were used for children of different ages in New York Daily Tribune (2/9/1860): “Children between the ages of 7 and 14, who by in writing of their parents or guardians may be surrendered or intrusted to it for preservation or reformation. Children between seven and fourteen of age who may be committed to the care of sues Corporation as idle or children by order of any magistrate empowered to make committal of such children. Children of like age who may be transferred at the option of the Superintendent or Overseers of the Poor from any county or other public Poor-House or Alms-Route to Corporation. The Truttees or Managers shall have power to the children committed to their care at such employment and cause them to be instructed in such branches of knowledge as shall be suitable to their years and they shall have power to bind out toe said children with their consent as apprentices or servant daring their minority.”

In addition, The Irish Times and Daily Advertiser (1/7/1861) stated reformatory attendance should be reinforced: “the spread of juvenile delinquency partly owing to the want of proper in dust rial correctional and Reformatory Schools and partly to the want of authority in magistrates to command the attendance of children in such schools.” From these articles, we can see multiple institutions emerged to regulate juvenile delinquency-related issues. On 6/7/1862, The Observer described how juveniles were sentenced to reformatory school Footnote 10 : the judge “sentenced [juvenile A] and [juvenile B] to be detained in the Feltham Industrial School for Middlesex for 3 years and [juvenile C] to be imprisoned for 14 days in the House of Correction and afterwards detained in the Hume in the East Reformatory Bow for four years the parents of the boys to contribute towards their maintenance.” These articles emphasized the need to reinforce reformatory attendance due to the spread of juvenile delinquency. They attributed this spread to the lack of appropriate correctional and reformatory schools and insufficient authority for magistrates to enforce attendance. This demonstrates a growing awareness of the role of reformatory schools in addressing the rise of juvenile delinquency.

The news also praised the impacts of these reformatory schools. Compared with the detrimental effects of conventional jails, these reformative efforts could provide youth with education and trade skills, empowering them to lead honest lives upon release. On 1/7/1861, The Irish Times and Daily Advertiser noted that “In England Reformatories have already lessened juvenile crime 42 per cent with certainty of still further decrease. As general rule the juvenile criminals are the victims [...] They are taught and trained in crime with much more care and perseverance than others are trained to virtue The young criminal was sent to jail to be inoculated with crime of all descriptions He came out of jail infinitely worse because of his punishment Some boys scarcely thirteen years of age have been thirty times imprisoned and have spent more time within prison at their home or even in the streets.”

On 7/8/1861, The Irish Times and Daily Advertiser noted the effect of reformatory facilities for youth: “Good and wise men thought that to place these in jail and to mix them with old offenders was to place them in school of crime. The young came out thoroughly impregnated with evil and ten times more dangerous than before. Reformatories were instituted. In these the young criminal is trained to trade he is taught the most useful rudiments of education at tho end of his period of detention he leaves the Reformatory with trade in his hands and knowledge in his head. He need not be forced by poverty to have recourse to crime.”

On 9/27/1862, The Observer noted that “the number of young offenders in the 62 certified reformatories increased in the course of the year 1801 from 3,803 to 4,337 including 186 placed out on license and not yet finally discharged. Now the commitments of persons under 10 will be found to have decreased since 1856 about 43% in England allowing for increase of population. The number steadily diminished from 1850 to 1860 but in 1861 increased above 9% over the previous year and the number of adult commitments increased still more. Of the results of reformatories in the diminution and prevention of crime.”

However, the reformatories could have high costs. On 7/30/1861 The Irish Times and Daily Advertiser stated, “The Grand Jury of the county of Antrim have refused to enter upon any agreement to pay the managers of Reformatory Schools two shillings weekly for each of the criminal juveniles sent from their county to Reformatory [...] juvenile criminals are under restraint and are taught trades or agriculture considerable staff of skilled teachers as well as wardens is required and when the numbers in Reformatory are small the expense per head is greatly increased. The true way to the comparative cost of Reformatories is to take into account the loss occasioned by habitual thieves and the gain to tho community by training thorn to take to honest labour.” This data-driven analysis presented a nuanced perspective on the impact of reformatories and their contribution to the reduction of crime rates.

These discussions surrounding the establishment and functioning of institutions to regulate juvenile delinquency highlight its transformation into a recognized social problem during this era. The legislative actions, operational details of reformatories, and debates over costs collectively underscore the societal concern surrounding JUDEL and the strategies being employed to address it.

Terms associated with behavioral view

figure 10

The event WordNet sub-taxonomy of JUDEL neighbors, following the same format as Fig.  8 . (In this case, we understand event as being a proxy for behavior , as the event types in question pertain to either delinquent activities or subsequent responses.)

Compared to institutional views, we found fewer articles related to behavioral views. On 7/27/1861 The Observer described a “boy was charged with stealing 41 of lead belonging to the rifle corps using the butt at Wormwood Scrubs. Mr Bird solicitor attended to prosecute and said not only did these juvenile delinquents run danger of being shot but in raking for the lead they destroyed the embankments. Notwithstanding previous warning the prisoner was again discovered and on being searched 41 weight of spent bullet were found in bis possession. Mr Dayman severely lectured the boy and told him he would inflict the nominal fine of one shilling for the present offence but he or any others were brought there on similar charge [...] will go to prison for seven. Bird however paid the shilling and the prisoner was discharged.” This article provides insight into the handling of specific behavioral instances of delinquency, illustrating the judiciary’s response to such cases (Fig. 10 ).

On 8/23/1862, The Observer stated “young man named [removed] aged 18 who was said to be well connected was charged with stealing horse and phaeton from Mr Watson livery stable keeper at Highbury.” This incident points to a broader spectrum of juvenile delinquency, extending beyond thefts to more complex criminal activities. The fact that the young man in question is described as well-connected adds a layer of complexity, suggesting that delinquent behavior could be observed across various societal strata. However, the article lacks further elaboration on the circumstances or motivations behind the crime, leaving the specifics of the behavioral aspect is relatively ambiguous. It is important to note that, while these articles provide valuable insights into behavioral aspects for juvenile delinquency, they represent a limited subset of cases and are not comprehensive in addressing the spectrum of behaviors or underlying causes. They do, however, indicate an emerging recognition of the need to discuss and address delinquent behaviors in addition to institutional approaches during the given time period (Fig. 11 ).

Terms associated with personal view

figure 11

The person WordNet sub-taxonomy of JUDEL neighbors, following the same format as Fig.  8

Who were those juvenile delinquents? Newspaper articles also provide insights into how society perceived and discussed juvenile delinquency from the perspective of the individuals involved, including discussions on the circumstances surrounding young offenders, their motivations, and the proposed solutions to address the issue.

