Juvenile delinquency, also known as youth crime, is participation in illegal behavior by minors. Most legal systems prescribe specific procedures for dealing with juveniles, such as juvenile detention centers, and courts. A juvenile delinquent is a person who is under 18 and commits an act that otherwise would have been charged as a crime.
There are more than 2,500 people serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed when they were juveniles. Some were as young as 13 when they were sent to prison. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life without parole for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicide violated the Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, a ruling that extended the court's logic in its 2005 decision to abolish the juvenile death penalty.
More than 100,000 juveniles are held in residential placement on any given day in the United States. The direct effect of moving a youth with given family and personal characteristics to a neighborhood where 10% more of the youths are involved in crime than in his/her initial neighborhood is to raise the probability that the youth will become involved in crime by 2.3%.
Each year now, as many as 200,000 youth under age 18 are tried in adult criminal courts nationwide. These
underage defendants may reside in 1 of the 13 states that define the maximum age of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction below 17; they may have their cases transferred from juvenile to adult court by judges or prosecutors; or they may be transferred to criminal court automatically, based on the severity of their charges.
"It really doesn’t matter whether you’re right, left, or center on the philosophy of treating juvenile offenders; everyone shares the overarching goal to stop young people from committing crimes," said National Urban League President Hugh Price. "Most people would be outraged—and frightened—to know that much of the $10 to $15 billion being spent every year fighting juvenile crime is not paying off in making our communities safer and, in many cases, actually increases the risks of juvenile offenses."
The juvenile justice system began to emerge as an entity separate from the adult criminal justice system as early as 1825 in the United States with the opening of the New York house of Refuge. The purpose of early juvenile facilities were to protect juveniles from the harsh conditions of adult jails, to isolate them from the corrupting influence of hardened criminals, and to save at-risk youths by providing needed guidance and discipline. Juvenile courts today maintain jurisdiction over delinquents, status offenders, and dependent and neglected children.
The federal government's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), an agency created to identify the needs of youths and fund policy initiatives in the juvenile justice system, has made it a top priority to encourage the removal of status offenders from secure lockups, detention centers, and post-disposition treatment facilities that also house delinquent offenders. Because girls are more likely to be status offenders, criminqalization of status offenses through the "violation of court order" exception may contribute to the increasing numbers of girls in the juvenile justice system.
The fact that so many theories of delinquency exist – and persist – is a sign of the problems connected with providing satisfactory interpretations of the behavior. Most sophisticated sciences have a dominant theory or, at least, a very few competing theories that deal with their subject matter. The study of crime and delinquency, however, is marked by adherents to many schools of thought, with little consensus about which offers the best prospect for a comprehensive understanding of the roots of delinquent activity.
To date, there's no extensive research comparing the lengths of prison sentences received by juveniles convicted in criminal court with those who remained in the juvenile system. What research exists indicates that juveniles convicted in criminal court, particularly serious and violent offenders, are more likely to be incarcerated and receive longer sentences than juveniles retained in the juvenile system. Despite this, however, they often actually serve only a fraction of the sentences imposed, in many cases less time than they would have served in a juvenile facility.
The Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) provides grants to states and localities to implement programs that strengthen the juvenile justice system. New provisions allow JABG funds to be used on research-based bullying and gang prevention, as well as for reentry purposes. Further, the legislation specifies a new preference for funds to be used for evidence-based approaches, such as Functional Family Therapy, which has been shown to cut rates of re-arrest in half by intervening with families to teach them how to better control their children’s behavior.
Halfway through his term, President Obama has yet to nominate an administrator for the federal office that once reliably developed national policies and priorities. It is one of only two Department of Justice nominations the president has yet to make. As a result, the office has drifted from its mission while letting states fend for themselves, spending too much money on incarceration of juveniles and on ineffective programs.