Preventing Juvenile Delinquency

A major problem in modern day society, of course, is criminals. It is believed by some that some people are born criminals, that they just have a genetic make up to do ‘bad things’, but for those who know better, we know this is nowhere near true. Criminals are formed by their environment, life experiences, and other situational factors. You can have the exact same two individuals and raise them in separate places and although they are genetically and physically the same, they will grow up and mature into totally different individuals because, let’s face it, our environment and society rounds us into the type of people we are.

So what needs to be done? It goes without saying that criminals and delinquency needs to be stopped, it ends in thousands of pointless deaths state wide and property damages can reach into the millions. The goal is to specifically find out what breeds a criminal, or a delinquent, and try to alter or deter them from the life they are inevitably going to have; A life of crime.

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If delinquency is really a rational choice and a routine activity, then delinquency prevention is a matter of three strategies: prevention by convincing potential delinquents that they will severely punished for committing delinquent acts, then they must be punished so severely, that they never want to commit crimes again, or make it so difficult to commit crimes that the potential gain is not worth the risk. The first of these strategies is called general deterrence; the second is specific deterrence, and the third, situational crime prevention.

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​General deterrence concept holds that the choice to commit delinquent acts is structured by the threat of punishment. If it believed that kids are going to get away with a crime, they are more likely to commit one. On the other hand, if they believe that their illegal behavior would result in apprehension and severe punishment, then only the truly irrational would commit a crime, the rest would be deterred. The main principle to the general deterrence theory is that the more severe, certain, and swift the punishment is, the greater the deterrence effect will be.

Even though particular crimes have certain punishment, there will be relatively no deterrent if they individuals feel as if they will not get caught. Conversely, even a mild sanction may deter crime if people believe punishment is certain. So if the justice system can convince would-be delinquents that they will get caught for the commission of a crime, they may decide that the risk is not greater than the reward and avoid the illegal act a together. ​One might argue that kids are not deterred by the fear of punishment because juvenile justice is based on the parens patriae philosophy, which mandates that children be treated and not punished. This greatly limits the power of the law to deter juvenile crime. In recent years, the increase in teenage violence, gang activity, and drug abuse promoted a reevaluation of deterrence strategies. Police wisely began to focus on particular problems in their jurisdiction rather than merely reacting after a crime has occurred. In result, police are now more willing to use aggressive tactics called drug-busting units. The result of this would be to deter membership in drug trafficking gangs. Juvenile courts also initiated a deterrence strategy. Juvenile court judges have been willing to waive youths to adult courts; prior record may outweigh an offender’s need for services in making this decision.

Legislators seem willing to pass more restrictive juvenile codes featuring mandatory incarceration sentences in juvenile facilities, and the number of incarcerated juveniles continues to increase. Adolescents are not even spared capital punishment: the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of the death penalty for youths over 16. ​The effectiveness of general deterrence strategies is a topic of considerable debate. A number of studies have contributed data supporting deterrence concepts. Evidence indicates that the threat of police arrest can deter property crimes. Areas of the country in which punishment is more certain seem to have lower delinquent occurrences; the more likely people are to anticipate punishment, the less likely they are to commit crimes. Although the findings are persuasive, there is actually little conclusive evidence that the threat of apprehension and punishment alone can deter crime. More evidence exists that fear of social disapproval and informal penalties, criticisms, and punishments from parents and friends may actually be the greater deterrent to crime than legal punishments.

Because deterrence strategies are based on the idea of a rational, calculating offender, they may not be effective when applied to immature young people. Minors tend to be less capable of making mature judgments about their behavior choices. It is also possible that for the highest risk group of young offenders, the deterrent threat of formal sanctions may be irrelevant. In sum, deterring delinquency through the fear of punishment may be of limited value because children may neither fully comprehend the seriousness of their acts nor the consequences they may face. Though in the surface deterrence appears to have benefit as a delinquency control device, there is also reason to believe that is has limited demonstrable effectiveness. ​The theory of specific deterrence holds that if offenders are punished severely, the experience will convince them not to repeat their illegal acts. Although general deterrence focuses on potential offenders, specific deterrence targets offenders who have already been convicted. Juveniles are sent to secure incarceration facilities with the understanding that their ordeal will deter future misbehavior. Specific deterrence is a popular approach to crime control today.

Unfortunately, relying on punitive measures may expend rather than reduce future delinquency. ​Institutions have quickly become overcrowded and chronic violent offenders are packed into swollen facilities with juveniles who have committed non-serious and nonviolent crimes. The use of mandatory sentences for some crimes means that kids who are found to have committed those crimes must be institutionalized; first time offenders may be treated the same as chronic recidivists.