Some articles underscore the adverse impact of their surroundings on these young individuals, revealing a clear correlation between upbringing and delinquency. It is suggested that the absence of proper guidance and support played a pivotal role in their engagement in criminal activities. On 10/22/1861, The Manchester Guardian described that those kids “are without home- and parent- that many roam the streets unchecked and at untimely hours of the night that several are tempted to crime by the ease with which they can dispose of stolen property ana by the homes which are provided for them in low lodging-houses that very many have homes which do not deserve the vice and crime.” On 6/7/1862, The Observer stated one reason of juvenile delinquency: “juvenile offenders were moral plague in the metropolis and he believed that in nine eases out of ten such children were driven to crime by the neglect of their parents.” On 2/26/1860, New York Daily Tribune described the connection between intoxication and young men: “here was not one which was not clearly traceable to indulgence in intoxicating liquors. The criminals too were all young men.” Furthermore, the articles offer glimpses into the influence of external factors on these individuals, shedding light on the intricate interplay between personal choices and external stimuli in shaping the conduct of juvenile offenders. On 3/27/1963, The Irish Times and Daily Advertiser stated “the waste and loss caused to juvenile thieves have been estimated at seven million year. Ignorance is the fertile mother of crime and the sums expended on education are an investment to present treble cost in prosecuting juvenile depravity.“ On September 16 in 1825, the Manchester Guardian newspaper first time used the term “juvenile delinquent” to refer those young people who committed bad behaviors. It pointed out the “importance of some institution where young who are not thoroughly hardened in having the means of reformation supplied to them.” It then called to support these institutions as they can help put “juvenile delinquents [...] under proper regulations, be furnished with employment and with instruction and thus enabled ultimately to regain that good character which their former misconduct had destroyed.” Thus, these institutions can make sure them“were not further contaminated in the prison [...] with older and more hardened criminals” and “obtaining an honest livelihood” after being released.

In 1828, the Manchester Guardians (March 7) reported “in London the number of juvenile delinquents was at present so enormous [...] no less than six shops that have been robbed [in one week].” In 1837, the Manchester Guardians (October 31) indicated that the cause of delinquency was more of education. They found that “young criminals display more astuteness intelligence [...] It is usual to attribute juvenile delinquency to want of education when in truth it is the result of [...] immoral training and vicious instruction devised by the enemies of social order to supply what ought to be provided by the government.” In 1838, the Manchester Guardians (August 10) realized the parental social responsibility of juvenile delinquency, as it noted “the lapse of children into criminal habits is in most cases attributable to the neglect of parents and in others to their avocations compelling them to leave their offspring for great portion of the day without protection look to the general extension of infant schools for the humbler classes as most preventative of juvenile delinquency.” In 1844, the Manchester Guardians (May 3) claimed “the consequence of sending juvenile offenders to prison” was that they “become associates and companions of hardened thieves and [...] they too frequently come out with their vicious propensities strengthened and confirmed to enter on new course of crime [...] the prison thus unfortunately become the school of crime instead of reform.”

Regarding potential remedies, the articles accentuate the necessity of reformation, education, and support to deter subsequent criminal behavior. Reformatories surface as a viable approach to address the challenges faced by these young individuals. The articles commended the positive outcomes associated with reformatories, affirming their capacity to equip young offenders with the means to lead productive lives and steer clear of criminal trajectories. The traditional criminal justice system was deemed as not fit for those young delinquents. The Manchester Guardians (July 21, 1846) were saddened that “those who beginning as juvenile delinquents become habitual criminals are by our present miserable system of prison discipline ever reformed and how hard it is for those who do repent to regain respectable position in society and to earn their bread by honest labour.” As a result, the government committee sought “the establishment of an asylum for juvenile delinquents [...] to confer most upon community and feel assured that it will be the means of reclaiming many from their early errors and enabling them to enter society with the opportunity as well as the desire of regaining their lost position” (The Manchester Guardians, May 3, 1844).

Bills were proposed to establish special institution. The Manchester Guardians (July 2, 1844) noted “to remedy this evil the bill proposes to empower justices of the peace to establish houses of refuge where young offenders on being released from prison may go and learn some useful trade In such institutions as these the juvenile delinquent will be as much as possible removed from temptation and the influence of bad example and will thus have the best opportunity that can be afforded him of retrieving his character.” The U.S. also paid more attention to similar institutions for juvenile delinquency: in 1844, the New York Daily Tribune (July 1) called “If our Legislatures in their wisdom would make provisions for similar Institutions for re claiming and educating the juvenile delinquents in our Urge cities and towns it would be most important means of saving our country from the vices which degrade so large portion of the population of Europe.” Around 1850, new system reform for juvenile offenders was proposed as The Observer (June 25, 1848) discussed “the reformation of juvenile offenders by means of religious and industrial training.”

In sum, these articles provide a multifaceted perspective on juvenile delinquency as seen through the lens of the individuals implicated. They underscore the vulnerable circumstances, dearth of guidance, and external influences that contributed to their delinquent conduct. The suggested solutions, including reformatories mirror society’s aspiration to confront these underlying factors and extend assistance to young individuals, facilitating their reintegration into society as responsible members.

Changes of associated terms

figure 12

“Most-changed neighbor terms” table from the relevant period

In Fig.  12 , we display the terms which changed most in their association with JUDEL in each decade. That is, they are the set of all terms that meet the following 3 criteria (for the period of 1870–1900):

It was in the top 500 most related terms to JUDEL in the prior decade (e.g., for a term in the 1880s column, it was in the top-500 most related terms in both the 1870s and the 1880s).

Its position in the top-500 most-related terms list jumped by more than 95% of terms in that period.

Its position in the current decade is in the top-64 most related terms (so its “jump” from the previous period to the current period meant that it “landed” in the top 64).

The number in the parentheses indicates the number of positions by which a term moved up in the ranked list of all the associated terms as compared with the previous decade. For example, the term “drunkards” moves from being the [ n -th] most closely associated term in the 1860s to being the [ \((n-229)\) -th] most associated term in the 1870s, suggesting that the incidence of juvenile drunkenness (or some other association between juvenile delinquents and alcohol consumption, e.g., “drunkard” parents with delinquent children) increased substantially during this period.

figure 13

Mutual neighbors list for JUDEL and “beneficiaries”

To interpret the relationship between JUDEL and each of these terms, we generate a “mutual neighbors list” following the methodology described in Section 4.2 to interpret the relationship between JUDEL and each term. For example, the top mutual neighbors between JUDEL and “beneficiaries” in each decade between 1860–1900 are provided in Fig.  13 (with similar figures for a selection of other terms displayed in Appendix B.1). Recall from Fig.  12 that the decade where “beneficiaries” suddenly becomes highly associated with JUDEL is in the 1870s, so we may compare the mutual neighbors list in the 1860s to the succeeding 3 decades to help us determine why this is the case. We observe that, in the 1870s, terms like “charitable institutions” and “charities” start to trend towards the top of the list, and this pattern solidifies in the 1880s and 1890s. Thus, we may infer that the relationship between JUDEL and “beneficiaries” in this period is likely characterized by juvenile delinquents becoming the beneficiaries of charities and associated institutions, providing one possible explanation for the increased association between JUDEL and “beneficiaries” in this period.

However, this analysis does not always lend itself to such clear or straightforward conclusions (see Appendix B.1); and in any case, it is important to confirm any tentative interpretations of the changing social construction of JUDEL and its relation to associated concepts of interest by consulting their use in actual documents from the relevant periods. We looked at the top term in each period and attempted to understand the relation of the term and JUDEL through individual newspaper articles. Using these terms we identify relevant articles and had the following observations.

