IV. Types of Juvenile Delinquents
Juvenile delinquents are a diverse group of young people that varies in terms of the severity of delinquent acts they commit, the frequency with which they commit delinquent acts, how early they begin their delinquent career, and how long they commit delinquency. For many youths, juvenile delinquency is a short-lived flirtation that goes away as quickly as it emerges. It is common and even normal for adolescents to engage in trivial forms of misbehavior and delinquency as they mature through adolescence and enter adulthood. However, for some youths, juvenile delinquency has a more troubling meaning. Several decades of research have shown that a small subset of youths—comprising approximately 5% to 10% of the population—constitute serious, violent, and chronic offenders. Although this group is statistically small, they account for more than half of the juvenile delinquency occurring in a population and even greater levels of the most violent offenses, such as murder, rape, and armed robbery. Researchers have provided evidence of this group using samples from across North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Because of the empirical consistency with which the small group of serious delinquents appears in crime data, criminologists have developed theories and helped to influence public policies that are tailored to the various needs and risk profiles of different types of juvenile delinquents.
For example, in 1993, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) published the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders, which is a research-based framework of strategic responses to help local and state juvenile justice systems respond to delinquency. Two years later, the OJJDP conducted a national training and assistance initiative to put the Comprehensive Strategy into place. The Comprehensive Strategy has two main components, prevention and graduated sanctions. Prevention targets youths that are at risk for juvenile delinquency and attempts to enhance their prosocial development by focusing on healthy and nurturing families, safe communities, school attachment, prosocial peer relations, personal development and life skills, and healthy lifestyle choices. In other words, prevention provides education and guidance on the very factors that will insulate youths from selecting a delinquent career. Graduated sanctions, which is the second component of the Comprehensive Strategy, target the same prosocial developmental points but for a different target population of youths—those that have already begun their delinquent career.
The Comprehensive Strategy is multidisciplinary and uses the range or continuum of sanctions that exists in the juvenile justice system to address the needs of the range of youthful offenders, from those first experimenting with problem behaviors to those with sustained and violent records. It is guided by six principles: (1) strengthening the family in its primary responsibilities to instill moral values and provide support and guidance to children; (2) supporting core social institutions, such as schools, churches, and community organizations, to help develop capable, mature, and responsible youth; (3) promoting delinquency prevention as the most cost-effective approach to reducing juvenile delinquency; (4) intervening immediately and effectively when delinquent behavior first emerges to prevent it from becoming worse; (5) establishing a system of graduated sanctions that holds each juvenile offender accountable, protects public safety, and provides programs and services that meet treatment needs; and (6) identifying and controlling the small percentage of serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders who commit the majority of felony offenses.
What happens if nothing is done to prevent or intervene in delinquent careers once they are under way? A study by Kimberly Kempf-Leonard and her colleagues (Kempf-Leonard, Tracy, & Howell, 2001) is telling. Kempf-Leonard et al. studied more than 27,000 delinquent careers from the 1958 Philadelphia Birth Cohort Study and followed the youths until age 27. Among youth that had been serious delinquents, 48% were arrested as adults. For violent delinquents, 53%were arrested as adults. For chronic delinquents, 59% were arrested during adulthood. For those that were serious and chronic juvenile offenders, 63% were arrested during adulthood. For violent and chronic delinquents, over 63% were arrested as adults. In short, the deeper a youth becomes entrenched in his or her delinquency, the more likely antisocial behavior will be a lifelong problem.