It is important to note that juvenile delinquency is a major part of criminology, where the law is violated by underage individuals. Since the agents are not considered adults, the issue becomes a complex and intricate one, where the standard justice systems might not apply or apply in a differential manner. However, if juvenile delinquency is viewed through the lens of a social phenomenon, a wide range of treatments and interventions can be applied. Effective treatment modalities include CBT, MI, and MST for mental health elements, and the intervention measures involve education, employment, language, and communication programs.
In order to properly and effectively address the problem of juvenile delinquency, one should be able to define it. It is stated that “a ‘juvenile’ is a person who has not attained his eighteenth birthday” (U.S. Department of Justice, 2020, para. 1). In addition, “‘juvenile delinquency’ is the violation of a law of the United States committed by a person prior to his eighteenth birthday which would have been a crime if committed by an adult” (U.S. Department of Justice, 2020, para. 1). Therefore, the act of violation and age of a person determines whether or not a crime belongs to a category of juvenile delinquency. It should be noted that “a person over eighteen but under twenty-one years of age is also accorded juvenile treatment if the act of juvenile delinquency occurred prior to his eighteenth birthday” (U.S. Department of Justice, 2020, para. 1). In other words, past juvenile delinquencies can still be determined as such if an individual is within a specific age range.
When it comes to juvenile delinquency, there are a number of divergent approaches, which vary in their effectiveness, strategies, and goals. A justice system usually operates within three distinct modes or considerations, which include rehabilitation, deterrence, and retribution or punishment (Young, Greer, & Church, 2017). It is reported that “in the case of juvenile offenders, the principle of rehabilitation is often assigned the greatest weight” (U.S. Department of Justice, 2020, p. 22). Therefore, the primary method of treating the problem is a rehabilitation-based measure. Although preventative strategies play a critical role in minimizing the rate of occurrence, punitive measures tend to be less effective. The main reason is that juveniles are not always well-aware of the potential consequences of their actions due to their lack of education and inexperience. Therefore, the core modality of action and treatment revolves around deterring minors from violating the law. However, if a violation takes place, then rehabilitation is most often prescribed since such a person needs to undergo the correctional procedure to properly reenter society as a functional and valuable member.
Although it is clear that there are certain forms of approaches applied to juvenile offenders, effective treatment cannot be identified without pinpointing the primary causes. It is stated that juvenile delinquency is mostly caused by juvenile gang culture, crime involvement, and mental health (Young et al., 2017). The findings suggest that “one of the features of urbanization across the world has been the rise of youth gangs, groups of young people often defined by geographical area, ethnic identity or ideology” (Young et al., 2017, p. 23). In other words, there is a specific sociocultural element attached to gang membership among juveniles, where such a grouping pattern facilitates delinquency among younger people. In addition, a study also found that “gang involvement appears to feature in a large proportion of juvenile offenses” (Young et al., 2017, p. 23). There is also evidence that “gang membership has a facilitating effect on the perpetration of the most serious violence including homicide” (Young et al., 2017, p. 23). Therefore, gang culture alongside crime involvement is a result of juvenile gang membership.
Moreover, mental health is also a significant contributor to juvenile delinquency. It is reported that the most mental health issues include “conduct disorder/antisocial personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)” (Young et al., 2017, p. 23). It is important to note that juvenile gang members and offenders tend to have a high rate of these mental health problems. In other words, these violence-driven subcultures attract youth, especially adolescents, with such issues. Thus, one can see how gang culture and mental health are intertwined and interconnected with one another.
Treatment and Intervention
When it comes to treatment and interventions, the former part is mainly focused on treating mental health illnesses, whereas the latter part is about education, opportunity, and communication. It is reported that PTSD is the most prevalent mental health illness among juvenile offenders, which means that PTSD treatment is a core method of addressing almost a quarter of such delinquencies (Young et al., 2017). Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is an effective treatment strategy to minimize the effects of PTSD, which is highly common among adolescent gang members and offenders. Mood and anxiety disorders also substantially contribute to juvenile delinquency, which can also be effectively treated with CBT (Young et al., 2017). However, the main difference lies in the fact that group therapies are better suited for mood disorders.
Another mental health problem negatively impacting the youth, which makes them more likely to engage in juvenile delinquency, is conduct disorder. It is stated that “multisystemic therapy (MST) is a family-focused intervention targeting characteristics related to antisocial behavior, including family relationships and peer associations” (Young et al., 2017, p. 24). In other words, MST is a family-based treatment, where the emphasis is put on a family’s inner dynamics to minimize the problem’s effect. In addition, substance abuse and addiction among the given age group can also be considered mental health issues. Motivational interviewing, or MI, is proven to be highly effective as both a standalone treatment as well as in combination with other interventions (Young et al., 2017). MI is also effective because it can be conducted in a group setting, which makes it more potent in addressing cultural deviations.
In the case of interventions, the main measures include education, employment, communication, and language. One of the main problems among juvenile offenders is their unproductive time spent. Evidence states, “only 10% of this time was spent engaging in productive activities, such as employment or education, with 57% used for passive leisure activities, a level 30% higher than that of their non-offender peers” (Young et al., 2017, p. 25). Therefore, the most effective interventions include programs with an emphasis on education and practical skills, such as CRAFT, which is “a specialized vocational and employment training program” (Young et al., 2017, p. 25). The use of CRAFT showed that juvenile offenders were “significantly more likely to be in employment, to have attended an educational diploma program and to have attended for a significantly longer period of time” (Young et al., 2017, p. 25). In other words, the vulnerable adolescents were able to regain some of their undeveloped skills to properly reenter society as functional and productive people.
Moreover, juvenile offenders also require interventions when it comes to language and communication. A study suggests that in the case of language and communication skills, these individuals fall “into the poor or very poor categories ranging from 46 to 67%” (Young et al., 2017, p. 25). Another research shows that social skills training, or SST is an effective tool to address the stated problems, which makes it easier for the offenders to rehabilitate (Van der Stouwe et al., 2020). SST is based on multiple cognitive approaches, structured learning theory, social information processing, operant learning theory, and social learning theory (Van der Stouwe et al., 2020). However, SST is better used in conjunction with other methods because “SST is successful in improving social skills, but that it is not superior to an alternative treatment in doing so” (Van der Stouwe et al., 2020, p. 382). Thus, juvenile offenders tend to have poor communication and language skills, which require development and training in order to ensure that they can avoid another instance of delinquency. The complex measures need to be incorporated to ensure the effectiveness of any training program because juvenile delinquency is a multifactorial issue.
In conclusion, the most effective treatment modalities are CBT, MI, and MST for mental health factors, whereas the intervention measures revolve around education, employment, language, and communication. Juvenile delinquency is a major social problem that involves underage minors violating the law, and the main causes include gang membership, gang culture, and mental health issues. The mental health treatment addresses core problems of PTSD, ADHD, substance abuse, and conduct disorder. The communication and opportunity-related issues are addressed through training and education programs.
U.S. Department of Justice. (2020). 38.“Juvenile” defined.
Van der Stouwe, T., Gubbels, J., Castenmiller, Y. L., van der Zouwen, M., Asscher, J. J., Hoeve, M., … Stams, G. J. J. M. (2020). The effectiveness of social skills training (SST) for juvenile delinquents: A meta-analytical review. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 17(3), 369–396.
Young, S., Greer, B., & Church, R. (2017). Juvenile delinquency, welfare, justice and therapeutic interventions: A global perspective. BJPsych Bulletin, 41(1), 21–29.