When we observe the articles from the 1870s that include both JUDEL terms and “drunkard”, we find that they are discussed in similar contexts regarding the institution of novel penal institutions associated with both kinds of behavior (e.g., juvenile reformatories and inebriate asylum). However, the courts were relatively harsh. Chicago Daily Tribune (1/9/1873) wrote “The Governor suggests that the law under which Juvenile offenders are sent to the Reform School until they reach the age of 18 results in the discharge of many who attain that age [...] aud he proposes that the Courts be to sentence juveniles until they are 21 years old. This is open to the objection, so well stated by one of the Judges of the Supreme Court, that it punishes the boy for a petty offence by a sentence covering from six to ten years, from which he attains manhood with a certificate of graduation from a house of correction. The Governor recommends, as an additional State charity, the establishment of an Inebriate Asylum, to which the victims of that disease may voluntarily retire, and to which drunkards, if dangerous, maybe committed. The suggestion is a wise and humane one.”

The New York Times (3/26/1873) emphasized that those kids should be sent to reformatory, and juvenile delinquents should not be put in the same jail as old drunkards: “There have often been herded together m one small and fetid the old and young, black and white, the unfortunate virtuous young girl and the hardened woman of the streets, the old drunkard and the little vagrant. Such dens have become schools of crime and pauperism and the children who have been sent forth from them have come back again in a few years. The reforms throughout the State in this administration, for the past fifty years, have been in the direction of withdrawing these various subjects from the county control. First. the juvenile criminals were removed from county jails and placed in State reformatories.” Similarly, the San Francisco Chronicle (4/20/1874) noted that they should “prevent many youths from being trained up for the maturity of crime by finding appropriate quarters in the jail.” Otherwise, “a corral in which infants, boys, girls, drunkards, maniacs, unfortunate offenders against city ordinances, blasphemers,.prostitutes; and hardened criminals are herded together like hogs is the sty.”

Boston Daily Globe (7/15/1873) connected those kids with a family background of drunkards: “The young offenders spring almost entirely from the poor, from tho untrained outcasts, such as neglected orphans and the children of drunkards. It is to tho lack of sympathy for them [...] that we may look for the cause of their errors.” The increasing number of drunkards is one reason. The Manchester Guardian (12/18/1872) stated “the large number of cases of drunkenness had increased from 28 percent of the total number of committals in 1868 to 42% in 1872. The total number of committals to this prison in 1872 for drunkenness was 2784 Year by year there had been an increasing number of female drunkards in proportion to the number of males.”

These articles shed light on the concerns and proposed solutions of the time regarding the intertwining issues of juvenile delinquency, alcoholism, and penal institutions. The discussion reflects societal efforts to address these challenges and reform the approach to handling young offenders. We performed a similar analysis for all the other terms in the table by searching for articles that match both a target term (e.g., “beneficiaries”) and at least one JUDEL term and reading the top-ranked articles to understand why those terms were mentioned together with JUDEL. While we were not able to find clear patterns in all the cases, we present our findings for a selected subset of these terms below.


The term “infanticide” was used mainly because alleged infanticide cases were often associated with young/juvenile people (e.g., young mothers who were alleged to have murdered their children that were born as the result of “seduction”). Infanticide has long been viewed as one type of crime/delinquent behavior. For example, in early 1800s, Hartford Daily Courant (6/11/1862) described a story: “A woman calling herself Mrs. Laahcoil an Indian, ins arrested on Friday for causing the death of a named Mary Hamilton, by an abortion. She had sent the body away [...] and the police followed it and then searched her [...] Two other girls were found there in a dying condition from similar criminality. All these young women were victims of the seducers and respectably conceded. The woman Laalicoil has once been tried for an and acquitted [...] Two of her accomplices, a negro, an physician, are also in jail.”

This continues in the late 1800s. The Washington Post (5/15/1882) described that “a young colored woman, was yesterday permitted in the Criminal Court to withdraw her plea of not guilty to the indictment against her for Infanticide and substitute one of guilty of manslaughter. Justice Wylle sentenced her to the Erie county New York penitentiary for two years.” Statistics also show infanticide was one major type of crime committed by youth in the 1800s. San Francisco Chronicle (2/8/1891) stated “Recent statistics show that twice as grave crimes are committed by persons from 30 to 40 years old. In the last year, minors are charged with manslaughters 3 parricides 3 and 44 cases of infanticide.”

The historical usage of the term “infanticide” reveals an interesting relationship between infanticide cases and young or juvenile individuals. This correlation can be attributed to the specific contexts surrounding infanticide incidents, particularly those involving young mothers who resorted to such extreme actions due to circumstances like seduction and societal pressures. Throughout history, infanticide has been viewed as a specific type of crime and delinquent behavior that often intersected with the vulnerability of young individuals.

The term “corrigible” was used mainly to describe things that could be corrected. From 1870 to 1899, there were only four articles that contain both corrigible and at least one JUDEL term. The term specified in these four articles was “incorrigible” instead of “corrigible”, as the OCR system incorrectly separated “in” and “corrigible”. One article used incorrigible to describe a young kid. Los Angeles Times (6/17/1892) “Clty Marshal Lorbeer took a young In-corrigible before Judge Morton yesterday. He had run away from the Loj Angeles Orphan Asylum and rode up to Pomona on a Southern Pacilc freight train. The lad, only 10 years of age. hunted up Mr. Armour. with whom he lived two years ago, and told him that he paid a brakeman 84 to take him to Arizon but the brakeman put him off here. He then began to tell more Iles than he could keep up with and he was taken before Judge Morton; where it was learned that the young fellow [...] had on several occasions ran away, and he had in some way been neglected by his parents. A relative came up front Garvanza, and at her request. the boy was sent to the reform school at Whittier. He was taken to and will be taken to the school today.”

Analysis of public attitude: positive vs. negative construction

Finally, to measure the valence of public sentiment regarding juvenile delinquency , we follow the method described in Section 4.3 to compute the valence of the aggregated JUDEL embedding over time, as visualized in Fig.  14 .

figure 14

Valence analysis time series using only “trait” terms. See Section 4.3 for methodological details

This approach requires defining a comparison group, a social group in a similar category (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, social class, etc.) which is used as a foil to normalize terms that relate to the general category, and not the specific group—otherwise, the valence of such category-general terms may obscure the valence of the group-specific terms, making it difficult to distinguish between the positive or negative social construction of the social category versus that of the individual group. The comparison group that we define for JUDEL is the set of JUDEL terms with age-denoting words removed (e.g., “juvenile delinquency” and “young offender” are substituted for “delinquency” and “offender”, respectively), which we refer to as “delinquency terms”.

The quantification of valence enables us to examine to what extent the reporting of JUDEL was positively or negatively characterized in each time period and how the attitude might have changed over time. From the results in Fig.  14 , it appears that JUDEL had the most negative valence in the 1860s, which rapidly spiked in the period from the 1870s through the 1880s, and remained consistently high through all remaining periods. Footnote 11 This tells us that news media sentiment associated with JUDEL went from being relatively similar to that of crime overall to being considerably more positive following \(\sim\) 1870. Notably, the period of rapidly increasing positive valence is the same period as we observe the most substantial semantic change in JUDEL identified by CCLA in \(\sim\) 1870–1890, indicating that the semantic shift revealed by CCLA in this period is likely characterized by the rapidly increasing positive valence in the same period.

