In recent times the United States has witnessed an increase in the levels of juvenile criminal behavior. This has ranged from violence by youth gangs, felonies that are drug-related, as well other delinquent behavior. Behaviors which have altered the way youth violence is perceived the American public.Occurrences of Criminal behaviors such as juvenile homicide, teenage alcohol abuse, school shootings, date rape and teenage drugabuse have all showed an upwardtrend especially in recent years. This has also been coupled by an increase in Incidences of teen battering and youth family violence.These incidents have called for interventions to pin point the root causes of youth violencein addition to identification of operational approaches which can lead to the identification of at-risk youths as well as rehabilitating juvenile already entangled in violent criminal behavior. All targeted at mitigating new incidents of juvenile violence and restoring active juvenile offenders.
The ever growing occurrence of juvenile violence in the United States has developed into a growing sociological and psychological issue in the community. The involvement of young people in different kinds of violence necessitates the participation of various community stakeholders, especially so the juvenile, his family and the victim who experienced the incident in addressing the concern. Therefore, it is imperative that at-risk youths are identified early and preventive efforts are made towards mitigating the chances of new cases. This paper profiles the psychological characteristics of violent juveniles as well as the risk factors; sociocultural and Developmental; that make a juvenile predisposed to being involved in violent acts. It also discusses the demographic characteristics of juvenile offenders.
Juvenile offending refers to a broader scope of activities that young people engage themselves in that are not in accordance with the law. It ranges from unlawful activities such as curfew violations, property crimes and breaking of liquor laws, to more grave offenses such as violent crime.
Forms of violent Crime
The Virginia Department of State Police states that in the year 2012, most of the juvenile arrests in Virginia involved juveniles involved in simple assault. The department further add that simple assault was followed by runaway, drug offenses, larceny, shoplifting, loitering, violation of liqour by-laws, disorderly conduct, trespassing, vandalism and burglary in that order. With regards to statistics on juvenile involvement in violent crimes, The Virginia Department of State Police(2012) revealed that cases of simple assault were the most common arrests, followed by aggravated assault, robbery, forcible sex violations, kidnapping and lastly homicide. Nationwide, simple assault and aggravated assault constituted the most common violent crime form of committed by juveniles, followed by robbery and murder respectively.
Gangs and Juvenile Violence
Involvement with gangs has been attributed as one of the main risk factors that increase the chances of a juvenile being involved in violent crime. Even though youth involvement in gang activities forms only a minute fraction of gang membership in the United States, membership in gangs forms a significant risk to juvenile safety(White, 2013). Gangs have been blamed for the increased levels of violent juvenile crimes both off and on school property.By reason of the fact that a majority of young people in the United States have minimal parental supervision, they form easy target for gang membership. However, it should be noted that the group nature of youth crime should not be mistook with gang-related criminality. A significant percentage of youth crime isinclined to be opportunistic, intermittent, and thoughtless. Most often, it results from the impulsive behavior of social groups and, or compulsive and habitual delinquents who account for the majority of juvenile offending.While youth delinquency cannot be linked with involvement with gangs, affiliation to gangs contributes to involvement in criminal behavior. Research has showed that there are considerable variances in criminal behavior of youth gang members and non-gang members. Succinctly, membership to gangs does not vindicate juvenile offending.However, it increases the likelihood of juvenile offending.
Causes for the violent incident/ Risk factors
Violent behavior among juveniles has three elements: sociocultural factors that provoke violence; Developmental factors related to aggression; and reinforcers (rewards for violent behavior). However, the most aggressive criminal behavior that results to violent conduct is acquired through observational learning.
Developmental factors linked with aggressive behavior include deficits in information-processing abilities and social cognitive abilities, low intellectual capacity, low tolerance to frustration and low verbal IQ. Additional factors include disorders of perception, and low impulse control. However, it is worth noting that not all juveniles who exhibit these characteristics are involved in violent criminal behavior. It is the risk factors which act as the spark to violent behavior, they amplify the likelihood that an individual will engage in violent or aggressive behavior. Be that as it may, risk factors should not be presumed to be the absolute causes of juvenile violence; they only enhance juvenile violence.
Research associated risk factors associated with juvenile aggression include family risk factors, sociocultural factors and individual risk factors. Family risk factors encompass lack of motherly affection during upbringing, family violence and conflict, broken homes and genetics. Other risk factors include poor family functioning, low parental involvement, low emotional attachment to parents, and lack of social support (Ulusoy, 2008).Sociocultural risk factors that lead to violent behavior in juveniles include: involvement with offending peers or school friends; participation in gang activities, poor academic performance and low commitment to school and community activities. Additional sociocultural risk factors to violence behaviorinclude the influence of media that desensitizes violence, firearm accessibility, and community risk factors such as no-access to economic opportunities, residence in a low income neighborhood, low levels of community involvement and disorganized neighborhoods.On the other hand, Individual Risk Factors include juvenile history of violent victimization, early aggressive behavior, developmental health disorders, use of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, and difficulties in identity integration. Additional Individual Risk Factors are an overreaction to interpersonaltension, high emotional distress, a lack of empathy, as well aspoor behavioral control.
Demographics of Juvenile Violence Offenders
Juvenile violence refers to any purposeful psychological, physical or sexual assault on any other individual or individuals carried out by one or a group of person between the ages of 12 to 24 years. With regards to demography, juveniles engaged in violent crime are mainly young, heterosexual males, from no definite racial background. It is worth noting that whilst the number of juvenile female violent offenders is rocketing, male offenders dominate in severity and frequency. Juvenile violent offenderscan be involved in gangs or commit violent crimes singly, as individuals. Similarly, the target victims can be groups or gangs of juveniles, or individuals, however, most victims usually are the offenders close friends, members of sexual minorities including lesbians, bisexuals and homosexuals, and members of ethno-cultural groups.
The National Institute of Justice reports that juvenile violent crimes climaxespecially during the hours after school. Approximately30 percent of all violent crimes that areperpetratedby young offenders usually occur between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Incontrast, the percentageof adult violent crime which stands at 26 percent occurs between the hours of 8pm and 12 am.With regards to the location of perpetration of violent crime, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice (2014), mostjuveniles are likely to commit a violent crime in schools, outdoor public spaces and private residences. Gas stations, convenience stores as well as retail stores also form predisposed areas to juvenile violent crime. When in criminal gangs, juvenile offending is likely to be undertaken in inner-city urban areas, although suburban and rural areas also report juvenile gang activities.
Juvenile engagement in criminal activities has attracted the attention of people from all facets of the community, the government, aswell as organization involved in the youth programs. Juvenile violent offending has evolved to being one of the most important aspects of public health and criminal justice facing the United States. It thus becomes imperative that unequivocal efforts are directed towards tackling the problem and making sure that the number of juveniles being sentenced due to violent conduct are minimized, while ensuring that new occurrence are minimalized.
Office of Juvenile Justice. (2014, May 22). Juveniles as Offenders. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from Office of Juvenile Justice and Deliquencey Prevention: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/offenders/qa03301.asp
Ulusoy, D. M. (2008). Political Violence, Organized Crimes, Terrorism, and Youth. Fairfax, VA: IOS Press.
Virginia Department of State Police. (2012). Crime in Virginia. Retrieved April 21, 2015, from Virginia Department of State Police: http://www.vsp.state.va.us/Crime_in_Virginia.shtm
White, R. (2013). Youth Gangs, Violence and Social Respect: Exploring the Nature of Provocations and Punch-Ups. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
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