Who should be responsible for juvenile delinquency?

As the name suggests juvenile delinquency refers to crimes committed by children and youth. There is an ongoing discussion as to who should be held responsible for such crimes in scholarly publications, case law and the media (Brank et al, 2006; Brown et al, 2009). The responsibility for juvenile delinquency is usually associated with the delinquent (Economist, 1993), parents (Brank et al, 2006), the educational institutions (Brown et al, 2009) as well as the society, media and culture (Doi, 1998; Jones, 2008). According to the Economist (1993) Britain's most notorious juvenile offender and child-murderer was Mary Bell, who was found guilty of strangling two boys, one aged three and another one aged four, while the offender was only 11 years of age herself. Who shall be held responsible for such crimes? Who could be seen as accountable for such occurrences? This essay will look at those stakeholders in the situation that could be at least partly blamed for such occurrences.

According to the Rationale choice theory, the responsibility for juvenile delinquency lies with the person committing the crime. This theory suggests that the responsibility for crimes in general should be with the individual offender (Home Office, 2010). According to the said source the rational choice perspective “assumes that offenders seek to benefit in some way from their offending behaviour. Rational choice theory therefore portrays offenders as active decision makers who undertake a cost-benefit analysis of presenting crime opportunities" (Home Office, 2010, p. 1). However, the major concern here is whether or not the young delinquents can appreciate the gravity of their actions at their young age (Economist, 1993). In fact, different countries treat juvenile offenders differently in terms of establishing the age at which the responsibility for the crime should be with the individual offender. For instance, the minimum age of criminal responsibility in England is ten, while in Scotland it is two years less – eight (Economist, 1993). The majority of the European countries assume that the individual should only be held responsible for the crime if he or she is aged around 14 – 15, even though what is understood under “responsibility" in this case varies significantly depending on the type of crime committed, while interestingly enough in the United States the minimum age varies depending on the state and could be anywhere in the range of 13 and 17 (Economist, 1993). In Japan, where the problem of juvenile delinquency has gained momentum in the beginning of 2000’s the age when responsibility lies solely with the young offender has been shifted towards 14 – 15 (Oka, 2009). Therefore, there is no consensus as to the age at which the responsibility for the crime should be with the individual offender. And if the offender is deemed to be too young to be held responsible for committing the crime, who’s to blame then?

It could be argued that responsibility lies with the parents or the legal care takers of the offender. In this case the parents or the care takers could be blamed for negligence that resulted in the young person committing a crime (Brank et al, 2006). It could also be observed that the young offender did not have an appropriate upbringing that would have prevented him or her from acting out as a delinquent. This could be countered by the Rational Choice Theory (Home Office, 2010) that suggests that the offenders committing a crime are active decision makers. Therefore, if the juvenile delinquents are to be treated as active decision makers, the parents should or the legal guardians should not be held accountable for their deeds. Yet, it could be argued that the parents are the people who are fully responsible for the upbringing of their child, therefore, there might be a degree of accountability associated to them. However, Brank et al (2006) say that when the particular cases are considered there is a tendency to clear the parents of the blame for the deeds of their children, even though the overall rationale would be to associate at least some degree of responsibility with the delinquent’s parents.

The blame could also be passed on to the educational institutions that are responsible for educating the individuals and keeping them safe and secure (Brown et al, 2009). For obvious reasons, school teachers cannot always control the whole of the student groups and the supervision is not assured on a constant basis. Therefore, the responsibility of the educational institutions might indeed be quite limited. In as much as the above mentioned Rational Choice Theory is concerned the environment probably would not be regarded as a factor, since it is the delinquent who is seen as the subject of the criminal action. It could be also further argued that should the environment be ultimately held responsible for the juvenile crimes, would not all of the pupils of particular schools be affected? Indeed, the fact that only part of the students becomes delinquents suggests that there are also some personal factors involved, such as integrity and other society-oriented behavioural traits. However, Brank et al (2009) also argue that it is in schools that the violence still develops in young individuals, especially in areas where violence is regarded as a sign of masculinity and is seen as a positive role model. Some of the schools therefore create the environment where bullying and violence persist leading to conflicts and crime (Staff and Kraeger, 2008). It might be argued that the schools being sometimes the sources of negative role models or places where bullying takes place, much more attention should be paid to ensuring security and control over the educational environments. It would be reasonable to assume that teachers alone most probably would not be the best suited people to provide help to those young individuals having behavioural problems, however, the psychologists probably would and therefore should contribute to finding the solution to juvenile crime.

On the other hand, there could also be a question as to whether the culture and the society might be held responsible for the youth crimes? It could be argued that the children and youth are increasingly targeted by the producers of video games and computer games that either worship or promote violence in some way. A variety of media types have been seen to affect the younger generations fairly strongly (Doi, 1998). Media is unarguably a source of all kinds of role models for various peer groups, and it would be reasonable to assume that with the younger generation the movies containing violent scenes would probably need to be kept to a minimum in order not to develop misconceptions about accepted behaviour. Jones (2008) makes a special point that in cinema the subject of young delinquency is quite well explored and seeing the peers act out violently in movies might be seen as a motivation for the young viewers to act out. However, as argued before in the Rationale Choice Theory the ultimate choice to commit a crime lies with the individual committing it. Therefore, the media could not be the only factor responsible for juvenile crimes. Having said that, it would still be important to add that limiting the amount of crime and violence to be seen in the media by the younger adults could be an option, if there is at all a need to present those images to the unprepared and vulnerable audience as children.

It could be argued that crimes are usually committed under the influence of multiple factors, including the troubled childhood, drug and alcohol abuse, unstable mental health, the disregard of the parents and teachers, the influence of the culture and society (Koretz, 1997). Among those reasons, some would be more prevalent in certain cases while others would be more affected by other causes. In any case it could be argued that this complicated issue cannot be blamed solely upon the parental neglect or the substance abuse, the inquiry should go deeper and seek further in order to understand the true motivators of atrocious and less violent crimes committed by the youth. It can also be pointed out that the youth is the period in life when the individuals learn the basic social skills and norms, which is why the ones committing crimes in the youth should be provided with help and support in order to overcome their misconceptions about the society and acceptable behaviour. In fact it could be argued that the juvenile offenders are the future adult citizens who should be prepared for their entry in the grown-up life as law abiding citizens for the benefit of the society overall. Therefore, to conclude it could be argued that the juvenile delinquency can be driven by a variety of reasons amongst which one could find negligence of the care providers, including both the parents and the educational institutions as well as the society and culture, and especially the media overall that in the recent past have become strongly focused on violence. It is therefore quite challenging to identify the factors solely responsible for the juvenile delinquency and a variety of factors and actors could thus be held accountable.