This shift in sentiment could have laid the groundwork for the establishment of juvenile courts in the early 1900s. The increasing positive valence and evolving semantic usage of JUDEL reflect a growing societal inclination towards more compassionate and rehabilitative approaches for addressing young offenders. Taking this interpretation into account, the establishment of the first juvenile courts in 1900 could potentially be attributed to a preceding 10–20 year period marked by increasingly sympathetic or lenient societal sentiments. This may have influenced the formation of institutions aimed at addressing juvenile delinquency with a more compassionate approach. Thus, the emergence of juvenile courts could be seen as a response to the changing narrative around juvenile delinquency, shaped by a desire to provide specialized and considerate treatment for young individuals involved in criminal activities.

figure 15

List of top-10 trait terms associated with JUDEL (by decreasing association), with each term’s normalized valence in parentheses

We may decompose the valence scores into the list of the top- k most-related trait terms and their respective valences used to compute the valence scores (displayed in Fig.  15 for \(k = 10\) ). These terms provide limited support for the “sympathetic coverage” hypothesis outlined above, but leave substantial room for interpretation. For example, the highest-valence terms in the 1880s (which sees the greatest jump in average valence scores – note that these are the same values as visualized in Fig.  14 , “top-10”) are “charitable” (1.78) and “pleasant” (1.71), which do not appear in the top-10 list of the preceding 2 decades. Favoring the hypothesis, one could argue that JUDEL’s association with “pleasant” may indicate that juvenile delinquents are less-often seen as being malevolent and deserving of punishment, and the association with “charitable” could be linked to an increasing number of charitable acts or institutions serving them (i.e., a direct manifestation of individual or societal sympathy, respectively, towards these delinquents). However, the opposite argument could be made as well: “antisocial” ( \(-\) 1.45) also makes its first appearance on this list in the 1880s, which indicates a conception of juvenile delinquents as being less cooperative or ethical members of society, and by extension, potentially less prone to rehabilitation or deserving of sympathy. Thus, additional work is required to further explore the “sympathetic coverage” hypothesis.

We employ a variety of visualizations and methodologies to uncover how public perceptions of juvenile delinquency evolved, displaying the social construction of juvenile delinquency and leading to the formulation of the juvenile justice system. Below, we describe our findings with respect to each of the research questions outlined in Section 4.

By examining the normalized document frequencies of key terms related to juvenile delinquency over centuries, prominent changing time periods were revealed. These periods show shifts in the terms used to describe juvenile delinquency, indicating changing public attitudes and discourse over time. In the early 1800s, terms like “young offenders” and “juvenile offenders” were used without clear definitions or specific behaviors associated with them. From 1800 to 1825, news sources did not distinctly differentiate between juvenile and adult offenders, indicating that society had not yet perceived juvenile delinquency as a distinct issue or social problem. The emergence of the term “juvenile delinquency” around the mid-1800s marked a turning point. The Manchester Guardian newspaper, in 1825, started using the term “juvenile delinquent” to describe young individuals engaged in bad behaviors. 1825 through 1860, juvenile delinquency was coined to describe a specific group: they were youth who committed delinquent behaviors. The gradual transition from “young” to “juvenile” reflected a shift in the understanding of youth as not only age-related but also as psychologically immature or undeveloped. Finally, using CCLA, we found that the period in which the meaning of juvenile delinquency most rapidly changed is in the period of \(\sim\) 1870–1890.

How can this semantic shift inform our understanding of how juvenile delinquency has been constructed as a social problem?

The evolution of terminology played a pivotal role in paving the way for the establishment of a distinct juvenile court system. The transition from ambiguous terms like “young offenders” to the more precise term “juvenile delinquency” was instrumental in reshaping the perception that young individuals were less accountable than adults, more capable of transformation, and merited a different approach within the criminal justice framework. Following the establishment of the juvenile court around 1900, the term “juvenile delinquency” rapidly gained prominence as the primary label for describing related behaviors. This shift was mirrored by both legal institutions and public attention, which began to emphasize the behavioral aspect.

Additionally, the fact that CCLA shows the greatest semantic shift in 1870–1890, preceding the development of the first juvenile courts in the US by less than 10 years, may not be a coincidence. It is possible that the changing meaning of juvenile delinquency in the news media may have reflected deeper changes in the underlying social conceptualization of juvenile delinquency, which themselves may have paved the way for the emergence of the juvenile courts. We used information retrieval techniques to find relevant articles from this period in order to “zoom in” and better understand what changes might have occurred at this time. Our analysis of these results indicates that these social changes contribute to the construction of juvenile delinquency both semantically and socially in this period, but they are currently inconclusive.

Using topical analysis, we identified three types of views that display the social construction of juvenile delinquency among newspaper articles. First, our analysis of institutional views underscores the growing societal recognition of juvenile delinquency as a social concern (e.g., the establishment of reformatory schools emerges as a key response to address juvenile delinquency). Legislative actions, operational details, and discussions about the costs and benefits of these institutions reveal society’s acknowledgment of the need to intervene in the lives of young offenders through education and vocational training. The contrast between the rehabilitative approach of reformatories and the detrimental effects of conventional jails become evident, presenting a shift from punitive measures to more holistic interventions. This shift represents an important transition in how society approached and understood juvenile delinquency, focusing on reform rather than mere punishment. Second, our examination of behavioral views provides insights into the specific behaviors associated with juvenile delinquency: while these discussions are limited in scope, they exemplify the broader criminal activities that some young individuals were involved in during the given period. News articles highlight the judiciary’s approach to handling these specific instances of delinquent behavior, showcasing the legal system’s evolving responses to such cases. Finally, our exploration of personal views delves into the individual lives of those involved in juvenile delinquency. The analysis reveals how societal perspectives evolved regarding the underlying factors influencing delinquent behavior: the news articles offer glimpses into the circumstances that led young individuals to engage in criminal activities, including family backgrounds, lack of education, and environmental influences. The recognition of external factors influencing these behaviors add complexity and nuance to the public’s understanding of juvenile delinquency.

Our valence analysis findings illustrate the changing emotions associated with juvenile delinquency over time. In the 1860s, it was viewed quite negatively, but from the 1870s through the 1880s, sentiments towards it sharply improved and remained consistently positive thereafter. Notably, this period of notable positive shift aligns closely with the era of significant semantic change in JUDEL identified by CCLA between 1870 and 1890, suggesting a potential link between shifting societal perceptions around juvenile delinquency and the establishment of specialized institutions like juvenile courts.

How can these changes in public attitudes inform our understanding of how juvenile delinquency has been constructed as a social problem?

