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Law Enforcement & Juvenile Delinquents

Updated on April 12, 2011

Working with Juveniles While Wearing Blue

Young adult, juvenile delinquent, or teenager; there are many different names for the younger generation that is constantly running into trouble with the law on today’s streets. The police interact with young people in many different ways and with many different views, but are they seen too often as juvenile delinquent rather than merely a teenager who’s learning about life? Or is today’s younger generation growing more and more violent when it comes to dealing with law enforcement? “The wrongdoing among children has become so outrageous and such a frequent factor in day-to-day news , not only in the United States but also in nearly all parts of the globe, that some people have reached a state of alarm that makes them think the word “juvenile” is inseparably joined to the word “delinquent” (Roucek 1961). All of their delinquent acts end up taking them through our court systems, but does the Minnesota Juvenile Justice system make sense when working with juveniles or is the job of the law enforcement officer a never-ending battle? Juvenile delinquency has become a major problem for law enforcement officers today and finding out how they can work to change their attitudes towards juveniles is the first step towards change.

Parents and adults are constantly telling us to not do this and not do that because it’s “bad”. And the kids who do those “bad” things then become “bad” themselves. Those “bad” kids, as they grow older, become the juvenile delinquents that are present in our government system today. I think that these ideas and thoughts about juvenile delinquency are outrageously supported by the government, the community, the people and most of all, the law enforcement community. It is the way that we have thought about juvenile delinquency in the past, and our history is something that has a huge impact on how we make decisions and feel about delinquency today. It is most apparent in our government that these thoughts about juvenile delinquents being bad people are true. The government doesn’t help these kids or teach them that their decisions were wrong. They punish them. They lock them up in detention centers or send them off to boot camp in hopes that these “bad” kids will be “good” when they return or have finished serving their time. The government holds the ideal that juvenile delinquents are bad, just as the majority of our country does.

I believe that juvenile delinquency isn’t about kids being “bad”. It’s about kids who need help and need their lives changed somehow or someway. The idea that our government system has to change and that we need to be open minded is revolutionary and gives more hope to juvenile delinquents today. This way of thinking should be shared by law enforcement officers throughout the country. We’ve discussed in class that change needs to come from within and juvenile delinquency is an area of law enforcement that I think should be evolving. It’s obvious that there is a new and better approach to dealing with the problem of juvenile delinquency in our country, but where do we start?

Causes of Juvenile Delinquency

The cause of juvenile delinquency has eluded scientists for centuries. Theory after theory has been developed for why juveniles rebel against the norms of society by breaking laws, joining gangs, and committing crimes that are becoming more and more serious each year. As law enforcement officers, we have a core goal to reach: preventing juvenile delinquency from occurring. Yet, society itself hasn’t been able to come to a common assumption as to what specifically causes juvenile delinquency to occur. There have been many theories that have developed over the years to answer this question.

The latest theory of why juvenile delinquency is a common occurrence in today’s society is called the post modernism theory. . It states that it’s the struggle in the juvenile that causes delinquency, which means that each individual’s struggle through life is what causes them to deviate from society. The Post Modernist’s believe that the only way to solve juvenile delinquency is to deal with each person individually to change the way their life is being lived. Keeping this idea in mind when working with juveniles would be a big advantage to a law enforcement officer on the street.

Ways of Working with Juvenile Delinquents

Everyone has heard the stories about law enforcement officers who chose to target young adults for random searches or for unfair treatment. Whether or not these stories are true is debatable, but it is undeniable that there are times when young adults are treated unfairly simply because of their age and it is just as undeniable that there are better ways for officers to work with juveniles.

There are several ways of handling juveniles that come into contact with the police. One such way is punishment. “Juvenile delinquency has often led to a view that delinquents are responsible for their acts and should be held accountable and be punished for them (Cicourel 1968). In the past, law enforcement officers have felt that the idea of being punished would work to deter delinquents from committing crime. Punishing delinquents was a common and often encouraged practice among law officials dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

My personal view on the idea of punishment is that it doesn’t work! By punishing these individuals, it isn’t going to change the situation they’re in at home or in their community. After being punished they go right back to that same situation and they will eventually rebel against it again in an effort to change things. Besides, it’s been proven over and over again that “adult law-breakers are drawn in large numbers from the ranks of youthful offenders; lessons in crime are learned early and, all too often, well” (Vedder 1954). In other words, the recidivism rate of juvenile offenders grows until they themselves have become adult offenders. Overall, the idea of using punishment to rehabilitate offenders is obviously ineffective in today’s society.

Another way of dealing with juvenile offenders is to give them a warning and let them be on their way. Many officers do this for juveniles as a way of giving them a break. Some officers may believe that the juvenile is just going through a rebellious stage or is just “growing up”. If so, the juvenile is probably relieved and thankful to the officer for letting the offense slide, but what if that’s not the case? What if the juvenile offender is beginning a life of crime early in their development? If so, then what will doing nothing accomplish for the officer and the juvenile?

Doing nothing wouldn’t help to rehabilitate them or change their way of thinking. It definitely wouldn’t change the situation that caused them to rebel in the first place. By doing nothing, these offenders are going right back to where they started, which means they’re going to have to try again and again to change their situations at home, work, or at school that caused them to violate the law to begin with. That could allow potential for committing crimes again and again. It’s also possible that it would warp their minds into thinking that committing a crime is okay as long as you’re not an adult. None of these end results are what a law enforcement officer should be striving for when working with a juvenile delinquent.

Therefore, the officer should be looking at several other factors before deciding whether this particular individual is ok to “let go”. Simply asking questions can be a great way of getting information from a juvenile. An officer has a position of authority and should be able to get straight answers from a juvenile about the crime and the reason it’s being committed. However, once the answers have been established an officer should show that they care about what happens to the juvenile and show concern for any other personal issues that may be have provoked or encouraged the incident. Find out what’s happening in their life and try to help them make the changes they need.

