The ways that juvenile delinquency has been defined, perceived, and responded to have changed over time and generally reflect the social conditions of the particular era. During the colonial era of the United States, for example, the conceptualization of juvenile delinquency was heavily influenced by religion. At this time, juvenile delinquency was viewed as not only a legal violation, but also a moral violation.
Juvenile delinquency refers to antisocial and criminal behavior committed by persons under the age of 18. Juvenile delinquency is also simply called delinquency, and the two terms are used interchangeably in popular discourse. Once persons reach adulthood, antisocial and criminal behavior is known as crime. In this way, juvenile delinquency is the child and adolescent version of crime. Juvenile delinquency encompasses two general types of behaviors, status and delinquent offenses. Status offenses are behaviors that are considered inappropriate or unhealthy for children and adolescents, and the behaviors are proscribed because of the age of the offender. Such behaviors, if committed by adults, are not illegal. Examples of status offenses include smoking or using tobacco, drinking or possessing alcohol, running away from home, truancy or nonattendance at school, and violating curfew. There are also other status offenses that are essentially labels that parents and the juvenile justice system place on young people. These offenses include waywardness, incorrigibility, idleness, and being ungovernable. Depending on the jurisdiction, the juvenile justice system has devised formal labels for adolescents that are in need. These include CHINS (child in need of supervision), PINS (person in need of supervision), MINS (minor in need of supervision), FINS (family in need of supervision), and YINS (youth in need of supervision).
Delinquent offenses are violations of legal statutes that also apply to adults in the criminal justice system. Delinquent offenses include acts of violence against persons, such as murder, rape, armed robbery, aggravated and simple assault, harassment, stalking, menacing, child abuse, and similar offenses. Delinquent offenses also include acts that are considered property crimes, such as burglary, theft or larceny, motor vehicle theft, arson, damage to property, criminal mischief, vandalism, and others. A variety of miscellaneous crimes sometimes known as public order offenses are also delinquent offenses. These include driving while intoxicated, cruelty to animals, possession and use of a controlled substance, forgery, fraud, disorderly conduct, weapons violations, prostitution and commercialized vice, vagrancy and loitering, traffic violations, and others.
Juvenile delinquency is important in society for several reasons but for three in particular. First, children and adolescents commit a significant amount of delinquent offenses that result in violent, property, or other forms of victimization. Each year, more than one million children and adolescents are arrested by police for their delinquent acts. Second, juvenile delinquency is itself seen as an indicator of the general health and prosperity of a society. In neighborhoods with high levels of delinquency, the antisocial behavior is seen as part of a larger set of social problems. In this sense, juvenile delinquency is troubling because of the victimizations that are inflicted and the perceptual image of society as unable to adequately control and supervise young people. Third, as this research paper will explore, juvenile delinquency has different meanings depending on its severity and other factors. For many young people, juvenile delinquency is a fairly normal facet of growing up. For a small group of youths, however, juvenile delinquency is simply the beginning stage of what will become a lifetime of antisocial behavior. This research paper offers a comprehensive look at juvenile delinquency including its historical background, major theories of juvenile delinquency, and types or typologies of juvenile delinquents.