The increasingly positive sentiment preceding the establishment of these courts may reflect a changing societal attitude towards embracing more compassionate and rehabilitative approaches for addressing young offenders. It is plausible that this evolving sentiment influenced the creation of institutions tailored to the needs of juvenile delinquents. Therefore, the emergence of juvenile courts can be interpreted as a response to the shifting narrative surrounding juvenile delinquency, driven by a desire to provide specialized and empathetic intervention for young individuals entangled in criminal activities.

Using concept search, we identified relevant news articles to further explore how news media described juvenile delinquency. These articles highlight the historical context and perspectives on the interrelated issues of juvenile delinquency, alcoholism, and penal institutions during the late 1800s. Analyzing articles from that period reveals the common discussions and proposed solutions surrounding these topics. Articles from the 1870s that include both JUDEL terms and “drunkard” show a parallel discussion about the establishment of new penal institutions for both juvenile offenders and individuals struggling with alcoholism. This suggests a perceived link between certain environmental factors and the emergence of delinquent behavior among young individuals. The term “infanticide” reveals a consistent pattern of association with young or juvenile individuals. Infanticide cases often involved young mothers who resorted to extreme actions due to circumstances like seduction, reflecting a specific type of crime intertwined with the vulnerability of youth. In contrast, the term “incorrigible” is used to draw the line between correctable and uncorrectable individuals or behaviors, highlighting the potential for change or reform in certain individuals (particularly those who are still in their developmental stages). Overall, these historical articles provide insight into the societal concerns of the time and the approaches taken to address juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, and other related issues. The discussions reveal evolving perspectives and solutions for handling these challenges and reforming the treatment of young offenders.

Related work

News data have been used to study many foundational topics in social science such as gender [ 47 ], politics [ 48 ], and culture more broadly [ 49 ]. Our work adds to this line of research with the exploration of the social construction of juvenile delinquency, which has not been studied before. Our results are generated using the underlying analysis system we created in [ 36 ]; but in this work, we develop several novel analysis techniques and integrate them with the previous system, including our approach to word embedding term aggregation and joint similarity metric; and we also extend the previous system in several ways, such as nearest-neighbor list functionalities and associated WordNet visualizations and all valence analysis work. Furthermore, while our previous work reported some preliminary results in studying the depiction of juvenile delinquency in historical newspaper texts, in this work we conduct a far more thorough and detailed investigation of the historical social construction of juvenile delinquency using both the existing analysis functionalities and novel techniques developed for this work.

The computational techniques we apply in this work build on several categories of existing work. First, WordNet [ 41 ] has been broadly applied as a resource for studying relations between words based on the paths connecting them on WordNet, perform word sense disambiguation [ 50 , 51 ], text categorization [ 52 ] and text clustering [ 53 ]. We used WordNet to categorize the terms associated with juvenile delinquency automatically into meaningful high-level categories such as people and institution to faciliate interpretation of semantic dynamics of juvenile delinquency. Word embeddings [ 54 , 55 ] have also been widely used to perform semantic analysis of text data, including, e.g., construction of a concept lexicon [ 56 ], text classification [ 57 ], and the discovery and quantification of group stereotypes [ 58 ]. Our use of word embeddings is mainly for analysis of associations of terms with our target concept, juvenile delinquency , to study how it has been socially constructed over time in news media. The CCLA analysis method was first proposed in [ 42 ] using word embeddings, but the original method could only be used to analyze individual keywords. We extended it to support concept analysis where a concept can be expressed with multiple terms with consideration of the uncertainty of the terms expressing a concept. Finally, our valence analysis method builds on the approach developed by Charlesworth et al. [ 44 ], where the authors used historical word embeddings to analyze representations of social groups in literary content and measured the positive versus negative valence of these representations over time. There are several important differences between their experiments and ours: while they performed comparative analysis of different demographic groups using historical literary data (Google Books), our analysis compared juvenile delinquency to criminality in general using historical newspapers (PHN), and also integrated key findings from CCLA in order to build a more comprehensive picture of how the valence results relate to broader patterns in social construction.

Conclusion and future work

We conducted the first in-depth study of social construction of juvenile delinquency by using tools from text mining and computational semantics to analyze a massive collection of historical news data. From these articles, we explored changes in the meaning and use of “juvenile delinquency” and other related terms, analyzing their semantic dynamics using the CCLA method and discovering the principal “change point” that occurred between \(\sim\) 1870–1890. Following this discovery, we analyzed the associated terms with the concept of juvenile delinquency around this period to reveal more specific details. Specifically, we extracted the terms that were introduced in that period when discussing juvenile delinquency and used WordNet to categorize those words into three categories (people, institutions, and behaviors), which helped us to interpret the discussion of juvenile delinquency. We further developed a embedding-based semantic distance analysis to extract additional “mutual neighbor” terms that can help explain why certain terms increased in their association with juvenile delinquency. Those results enabled us to further manually examine related articles to gain insights about the reporting of juvenile delinquency. Finally, we analyzed the sentiment of the terms associated with juvenile delinquency over time, finding that the change point identified by CCLA corresponds to a rapid change towards a less negative construction of JUDEL (relative to crime in general). With these computational methods, we were able to obtain some interesting insights about the social construction of juvenile delinquency that can facilitate further study of this problem.

The computational techniques we employed in this study have offered a rapid and efficient approach to navigate through extensive collections of newspaper articles, enabling us to uncover the evolving narratives and perceptions surrounding juvenile delinquency over the span of centuries. Through the application of CCLA and valence techniques, we delved deeper into the semantic nuances, revealing the chronological evolution of these narratives and their alignment with prevailing public sentiments. Our utilization of computational methods exemplifies a promising avenue for investigating complex social phenomena by harnessing the vast troves of historical newspaper data. The methods we used include word-embedding based semantic representation, concept modeling using term aggregation, cross-context lexical analysis (CCLA; including an extension of CCLA for concept-level analysis that we proposed), WordNet-based concept interpretation, and valence analysis. All these techniques can be potentially applied to support research on the social construction of other concepts using historical news data.

Our work also reveals some limitations of the current natural language processing techniques, which can be improved in the future. First, while the lexical approaches that we have used are general and powerful, they were not able to help researchers further interpret the results directly. As such, we relied on the manual search for relevant articles. In the future, it would be useful to further improve the system that we have used to better support users in searching for relevant content and interpreting the results. We anticipate that the recent development of large language models (LLMs) can be leveraged to automate the summarization of relevant content, thus enabling more effective/efficient interpretation of the insights obtained using our computational methods. Another challenge is the OCR errors unique to historical newspaper data: the OCR tools that we have used were not able to correct many errors, causing serious challenges for humans to digest the content of the old news articles in the collection. In the future, it would be useful to further explore more advanced computer vision techniques (as well as, e.g., leveraging LLMs) to improve the quality of OCR.

Although the focus of the paper is on juvenile delinquency, the computational methods we used and the way we combine those methods are quite general, and can thus be directly applied to study other social science issues. In the future, we are planning to implement a publicly accessible system with all these methods available for social science researchers to use via a graphic interface, building on our previous work [ 36 ], which we hope will allow more social science researchers to use the methods we developed and deployed in this work in order to study the historical social construction of other concepts of interest to the broader social science community.

