Juvenile Crime as a Serious Problem: Discursive Essay
Juvenile crime remains a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Though the rates of juvenile incarcerations have gone down, it still poses a threat to the social fabric. Various theories explain the reasons that contribute to juvenile delinquency. One of these theories is routine activity theory. The theory that was developed by Cohen and Felson in 1979 suggests that three elements must be present for a crime to occur. First is a potentially motivated offender who has criminal intent and the ability to act on them, a suitable target, and the absence of a capable guardian or authority figure that can prevent the crime from happening. If all these factors are present, then a crime is likely to occur. Based on the theory, police officers need to develop strategies that can prevent delinquent behavior. One of these strategies is situational crime prevention. The strategy suggests that crime reduction can occur if the opportunities that lead to crime are limited. Prevention of crime is not about changing the criminal or delinquent disposition. It is about analyzing circumstances that lead to delinquent acts and making modifications that can prevent further crimes from happening.
Juvenile crime is a serious concern for all stakeholders. The rates of incarceration have decreased over the past decades with the rate being 37 juvenile detainees per 100,000 population in 2008 compared to 64.9 per 100,000 in 1981 (Richards, 2011). The most common reasons for incarceration were crimes against people and property. Preventing juvenile crime can be difficult. Law enforcers need to consider many factors to ensure that the behavior is not repeated. Most of the intervention and prevention efforts on juvenile delinquent behavior concentrate on identifying factors that contribute to delinquent behavior and addressing these factors early enough. Also, building on protective factors to offset the risks of the behavior occurring is an additional way of preventing juvenile delinquency. One of the theories that best explain juvenile behavior is the routine activity theory by Cohen and Felson. The theory was developed in 1979. The theory suggests that three elements need to be present for a crime to occur. First is a potentially motivated offender who has criminal intent and the ability to act on them, a suitable target, and the absence of a capable guardian or authority figure that can prevent the crime from happening (Purpura, 2013). The three elements need to be present for a crime to occur. The routine activity theory focuses on the characteristics of the crime and not the offender. Thus, the environment is one of the factors that contribute to crime. Research suggests that high-crime areas have high rates of repeat crimes. Besides, the theory allows the exploration of criminal events by paying focus on the domains in which these events occur. Therefore, there is a need to identify factors that contribute to high juvenile crime rates and find strategies that can minimize these risks. The essay draws on routine activity theory to understand factors that increase delinquent behavior and expose people to motivated offenders.
Routine activity theory is greatly cited in criminological studies. The theory provides greater perspectives on crime compared to a majority of theories that center of the criminal, biological, psychological, and social factors that motivate delinquent acts. By focusing on routine activity, the theory seeks to investigate crime as an event and highlight the relationship between space, time, and the environment with criminal behaviors. The theory provides a greater perspective on crime. It predicts the changes both social and economic and the way they influence an increase in criminal behavior (Cohen & Felson, 1979). Marcus Felson and Lawrence Cohen first formulated the theory in 1979 before Felson further developed the theory to include a broader perspective. The developers of the theory suggest that violations or delinquent behaviors are not random or trivial events. Instead, they are informed by a routine of activities that people engage in daily. Certain activities make people engage in criminal activities and others make them more susceptible to being viewed as suitable targets by potential offenders. Other than the daily activities, the patterns of interaction of people daily also inform criminal activity. Thus, the two authors suggest that the crime is normal and the pattern of offending depends greatly on the available opportunities to offend. As long as there is a possible target, a motivated offender is likely to commit a crime.
According to this theory, some factors that occur on a routine basis may motivate an offender. For example, walking through a specific neighborhood on a routine basis, a potential offender may identify easy targets for breaking. As a result, they are likely to commit a burglary into buildings that are not safeguarded. Also, commercial buildings that do not have access controls or any form of security make them suitable targets for potential offenders. In addition to a potential offender and a suitable target, the lack of a capable guardian to prevent the crime is another determinant of criminal behavior according to this theory. This means that guardians should be more involved in the life of their children to minimize delinquent behavior. Thus, the changes in structural patterns of everyday activities and new configurations increase the potential for criminal opportunities.
The authors go ahead to suggest that transformations in modern society have led to an increase in the number of activities far from home and these have led to an increase in criminal activities. For instance, more women have joined the labor force. An increase in vacation travel more so trips outside the city have increased to some homes that are left unprotected. All these activities have led to an increase in predatory contacts. Solitary life also makes one a potential target. Thus, transformations in modern society have led to an increase in the number of delinquent acts.
The third element that contributes to crime based on this theory is the absence of a capable guardian. A capable guardian, in this case, is someone who can intervene to prevent the occurrence of a crime. The concept of guardian, in this case, has a wide meaning. A guardian can be a parent, adult, or someone who functions as a guard of the property but not necessarily a security guard or police. Guardianship in this concept refers to the physical or symbolic presence of an individual that acts to prevent a potential criminal activity. Therefore, the absence is likely to lead to criminal behavior.
The theory has many benefits in the explanation of delinquent behavior. It points out factors that lead to juvenile delinquency and is not limited to a certain population. A potential offender, a potential target, and the absence of a guardian is likely to lead to juvenile delinquency. Youths who are not monitored by parents, guardians, or authority figures are likely to engage in delinquency. Also, the presence of a potential target, for instance, a building that lacks security or someone walking alone is likely to be more targeted.
