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Characteristics of a Juvenile Delinquent
©copyright ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2012
A juvenile delinquent is a person under the age of 18 who has committed a crime and has been taken into custody, charged and adjudicated for that crime. Juveniles can be charged as adults for more serious crimes depending on state laws, prior convictions and the severity of the crimes committed.
Adjudication is the equivalent of conviction for the juvenile justice system. Once an offender has been adjudicated, he or she will be given a disposition. However, if the offender has committed a more serious crime, has prior offenses or falls into a statutory exclusion category, then an entirely different set of rules may apply.
The End of the Child
All states have criteria which define the parameters by which juveniles will be dealt with in the legal system. They are defined as Transfer Laws.
- Judicial Waiver Laws allow for a waiver to be filed in juvenile court and with the judge's approval and a formal hearing, they will be transferred to criminal prosecution. Waiver to criminal court in these cases is at the discretion of the judge.
- Prosecutorial Discretion Laws are different in that it is entirely up to the prosecutor to determine whether or not to proceed in a juvenile or criminal court. Often prosecutors have total discretion and are not required to disclose any information to the defendant. There is no hearing, evidentiary record, and the defendant is not required to be notified as to which course of action is being taken.
- Concurrent Jurisdiction Laws are similar in that the defendant may be charged in either a juvenile or criminal court based on the concurrent jurisdictional laws. They are not required to be informed about their charges and all decisions are entrusted to the prosecutor. In 13 states, juveniles become criminally accountable between the ages of 15-17 because of jurisdictional age laws.
- Statutory Exclusion Laws allow criminal courts exclusive jurisdiction over juveniles if the alleged offense falls within a statutory exclusion category. It will be filed in a criminal court and will entirely surpass all juvenile proceedings. This means that if a child of a specific age commits a certain crime, he or she will no longer be considered a "delinquent child" because he or she will be termed "criminal" and will be handled in criminal proceedings. The overwhelming problem with statutory exclusion laws is that they are very different from state to state.
- "Once adult always adult" Laws that require the criminal prosecution of any juvenile who has previously been waived and prosecuted by the criminal court system. Most of these laws, which are carried in nearly every state, are comprehensive.
- Reverse Waiver Laws allow juveniles who are being prosecuted in criminal courts to petition their cases to be heard by juvenile courts. While this is seen as a corrective mechanism, there are only 24 states that currently allow the reverse waiver to be used. When it is enacted, the burden of proof is transferred to the juvenile. Reverse waiver laws are often very limited in their availability.
How Did They Get Here?
There are a multitude of characteristics that help identify a juvenile delinquent. Children will likely engage in careless acts as children often do. However, experts agree that when many of these indicators are present, the risk for offending or becoming a "juvenile delinquent" is extremely high.
Some factors are based solely on the child and the family while others are outside influences such as community, school and peers. It's important to understand that most of a child's socialization comes from the family. If the family is not intact, alternative bonds will be formed whether they be with other family members, friends, gangs or other negative outside influences. Many communities offer youth outreach programs for kids and crime rates amongst the juvenile population have dropped significantly since their peak in 1994. See OJJPD.
In 1998, 40 Major counties across the United States were examined.
- 7,100 juveniles were criminally processed for felonies.
- Less than 25% of those cases reached criminal courts through judicial waiver.
- The most common was statutory exclusion cases at 42%.
- Prosecutorial directly filed cases came in a close second at 35%
- The charges range from robbery 31%, assault 21%, drug trafficking 11% and burglary 8%.
- Defendants were 96% male and 62% black.
Data courtesy of Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention 2011
- Dysfunctional parenting
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse/other abuse
- Parental criminal activity
- Poor family bonding/monitoring
- Failure to thrive syndrome
- Siblings with antisocial behaviors
- Latchkey kids
- Broken home, divorce, domestic abuse
- Young mothers
- Parental criminal activity
- Poor role models
Courtesy of YOU TUBE
- Glorification of violence in the media
- Unemployment rates
- Exposure to community violence
- Availability of weapons and substances in community
- Sense of insecurity within the neighborhood
Courtesy of YOU TUBE
Individual Antisocial Behaviors
- Existing mental illness
- Vandalism and tagging
- Substance abuse
- Illegal gun/weapon possession
- Hate crimes
- Early sexual involvement
- Teen pregnancy and teen parenting
- Destruction of property
- Gang involvement
- Peer pressure
- Peer rejection
- Truancy and dropout
- Suspension and expulsion
- Learning disabilities and negative labeling
- Frequent school transitions
- Juvenile Offenders And Victims
US Department of Justice
There are a number of problems with the juvenile justice system. Currently there is not a consistent method of transitioning and waiving cases from the juvenile courts into criminal courts from state to state. Since prosecutorial discretion laws are used more often, it's reasonable that there should also be a systematic means of transition and categorization for which crimes, prior offenses and situational characteristics must exist before a juvenile is simply tried as an adult. This is especially important since the prosecutorial discretion laws are silent in nature and do not require the prosecutor to disclose anything to the juvenile. According to data collected by the US Department of Justice, transferred juveniles are more than twice as likely to be convicted of violent crimes than adult felons.
The biggest problems may lie in the fact that of the 50 states that prosecute juvenile offenders into criminal courts, only 13 states publicly report all of their criminal transfer information. Of the 46 states that have judicial waiver laws, only 20 report annual waivers publicly and 13 report all waivers to the National juvenile Court Data Archive.
There are 29 states that have statutory exclusion laws which require criminal prosecution. Only 2 of these states publicly report the total number of exclusions and 5 report all criminal prosecution cases but do not specify the type of transfer mechanism which was used.
Of the 15 states with prosecutorial discretion laws, only 1 publicly reports it's total cases prosecuted by the prosecutor's discretion and 4 others report all cases prosecuted but do not individuate.
The biggest problem is that there is far too much information missing to make an accurate summation about what is working and what is failing. The Department of Justice claims that there has been a significant drop in juvenile crime since 1994. They would like to attribute it to the waiver laws and the ability of courts to use blended sentencing methods which means that a juvenile would receive a criminal sentence and it would be suspended at the time of sentencing. The reality is, the absolute lack of data gives no real view of what's working and what's not. There are too many states not reporting and states that are reporting partial information. If there was a method for every adjudication or sentencing to be followed up with a simple form that could be sent to the DOJ (Department of Justice) it would allow a better view of how cases are being handled.
It's also critical to be able to have a snapshot of six months, one year, two years after the youth has been disposed or sentenced, and know where their life has taken them. This type of information would be easy to collect for persons who are in some form of custodial care such as, lock down, jail, probation or community corrections and it would be extremely helpful in knowing whether or not keeping them in the juvenile system was better or if transferring them to criminal court served them best.