Violent Crimes among Juveniles

By Corbitt, William Andrew | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Violent Crimes among Juveniles


Corbitt, William Andrew, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


Behavioral Aspects

The United States is home to approximately 57 million children under age 15 and nearly 20 million between 4 and 8 years old. Experts believe that the teenage population may reach almost 30 million by 2006. [1] This population growth may partially explain why the United States has witnessed a nationwide epidemic of juvenile violence in the past 15 years. More violent and troubled youth are entering the juvenile justice system than ever before.

Indeed, although crime rates have decreased across the United States, violent crimes (e.g., murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) [2] among juveniles increased by 14.9 percent from 1989 to 1998. [3] In 1998, law enforcement officers arrested more than 1.8 million teenagers under age 18, representing 18 percent of all persons arrested. [4] Twenty-nine percent of these youths were arrested for Crime Index offenses. [5]

Several factors--such as child abuse, a difficult home life, and exposure to crime--can predict certain types of future behavior. Although these factors may adversely affect juvenile behavior, serious and violent juvenile offenders tend to develop behavior problems--such as aggression, dishonesty, property offenses, and conflict with authority figures--from childhood to adolescence. [6] Parents, law enforcement officers, schools, and community organizations must recognize the behavior patterns of delinquents to implement appropriate crime prevention strategies.

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS

Numerous variables affect children during specific stages of their lives. [7] During infancy, such factors as sex, intellect, activity level, temperament, and attention span may affect behavior. During the toddler, or preschool, stage, children may demonstrate risk-taking and sensation-seeking behavior and fail to show a sense of guilt or empathy. In early adolescence, poor parental supervision, depression, excessive sibling rivalry, peer rejection, or exposure to violence may cause children to react negatively, leading to violent behavior. [8]

Many juvenile delinquents lack proper guidance and direction in their lives. Because they are subjected to multiple risk factors, these children may become more violent. For example, in 1994, over 4 million American children lived in severely distressed homes or neighborhoods that contributed to violent tendencies among troubled juveniles. [9] Additionally, the divorce rate has increased over the past 20 to 30 years, and many experts support the "broken homes theory," which implies that homes with one parent absent--usually the father-- may contribute to future delinquent behavior of children. Often, in situations without a positive male role model, mothers may have less control and authority over their children, particularly boys. This theory also maintains that a family with only one parent present may have to reduce its standard of living and ultimately live in impoverished conditions that present an environment for delinquent behavior. [10]

Several studies suggest that a pattern of aggressive or intolerant behavior may signal future problems. [11] This type of behavior prevails in children ages 6 to 11 who participate in nonserious delinquent acts. Research shows that sexual or physical abuse victims; youths exposed to violence in the home, community, or from television; and adolescents who use illegal drugs and alcohol may have a higher propensity for developing violent tendencies. Further, consistent experimentation with sexual activity at a young age also may predict violent behavior. [12] Finally, socioeconomic factors such as poverty, severe deprivation of necessities, divorce or separation of parents, and family separation may have a negative impact on impressionable youth and lead to violent tendencies. [13]

BEHAVIOR PATTERNS

For years, researchers have developed models depicting various reasons for childhood delinquency. …

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