Literature Review

Some research studies show that arrest and conviction may under certain circumstances lower the frequency of re-offending, a finding which supports specific deterrence. However, other studies suggest that punishment has little real effect on reoffending and in some instances may in fact increase the likelihood that first time offenders will commit new crimes. Why does punishment encourage rather than reduce delinquency? According to some experts, institutionalization cuts youth off from prosocial supports in the community, making them more reliant on deviant peers. Incarceration may also diminish chances for successful future employment, reducing access to legitimate opportunities. Punishment strategies may stigmatize kids and help lock offenders into a delinquent career, putting emphasis on the expression “prison breeds better criminals”. ​Rather than deterring or punishing individuals in order to reduce delinquency rates, situational crime prevention strategies aim to reduce the opportunities people have to commit particular crimes.

The idea is to make it so difficult to commit specific criminal acts that would-be delinquent offenders will be convinced that the risks of crime are greater than the rewards. Controlling the situation of crime can be accomplished by increasing the effort, increasing the risk, and/ or reducing the rewards attached to delinquent acts. ​Increasing the effort to commit crime can involve target hardening techniques such as placing steering locks on cars and putting unbreakable glass on storefronts. Some successful target hardening efforts include installing a locking device on cars that prevents drunken drivers from starting the vehicle. Access control can be maintained by locking gates and fencing yards. The facilitators of crime can be controlled by such measures as banning the sale of spray paint to adolescents in an effort to cut down on graffiti, or having photos put on credit cards to reduce their value if stolen. Increasing the risks of crime might involve such measures as improving surveillance lighting, creating neighborhood watch programs, controlling building entrances and exits, installing burglar alarms and security systems, and increasing the number of private security officers and police patrols.

The installation of street lights may convince burglars that their entries will be seen and reported. ​Reducing the rewards of crime could include strategies such as making car radios removable so they can be kept at home at night, marking property so that it is more difficult to sell when stolen, and having gender neutral phone listings to discourage obscene phone calls. ​Although there is really no way to completely predict which children will behave in delinquent and criminal ways in the future, there are a multitude of risk factors that have been shown to correlate with these behaviors. Fetal substance exposure, prenatal difficulties, an abusive and violent family are all risk factors related to poorer executive functioning. This weakness is then shown to lead to violent behavior (Zagar, Busch, and Hughes 281). Other precursors to later frequent offending include poor child-rearing practices, poor parental supervision, criminal parents and siblings, low family income, large family size, poor housing, low intelligence, and low educational attainment (Zigler and Taussig 998).

Physical and/or sexual abuse are specifically risk factors for homicidal behavior (Zagar, Busch, and Hughes 288). It has also been shown that early-onset antisocial behavior is associated with more severe outcomes compared with antisocial behavior that occurs later, and it is more likely to persist into adulthood (Olds et al. 66). In short, delinquent behaviors are said to be controlled by three factors: General deterrence which suggests a practical solution to crime: increase the certainty and severity of punishment. Punishment can be made proportionate to the seriousness of the crime, and increasing the severity of punishment will reduce delinquency. The specific deterrence concept provides a simple solution to the delinquency problem: punishing more delinquents will reduce their involvement in criminal activity. Lastly is situational crime prevention which shows the importance of situational factors in delinquent act.

It can be aimed at reducing or eliminating a specific type of delinquency, rather than eliminating all delinquency through social change. ​These strategies are certainly arguable, because I stand strongly on the premise that every crime does not deserve institutionalization because prison/ jail just breeds better criminals. For example, if a kid was to shoplift video games from a store, the practical, common, and fast thing to do would be arrest, conviction, and late jail, but for what? So he or she can be institutionalized then pick up on other crimes and be released from prison a better criminal. All the prisons I have seen and or visited are loosely called “correctional institutions”; I do not think there is any type of correcting going on behind those walls.


Our justice system really needs to focus on better ways of rehabilitating our youth, or so I feel. On the other hand, I do like that some crimes have very harsh punishments because those are the ones that I see are committed less often. We also have to keep in mind that it is not society’s responsibility to raise our children, real teaching starts at home with proper parenting. In some parents’ defense, some kids are hard to maintain, but that’s when further measures should be taken, for example jail visits and the scared straight program. To reinstate, in the future there should be better prevention techniques for delinquents, a way to make them regret their actions, but in the same way, not turn them into hardened criminals or ruin their lives based on one mistake.

Saminsky, A. (2010). Preventing juvenile delinquency: Early intervention and comprehensiveness as critical factors. (02 ed., Vol. 02, p. 3). WEB
Siegel, L. (2006). Juvenile delinquency . (9 ed., p. 587). Canada: Thomson Wadsworth.

Updated: Jul 06, 2022
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Preventing Juvenile Delinquency. (2016, Mar 10). Retrieved from

Preventing Juvenile Delinquency essay
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