There are many reasons why an officer should be open and flexible when dealing with juveniles. Making things flexible and subjective to the offender’s situation and their own dilemmas and problems they face through the course of their lives shows that you care about them as an individual and it also shows that you know how to use discretion effectively. Each individual delinquent is going to be seen individually instead of grouped into a category. The reason this makes so much sense is that each individual has their own personal reasons for committing the crimes they committed, so it only makes sense for each of them to have an individual solution to their problems. The definition of delinquent is subjective, the definition of good and evil is subjective, and all other definitions that we have are subjective, so why are we saying that there is one objective solution to all juvenile delinquents’ problems? We should know that there isn’t one “perfect” way of solving this problem. “In concrete terms this means that nothing determines unequivocally how certain social situations and certain personality types shall come together to determine the behavior of specific individuals (Ferdinand 1966). Discretion and determining the best decision for each juvenile is the best way to prohibit further incidents, but if your decision brings the juvenile to the hands of the state law what does that mean?

Minnesota's System

Minnesota always seems to be at the low end of the crime rates in the country. So, what has our wonderful state and the law enforcement agencies within it done in reaction to the growing number of juvenile delinquents?

One way that Minnesota has worked to prevent juvenile delinquency is to start working with delinquents at a young age. In the state of Minnesota a delinquent under the age of 10 cannot go through the juvenile justice system. Therefore, what can we do to delinquents under 10 who have committed a delinquent act? Minnesota has responded to an increase in the number of police reports of delinquent acts committed by youth under the age of 10, by creating the Delinquents under 10 program and the Targeted Early Intervention Program (TEI). These are two programs that allow the state to get involved with delinquents at an early age even though they can’t go through our juvenile justice system yet. Go Minnesota!!

When a juvenile has been detained by a law enforcement officer, they are usually referred to an intake officer for screening. The majority of these referrals come from law enforcement, but they can also come from probation officers/agents, welfare agencies, school officials, parents, and community members. However, since the majority of these referrals are from law enforcement that means that we need to take great consideration when deciding whether or not the juvenile should be referred to an intake officer.

In Minnesota, the intake officer has the option of sending the juvenile through a diversion program, a way of diverting petty/first time offenders from the court system. Minnesota has many options of diversion programs: peer/teen court, restitution, community service and others. This is another way that Minnesota works with juvenile delinquents to avoid involving them in the court system.

Minnesota offers juvenile delinquents a variety of avenues in which to take when working with our system. When compared to other states, Minnesota gives juveniles many options that aren’t always offered. Maryland has a statewide public defender system, representing adults and juveniles all together, in North Carolina juveniles consistently have representation, but not at sufficiently early stages of their cases, so they are interrogated and often held in custody without seeing a lawyer, and in direct conflict with national standards, Washington law permits children to waive their right to counsel.

Overall, I’d say that Minnesota has a very good juvenile justice system.

Summary of the System

 Our diversion system is a great way to keep kids out of the court system. It’s fast inexpensive and efficient. Our quality of defense is required to have some formal training and a certain level of education. The discretion of the police and the courts allow for several options for punishment, retribution, etc. and we have no set standards for how a juvenile is treated, which allows flexibility depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident. All of these characteristics allow for a successful system that should help when working with juveniles.

Law enforcement officers need to develop a good sense of discretion and allow for a change of heart and attitude when working with juvenile delinquents. I don’t believe that our old way of thinking is going to change a thing. We must develop the right idea and the right steps to create a new and better way of thinking about juvenile delinquency. We don’t have a solution yet, but the law enforcement community has to start thinking differently before change can occur.

There is no promise in today’s ideas about juvenile delinquency. There is no wonderful end result that will stop this problem. By punishing juvenile delinquents for being “bad”, how does that solve the problem? It doesn’t. The only solution to the problem of juvenile delinquency is by prevention and completely changing the system that we have now. Fixing the source of these individual’s problems is the only rational and reasonable answer. In order to change the way juvenile delinquency is occurring we have to change the offender’s lives completely. It is the only serious way to deal with this problem. That means we need to change the situations these kids are in before they commit crimes. However, there is not enough prevention being initiated by officers and the community, and without prevention there can never be a cure to this problem.

Therefore, the health of the community and our citizens relies on the discretion, training and attitudes of law enforcement officers to promote change and growth among juvenile delinquents that are encountered in the field. Each officer should take some time to think about how to work with juveniles and how to reach them on a personal level before making any serious decisions that could affect the juvenile’s attitude, behavior and opinions for the rest of his/her life.

The power of thought and attitude can affect people on a very deep level. The changing way of thought and attitude towards juvenile delinquency must start from within the agency. It can start with you.


 Archive of Historical Criminological Texts. Retrieved from:

Cicourel, Aaron V. 1968. The Social Organization of Juvenile Justice. New York: John        Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Downes, David M. 1966. The Delinquent Solution – A Study in Subcultural Theory. New    York: The Free Press


Ferdinand, Theodore N. 1966. Typologies of Delinquency – A Critical Analysis. New          York: Random House Inc.


Roucek, Joseph S. (ed.) 1902. Sociology of Crime. Philosophical Library, N.Y.


Vedder, Clyde B. 1954. The Juvenile Offender – Perspective and Readings.
            Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, Inc.


Shusta, Robert M., Levine, Deena R. Harris, Philip R. Wong, Herbert Z. (2002). Multicultural Law Enforcement – Strategies for Peacekeeping in a Diverse Society. 2nd Ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall


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      -*- 6 years ago

      really useful