Data availability Statement

The text dataset used to generate all results is the ProQuest Historical Newspapers \(^{\textrm{TM}}\) (PHN) collection, a proprietary dataset which we received through the Cline Center for Advanced Social Research and the University of Illinois library, as detailed in Section 5. For more information about PHN, please refer to the following webpage: https://about.proquest.com/en/products-services/pq-hist-news/ .

Accessible via https://www.loc.gov/ and https://about.proquest.com/en/products-services/pq-hist-news/ , respectively.

Note that, at the time of writing this paper, the full PHN dataset contains 52 M digitized pages from 68 historical newspaper titles, many of which contain multiple segmented newspaper articles. Of those newspaper titles, only 25 titles are present in the subset we received.

It is important to note that newspapers are not necessarily representative of the sentiment, attitudes, or perspectives held by the public. However, as PHN is a wide-ranging collection of tens of millions of newspaper articles across hundreds of years, several countries, and dozens of publishers, we consider it a sufficiently diverse collection to serve as an (imperfect) proxy for public sentiment.

E.g., contexts \(C_2, C_3\) consists of all documents from the years 1830–1839 and 1840–1849, respectively. In the special case of \(C_1\) , we use all documents from the years 1790–1829 because PHN has far fewer documents per year until \(\sim\) 1830; but all remaining \(C_i, 1 < i \le k\) consist of documents from only a single decade of the PHN dataset.

By default, terms are individual words; but we also used the Python Gensim Phrases module (see https://radimrehurek.com/gensim/models/phrases.html ) to automatically detect common multi-word phrases (e.g., juvenile delinquency ) by collocation, and treated these phrases as individual terms when training the word embedding model.

That is, we are interested in 2 categories of terms: the first denotes the behavior of juvenile delinquency (e.g., “juvenile delinquency” itself, but also including other terms like “young criminality”, “youthful crime”, etc.), and the second denotes individuals engaging in such behavior (e.g., “juvenile delinquents”, “young criminals”, etc.).

Following Charlesworth et al. [ 44 ], we use the Warriner et al. [ 45 ] inventory, which is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind: it includes \(\sim\) 304K total valence ratings for \(\sim\) 14K high-frequency English words (yielding an average of \(\sim\) 22 ratings per term, collected from \(\sim\) 2K participants in total), where each term is rated on a scale of 1 to 9, and the valence of each term \(\mathop {\textrm{valence}}\limits (t), t \in T\) is averaged over the responses of each participant. For example, the lowest-scoring term is \(t_{\text {min}} =\) “pedophile”, with \(\mathop {\textrm{valence}}\limits (t_{\text {min}}) = 1.26\) ; and the highest-scoring term is \(t_{\text {max}} =\) “vacation”, with \(\mathop {\textrm{valence}}\limits (t_{\text {max}}) = 8.53\) . Terms not present in the Warriner et al. [ 45 ] inventory are excluded from our analysis.

I.e., there was no clear equivalent term to “juvenile delinquency" prior to \(\sim\) 1930, as there was not a common term used to describe the category of behavior independently of the individuals engaging in it (e.g., “juvenile offender”). While we observe the first use of the term in our dataset in 1828, it did not enter widespread use until \(\sim\) 1930, when it supplanted the use of the term “juvenile offender”.

By “significant”, we mean that, given CCLA normalization, the y-axis directly corresponds directly to the statistical significance (z-score of a normal distribution) of JUDEL CCLA score relative to CCLA scores across all terms that occur in all periods – or in our case, a randomly sampled subset of several thousand such terms from each period, which serves as a more computationally efficient approximation in order to compute this quantity.

We replace the names of the respective juveniles with A, B, and C to preserve anonymity.

That is, with the exception of the final period from 2000–2010. However, PHN contains substantially less data from this period, as it extends only through the end of 2006; so it is not clear how seriously the decline in the early 2000s should be taken. We leave the question of whether this trend persists in the context of a larger, updated text corpus with sufficient news data from this period for future work.

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This work used the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE), which is supported by National Science Foundation grant number ACI-1548562. Specifically, it used the Bridges system, which is supported by NSF award number ACI-1445606, at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) through allocation TG-SES170016. We thank the XSEDE Extended Collaborative Support Service (ECSS) program. This work also made use of the Illinois Campus Cluster, a computing resource that is operated by the Illinois Campus Cluster Program (ICCP) in conjunction with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and which is supported by funds from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This work also utilized resources supported by the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation Program, grant number 1725729, as well as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We thank the Cline Center for Advanced Social Research and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for providing access to ProQuest Historical Newspapers \(^{\textrm{TM}}\) . Finally, we express our appreciation to Alan Craig, Sandeep Puthanveetil Satheesan, and Bhavya for both their feedback on this draft and their contributions to the text analysis system used in this work (as described in our earlier publication, Satheesan et al. [ 36 ]).

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Yu Zhang and Adam Davies have contributed equally to this work.

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Department of Criminology, California State University, Fresno, Fresno, CA, USA

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Appendix A: WordNet categorization

We categorize the JUDEL neighbors in the semantic network visualized in Fig.  8 by partitioning them into the set of \(n=3\) categories (parent nodes) that best satisfy the following criteria:

Categories must have non-overlapping JUDEL neighbors as children.

Categories should be defined at the appropriate level of abstraction to provide both internal semantic consistency and meaningful distinctions between categories.

(1) is necessarily true of any valid partition, but (2) is subjective. However, it is nonetheless important for meaningful categorization—without it, the partition would simply consist of a single category, “entity”, followed by \(n-1\) singletons. As such, the partitioning into the three categories discussed in Sect.  6.3 is a combination of objective and subjective criteria: the original hypernym graph (automatically generated by querying WordNet for hypernyms) and criteria (1) are objective, but the number of categories to analyze (i.e., setting \(n = 3\) ) and the appropriate level of abstraction under criterion (2) were subjectively determined to yield a meaningful analysis.

While it is possible to, e.g., set \(n = 4\) (yielding a fourth category of “attribute”), or to determine that the term “abstraction” (a parent hypernym of both the analyzed “event” category and hypothetical “attribute” category) is at a suitable level of abstraction under criterion (2), we elected to set \(n = 3\) and define a more concrete categorization (under criterion (2)). This follows our subjective determination that the potential fourth category (“attribute”) was insufficiently conceptually uniform (e.g., we did not find it clear why “commitments” and “drunkenness” should fall into the same category), and that “abstraction” was simply too abstract as a category.

Appendix B: supplemental results

“explanation lists”.

See Figs. 16 , 17 and 18 .

figure 16

Mutual neighbors list for JUDEL and “flogging”

figure 17

Mutual neighbors list for JUDEL and “incarceration”

figure 18

Mutual neighbors list for JUDEL and “imprisonment”

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Zhang, Y., Davies, A. & Zhai, C. Understanding the social construction of juvenile delinquency: insights from semantic analysis of big-data historical newspaper collections. J Comput Soc Sc (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42001-024-00254-x

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111 Juvenile Delinquency Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

Inside This Article

Juvenile delinquency is a pressing issue that affects communities and families worldwide. It refers to the act of committing crimes by young individuals below the age of 18. Understanding the causes, consequences, and solutions to juvenile delinquency is crucial in addressing this problem effectively.