An additional theory that seeks to explain juvenile delinquency and other criminal acts are Merton’s anomie theory. The theory was developed in 1938 and is among the first theories that provide a sociological explanation of delinquent behavior. The theory focuses on social structures and seeks to understand delinquent behavior based on these formations. The theory seeks to understand the way society social structures constrain behavior and lead to deviant acts. Anomic conditions occur because of the discrepancy between goals and means to achieve them. The discrepancy leads to disorientation of the individual, which leads to stress and social conflicts. For individuals to cope with the pressure that comes from the discrepancy between goals and means individuals either conform, innovate, retreat, reject, or rebel (Merton, 1938). Society places many expectations from a person more so concerning the attainment of societal goals. However, people do not have similar opportunities that can lead to success.
Conformity is one of the most common forms of adaptation. Conformity means that an individual has accepted the cultural goal of success and he or she is trying to achieve it through the set legitimate means. Thus, conformity is the only means of adaptation that is non-deviant.
Innovation is an adaptation. Individuals who innovate accept the cultural goal of success but try to achieve it through illegitimate means. Drug dealing, embezzlement of funds, or robbery are some of these illegitimate means.
Ritualism occurs when individuals have abandoned the cultural goal of success but continue to use legitimate means to make a living. Retreatism occurs when people have abandoned the cultural goal of success and legitimate means of attaining this goal.
Rebellion occurs when individuals do not conform to the rules. Most people who fall under this category are in the political class. They reject the cultural goal of success and replace it with another goal. Individuals then go ahead and use either legitimate or illegitimate means to achieve this goal. The rebels use any means to achieve their goal.
Though the theory argues that people commit crimes because they lack alternatives, it does not explain why they react differently to the different situations they encounter. The theory also does not explain other delinquent behaviors such as murder and rape. Most explanations are for monetary crimes such as burglary or theft. The theory is also limited because it explains criminal activities within the lower class. The theory assumes that the middle and upper class have the means to achieve cultural goals and thus does not engage in delinquent behavior, which is not true.
The theory does not fully account for the causes of juvenile delinquency because it limits the people who commit a crime to those in the lower class. The theory argues that these groups of people are likely to engage in crime because they have limitations in achieving the cultural goal of success. They do not have enough resources, which makes them do illegitimate means to achieve the cultural goal. The theory also fails to explain the meaning of the cultural goal of success. Other than social goals, each individual has personal goals that he or she aims to achieve and thus the means to achieve them can be different.
Various crime prevention strategies exist regarding juvenile delinquent acts. One of these strategies is situational crime prevention. This strategy is different in that it seeks to reduce opportunities that lead to crime. The strategy does not focus on changing the criminal or delinquent disposition. The strategy begins by analyzing the circumstances that result in certain types of delinquent acts and then introduces environmental modifications that can prevent the occurrence of these crimes (Blomberg et al., 2016). The changes go beyond the immediate physical and social settings in which the crime occurs and cover wider societal arrangements that allow the occurrence of the crime. Thus, the theory focuses on the settings and not the delinquent.
Based on routine activity theory, the police can reduce juvenile crime by eliminating factors that are likely to contribute to crime. For instance, reducing the possible target can minimize delinquent behavior. Instead of punishing the youth, the police can make it difficult for them to commit a crime in the first place. Ensuring that buildings have security controls such as alarm systems or physical restrictions that limit access can make it difficult for them to be a potential target. Thus, the crime will not be committed in the first place. Besides, such security measures increase the immediate risks of being caught, which can discourage a person from committing a crime. Also, potential targets should limit their movements or walk around with a lot of money to minimize being attacked. In a 2017 article that appeared in The Chronicle, for instance, one of the factors that stood out on why youths engage in delinquent behavior is the potential wealth that offenders believe targets have (Smith & Hooker, 2017). In the article, for instance, the youth gang attacked the man because he had a luxury car, which they associated with potential wealth. Therefore, eliminating factors that contribute to crime can prevent delinquent behaviour.
Also, removing excuses for offending can minimize juvenile delinquency. Most of the youths who engage in delinquent behavior tend to have factors that make it easier for them to offend. For example, some are from poor homes, which makes it hard for them to afford some things, they consider necessities. To cater to this shortage, they may decide to break into a store or attack someone for money to be able to afford what they desire. Addressing the issue of poverty by providing such families with grants can minimize the burden of juvenile delinquent acts.
Informal control of delinquent behavior can also help to reduce juvenile crime. For example, creating private areas that make it easier to establish guardianship can make it difficult for youth to engage in crime. Routine activity theory suggests that lack of guardianship is one of the factors that contribute to delinquency. Thus, introducing measures that can make it easier to establish guardianship can minimize delinquent acts because the youths are watched all the time.
In conclusion, juvenile delinquency continues to cause serious concern among stakeholders. Although the rates of delinquent behaviors have reduced, they continue to happen due to changes in environmental factors. Thus, identifying factors that lead to criminal activities is important in minimizing their occurrence. One of the theories that best explain juvenile delinquency is the rational activity theory. The theory suggests that for a crime to occur certain factors need to be present, a potential offender, a suitable target, and a lack of guardianship. The availability of a suitable target makes it easier for one to offend. Lack of guardians also makes it easier to offend. However, despite the high rates of delinquent behaviors, situational crime intervention has been documented as one of the strategies that can minimize delinquency. Various research studies have documented situational crime intervention as a successful strategy in crime reduction because the benefits go beyond the targeted crime or criminal and address the underlying issues that motivate this criminal act. The intervention suggests that a change of environment can minimize the motivation that drives delinquency.
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