Fighting Juvenile Crime: The Facts and What We Can Do To Change It
Juvenile crime triples between 3 and 7 p.m. Why? Approximately 8 million children, ages 5 to 14, spend time without adult supervision on a daily basis. Sixty percent of 6th to 12th grade students spend at least 2 hours at home every day without an adult. Parents are at work, and youth are left to their own devices after the school bell rings. Research shows that during after-school hours, not only do crime rates triple, but many unsupervised youngsters experiment with tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and sex. Teens who are unsupervised after school are 37% more likely to become teen parents.
Juvenile Crime Facts from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention:
- Juvenile courts in the United States handle nearly 1.4 million delinquency cases that involve children, under the age of 18, charged with criminal law violations. The United States locks up a larger share of our youth population than any other developed country.
- Juveniles, younger than age 16 at the time of referral to court, accounted for 52% of all delinquency cases handled. Their crimes are broken down as: 59% person offense cases, 53% property offense cases, 49% public order offense cases, and 41% drug law violation cases.
- Females represent a relatively small proportion (less than one-third) of the overall delinquency caseload.
- Sixty-four percent of delinquency cases handled involve white youth and 33% involve black youth, even though, of the U.S. juvenile population, whites account for 76% and blacks only 16%. White youth accounted for a larger proportion of drug offense cases (76%) than they did for any of the other general offense categories, while black youth accounted for a larger proportion of person offense cases (40%).
- 60 percent of boys who have been classified as bullies ages 12 to 15 have at least one criminal conviction by the time they reach age 24.
Juvenile Crime Prevention
Preventing delinquency offers many benefits to our society as a whole, such as:
- Increases the likelihood that the child will develop into a responsible and productive community member.
- Decreases the likelihood of adult criminal careers, which also reduces the burden of crime on its victims and on society.
- Saves taxpayer money. It costs states billions of dollars a year to arrest, prosecute, incarcerate, and treat juvenile offenders. Investing in successful delinquency-prevention programs can save taxpayers seven to ten dollars for every dollar invested, primarily in the form of reduced spending on prisons.
While many past approaches to fighting juvenile crime focused on remediating disruptive behavior, research has shown that prevention and early intervention are much more effective. In general, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention recommends that the following types of prevention programs be implemented:
- Afterschool recreation programs that fill unsupervised after-school hours and allow positive interaction among peers
- Behavior management programs that provide valuable information, such as teaching parents how to raise healthy children or teaching children about the effects of drugs, gangs, sex, and other risky behaviors
- Conflict resolution and violence prevention curriculums that provide youth with the awareness that their actions have consequences
- Bullying prevention programs at schools that create safer environments for students
- Mentoring programs
- Community service that provides youth with: an awareness of the needs of others; a sense of purpose by giving them the chance to make a difference; and a pride and connection to their larger environment
Youth programs provide youth with an opportunity to interact in a safe social environment. They are designed to fit the personalities and skills of different children and may explore sports, arts, and other activities. Recreation programs also allow youth to connect with other adults and children in the community, creating relationships that can provide an effective deterrent to negative influences.
Specific Tips for Parents
Educate yourself. You should be familiar with the threats teens are facing today. Find out what behaviors are red flags for problems, so that you can immediately intervene. For example, do you know what it means if your teenager sucks on baby pacifiers, what drug is commonly transported in a water bottle, or which clothing are used by gangs to identify their members?
Accept that teens need supervision. When teens are consistently unsupervised every day after school, it opens the door to so many opportunities for temptation. A teenage brain is not fully developed and simply lacks the knowledge, maturity of judgment, and experience of adults required to consistently make good decisions. If you are not home every day after school, please enroll your teen in a youth program.
Monitor activities. You must clearly lay out your limits, rules, expectations, and the consequences for breaking them to your teen. Always know where their children are at all times, who they are with, and what they are up to.
Investigate suspicious activity. If you get a gut feeling that something is wrong with your teen, or if they are acting suspicious, it is your responsibility to ensure their safety. For example, there is absolutely nothing wrong with calling the parent of your teen’s friend to confirm their whereabouts.
Support your teen. Make sure that you truly get to know your teen. You should be able to recognize what makes your teen happy or sad, when things are going well, or when something is wrong. Be supportive of your teen and treat him/her with respect to develop a trusting relationship.
Get help when needed. When your teen is in serious trouble, it can feel embarrassing or humiliating to a parent. But, it’s more important to put the interests of the teen before your own by getting them the treatment or services they need, than to worry about what everyone else might think of you. Ignoring the problem will only place your child at greater risk.
Juvenile crime is an ongoing problem in the United States and must be addressed. Preventing youth from engaging in risky behavior creates a better society for us all. One way you can help prevent crime is by getting local teens involved in after-school programs, clubs or sports. Many communities offer youth centers for free. Middle Earth offers such a program in our local area of Somerset County, New Jersey. You can find options in your area by contacting your local government or United Way.