If you are tasked with writing an essay on juvenile delinquency, choosing a compelling topic is essential. To help you get started, here are 111 juvenile delinquency essay topic ideas and examples:

  • The impact of family structure on juvenile delinquency
  • The role of peer pressure in juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and mental health disorders
  • The relationship between poverty and juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and substance abuse
  • The influence of media on juvenile delinquency
  • The effectiveness of rehabilitation programs for juvenile delinquents
  • Juvenile delinquency and school dropout rates
  • The link between child abuse and juvenile delinquency
  • The role of genetics in juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and social media
  • The impact of neighborhood characteristics on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and gang involvement
  • The relationship between juvenile delinquency and race/ethnicity
  • Juvenile delinquency and the juvenile justice system
  • The role of trauma in juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and recidivism rates
  • The influence of parental monitoring on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and educational attainment
  • The impact of peer relationships on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and juvenile detention centers
  • The relationship between juvenile delinquency and technology
  • Juvenile delinquency and juvenile curfew laws
  • The effectiveness of early intervention programs for at-risk youth
  • Juvenile delinquency and juvenile probation programs
  • The influence of social norms on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and juvenile diversion programs
  • The role of gender in juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and juvenile court proceedings
  • The impact of trauma-informed care on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and substance abuse treatment programs
  • The relationship between juvenile delinquency and child welfare services
  • Juvenile delinquency and community-based programs
  • The influence of school climate on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and restorative justice practices
  • The role of law enforcement in addressing juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and school resource officers
  • The impact of social inequality on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and mental health treatment
  • The relationship between juvenile delinquency and trauma exposure
  • Juvenile delinquency and gun violence
  • The influence of family dynamics on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and cyberbullying
  • The role of community policing in preventing juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and school safety measures
  • The impact of parental involvement on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and substance abuse prevention programs
  • The relationship between juvenile delinquency and foster care
  • Juvenile delinquency and the juvenile justice reform movement
  • The influence of social support networks on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and the school-to-prison pipeline
  • The role of mental health stigma in juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and trauma-informed education
  • The impact of school discipline policies on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and community engagement strategies
  • The relationship between juvenile delinquency and child advocacy programs
  • Juvenile delinquency and the juvenile justice system disparities
  • The influence of trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and the impact of adverse childhood experiences
  • The role of school counselors in addressing juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and the role of probation officers
  • The impact of mentoring programs on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and the role of school resource officers
  • The relationship between juvenile delinquency and parental incarceration
  • Juvenile delinquency and the impact of school suspensions
  • The influence of community-based mental health services on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and the role of school-based mental health screenings
  • The impact of trauma-focused interventions on juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and the relationship between poverty and crime
  • The role of parental involvement in preventing juvenile delinquency
  • Juvenile delinquency and the impact of school climate on student behavior
  • The relationship between juvenile delinquency and mental health disorders
  • Juvenile delinquency and the role of community-based mental health services
  • The influence of trauma-informed care on juvenile delinquency
  • The impact of parental involvement in preventing juvenile delinquency

Choose a topic that interests you and conduct thorough research to support your arguments and findings. By shedding light on the complexities of juvenile delinquency, you can contribute to the ongoing dialogue on how to prevent and address this critical issue in our society.

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Essay on Juvenile Delinquency (1)

Juvenile Delinquency Essay | Essay on Juvenile Delinquency for Students and Children in English

Juvenile Delinquency Essay: “In our country, children are considered a gift from heaven and if the child is a boy then nothing could be more soothing for the family as from the very beginning children are exempted from severe punishment for any wrong commitment on their part irrespective of the gravity of the act.” This one statement itself says and justifies for the social evil, our society is facing today: Juvenile Delinquency.

You can read more  Essay Writing  about articles, events, people, sports, technology many more.

Long and Short Essays On Juvenile Delinquency for Kids and Students in English

Given below are two essays in English for students and children about the topic of ‘Juvenile Delinquency’ in both long and short form. The first essay is a long essay on the Juvenile Delinquency of 400-500 words. This long essay about Juvenile Delinquency is suitable for students of class 7, 8, 9 and 10, and also for competitive exam aspirants. The second essay is a short essay on Juvenile Delinquency of 150-200 words. These are suitable for students and children in class 6 and below.

Long Essay on Juvenile Delinquency 500 Words in English

Below we have given a long essay on Juvenile Delinquency of 500 words is helpful for classes 7, 8, 9 and 10 and Competitive Exam Aspirants. This long essay on the topic is suitable for students of class 7 to class 10, and also for competitive exam aspirants.

In ordinary terms, a child roughly between the age of 7 to 16/18 years who is involved in some kind of a ‘status offence’ such as vagrancy, immortality, truancy and ungovern ability is a juvenile delinquent. Thus, juvenile delinquency is not just about under-aged criminals, who get involved in criminal activities. In fact, the term ‘juvenile delinquency’ refers to the violation of a code of conduct or a regular occurrence of certain patterns of disapproved behaviour of children and adolescents. The well accepted age at present for juvenile delinquents is 16 years for boys and 18 years for girls.

Juvenile delinquents are mainly classified on the basis of their behavioural patterns. They range from the escapers, who keep away from school and get involved in petty thefts and armed robberies, destruction of property, violence and sexual offences. They are also classified according to the type of violation they commit.

Thus, psychologists have grouped juvenile delinquents on the basis of their personality traits as mentally defective, psychotic, neurotic, situational and cultural delinquents. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, the trend of children committing crime has an alarming echo across the country.

It is extremely hard to trace and keep a check on juvenile delinquency as of all the delinquencies committed by juveniles, only a small percentage come to the notice of the police and the courts. Traditionally, surveys suggest that delinquencies like theft, burglary, robbery, dacoity and other such offences are most commonly committed by juveniles. But recent statistics reveal that juveniles have also been found actively involved in riots, murder, rape, kidnapping and abduction as well.

Reason being that courts and juvenile rights advocates believe that second chance should be given to youth who commit crimes, so criminals are walking in the streets, living as our neighbours and in many cases committing additional crimes.

The delinquency rates are comparatively much higher among boys than in girls. Children from broken homes or disturbed families who are either homeless or living with guardians are more likely to indulge in criminal activities. Low education or illiteracy and poor economic background are major features of juvenile delinquents. But now-a-days, it’s not only street children who take to crime, even children from well-off middle and upper middle class families are turning to crime due to peer pressure and crime thrill the hunger of adolescents to be heroes among their friends, the need to portray class and style, effect of cinema have propelled the rate of juvenile delinquency in the society.

The media plays a major role in creating bogus desires and images in the minds of the youth, for which they are willing to do anything. Moreover, unmonitored access to the internet is another reason for growth in these crimes, as many are caught swindling money from bank accounts. Children belonging to the elite class, who are either sons or daughters of politicians, businessmen are also found involved in criminal acts. This largely attributes to criminals going scot-free in high-profile criminal cases, so the fear barrier no longer exists.

Increased exposure combined with isolation is the root cause of these behavioural issues. Children are growing up much faster, but their conscience and ability to distinguish between right and wrong isn’t developing at the same rate and they don’t feel the need to think things through. In most cases, the cause behind juvenile delinquency is defective upbringing or no upbringing, faulty or no family interaction. Children are not born criminals.

It’s the situations and circumstances that lead them into delinquencies. Mostly all juvenile offences have deeper roots and serious situational factors which are responsible for a child behaving in a particular way. Family plays a vital role in structuring the mental, emotional and behavioural patterns of a child. Other factors that are responsible for the rise in juvenile delinquency are unhealthy neighbourhood, cinema, pornographic literature and bad company.

In UK, child between 10 to 18 years become criminally responsible for his action and be tried by the youth court or could be tried in an adult court as per the gravity of the offence committed. In our country too, the time has come to bring some reforms in the Juvenile laws. There is a steep rise in serious crimes involving youth of 16 to 18 years of age as they very well know that below 18 years is the ‘getaway pass’ for them from criminal prosecution. The punishment should be made a big deterrent in order to inject the feeling of fear in the mind of the criminals.

Short Essay on Juvenile Delinquency 200 Words in English

Below we have given a short essay on Juvenile Delinquency is for Classes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. This short essay on the topic is suitable for students of class 6 and below.

In the recent 2012 Delhi gang rape case, media too highlighted that ‘Most Brutal’ of all the accused person was the juvenile. For the brutalising act, he has been sentenced to imprisonment for the period of 3 years where others have got the death sentence. The principle that should have been followed for trying juvenile offenders is that Juvenility should be decided as per the state of mind and not just the state of body.

Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 was enacted by our Parliament in order to provide care, protection, treatment, development and rehabilitation of neglected or delinquent as a uniform system of juvenile justice mechanism throughout our country. These days we have observation homes, reformatory schools, custody institutions, probation homes etc., to help juvenile delinquents reform themselves so that they can be gradually absorbed into the mainstream society.

Moreover, we need to pay greater attention to improving the average condition in a society so that no child confronts such situations that force them to adopt unacceptable behavioural patterns. We need to find ways and means to pool the youthful energy of the children in a constructive and desired direction.

Juvenile Delinquency Essay

11 Lines to Remember Essay on Juvenile Delinquency

  • Exempted – to free from an obligation or liability to which others are subject
  • Vagrancy – a person without a settled home or regular work who wanders from place to place and lives by begging
  • Truancy – the action of staying away from school without good reason; absenteeism
  • Psychotic – mentally unstable; intensely upset, anxious, or angry
  • Neurotic – abnormally sensitive, obsessive, or anxious; disturbed; irrational
  • Echo – a sound heard again and again, any repetition of the ideas or opinions
  • Burglary -theft, robbery, illegal entry of a building with intent to commit a crime
  • Propelled – drive or push something forward, to urge onward
  • Bogus – false, fake, not genuine
  • Swindling – to obtain money by fraud, to cheat for money
  • Deterrent – a thing that discourages or is intended to discourage someone from doing something


Nearly 1,000 times in 3 years police went to an Iowa juvenile center where a staff was member was killed, records show

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JOHNSON, Iowa (AP) — Nearly 1,000 times in 3 years police went to an Iowa juvenile center where a staff was member was killed, records show.

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Humble-area man grabs barrel of gun pointed at his head during robbery, teens, 13 and 18, arrested in home invasion, aggravated robbery, several car thefts in atascocita, 3rd suspect at large.

Brittany Taylor , Senior Digital Content Producer

Corley Peel , Reporter

ATASCOCITA, Texas – Two teens were arrested in connection to a home invasion, vehicle thefts and aggravated robbery overnight Monday, according to deputies with Constable Mark Herman’s Office. A third suspect is on the run.

During their crime spree, a man they robbed in his car, grabbed the barrel of the gun they pointed right at his head and tried to talk them down.

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Home invasion

Deputies were alerted around 4 a.m. about an aggravated robbery in the 16300 block of Tulipan Spring Trail. They learned that three suspects arrived at a couple’s home in a white Dodge Ran 1500, armed with rifles.

The armed suspects fired into the home’s back glass window and made their way inside. They also shot inside their refrigerator. The group held the husband and wife and their three children at gunpoint and robbed the victims.

No injuries were reported and the suspects fled the home in the Dodge Ram, along with the victim’s white Jeep Cherokee.

KPRC 2 reporter Corley Peel obtained Ring Doorbell video from a neighbor where a person with long hair and a rifle ripped the camera off their front doorway Monday morning. The neighbor said he did not make it inside because his dogs likely scared the gunman away.

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Aggravated robbery

Sometime after the home invasion, the same suspects reportedly robbed a man at gunpoint while he was in his vehicle in the driveway of his home. Officials said they assaulted him and stole his wallet before they fled.

Victor Rojas told Corley the same guy pointed a gun in his face while he was in his vehicle in his driveway off Fuchsia Lane Monday morning. Rojas said he was about to head to work when the wanted group stopped him.

“I started looking down the window and when I lowered it down, that’s when he pointed this, this assault rifle in my face. It’s really either fight or flight. I really felt like I had no choice but other than to fight and try to protect myself. My reaction was to grab the barrel of the gun and pointed away from me and then pulling it into the truck. And so, while I’m holding on to the gun, just to kind of keep it away from me, he starts hitting me in the face. And then there’s another individual that’s on the, the driver’s side,” said Rojas.

Rojas said the armed person, told them the group’s only option was to rob him.

“He’s like, ‘Hey, you know what? We just want the money. We don’t want any trouble. Just give us the cash.’ And I told him, ‘I’m not giving you my truck, you know, you know, I can give you cash.’ You know, that’s what I wanted. He’s like, ‘You know what? We need the money and this is what we’re having to do to get the money,’” Rojas said.

He said the guys took off with his two phones and cash.

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Suspects detained

A few hours later, constable deputies said they found the crashed Jeep of the family who’d been tied up, in the 5300 block of Flaxburton Drive. They also located the suspects’ getaway vehicle and found a gun inside.

Two of the suspects, ages 13 and 18, were found near a home and arrested.

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Suspects tied to car break-ins

Detectives said the young group began their crime spree overnight by breaking into several cars. Constable Precinct 4 shared a surveillance photo from where they are accused of cutting car seats with a knife in the Atasca Woods Subdivision.

The constables also released a video showing the long-haired man breaking into a truck in a driveway.

Rojas said he hopes the remaining wanted person is caught soon.

“I know it’s just a matter of time where, you know, the law is going to catch up to him,” said Rojas.

Anyone with information is being asked to call Constable Mark Herman’s Office.

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About the Authors

Brittany taylor.

Award-winning journalist, mother, YouTuber, social media guru, millennial, mentor, storyteller, University of Houston alumna and Houston-native.

Corley Peel

Corley Peel is a Texas native and Texas Tech graduate who covered big stories in Joplin, Missouri, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Jacksonville, Florida before returning to the Lone Star State. When not reporting, Corley enjoys hot yoga, Tech Football, and finding the best tacos in town.

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