Juvenile System

1 January 2017

Something is wrong in society if more and more teenagers commit delinquent crimes. Focusing on what spawns delinquency in juveniles today, parenting is essential. During my visit to family court with fellow classmates I was honored to observe real live cases involving teenagers, and their parents. It was obvious that one main issue in the U. S. Juvenile Delinquency system is the lack of family structure. Family and delinquent relationships interconnect, ultimately, resulting to the core of delinquency.

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The articles “Juvenile Delinquency and Family Structure”, by Anika Doggett, and “Family Influences on Delinquency, written by David P. Farrington, both attempt to explain the effects of family structure on juvenile delinquents. The least amount of communication and structure provided by family only ensures a closer path to delinquent activities a child will engage in. Eventually, a solution or at least an attempt to solve family structure, and parental influence, will need to be instituted in the U. S. juvenile system.

Attending family court was an experience in itself because it will forever be memorable. One case in particular that held significant value to me was the one involving a fourteen year old boy who stabbed a delivery worker in the chest with a knife. As the troubled teen entered the court room, all eyes were focusing on him as court officers began to remove him from handcuffs. This proved prior detainment in a detention facility. He approached his seat slow and slouchy, and sat in between his mother and his lawyer. He shared no words, or looks with either of the two as he continued to be seated.

I expected a much more intimate greeting once he united with his mother, but to my surprise, neither of them seems interested in such. The young delinquent glanced around the room as he identified everyone present with his low, angry eyes. His hair was uncombed, and he slouched in his chair as if having no interest in the events about to take place. His face was brutally bruised and beaten from what seemed to be fist fights he had back in the detention facility he came from. As the descriptions of the case continued, it was proven that the victim of the stabbing was an innocent, immigrant man who spoke no English.

He is from Mexico, and works to support his family being a delivery boy. The victim is only nineteen years old meaning only four years older than his offender. When the victim was mentioned, the juvenile represented was not remorseful. He showed no signs of sympathy for the victim, or his family. He continued to slouch, and be detached from everyone in the court room. As the judge continued to plead his case, he continued to stare forward with a blank stare. Ultimately, the case was postponed to be decided at a later date. The juvenile’s lawyer mentioned the teenager having a consultation with a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist saw symptoms of an antisocial disorder that the teenager processed. He described the teen as feeling emotionally disconnected and detached from things having sentimental value, which would explain his lack of emotion during the case. In the end, the teen was issued back to the detention facility in which he came from. As the case was dismissed, the boy stood up from the bench and was placed back in handcuffs. Once again, he did not look at his mother, speak to her, or acknowledge her even in the slightest way.

Somehow, his mother was able to crack a smile when she looked at him, but somehow, it didn’t seem fulfilling to me. Furthermore, I analyzed the underlying cause of this case; lack of family structure. According to Anika Doggett, in the text “Juvenile Delinquency, and Family Structure”, “families are one of the strongest socializing forces in life”. (1) Providing stability, unity, and control, families are essentially the foundation of a person. However, it is clear that family factors predict offending. Some strong predictors are criminal or antisocial parents.

Other predictors are large family sizes, poor parental supervision, parental conflict, and disrupted families. Children who are rejected by families, who also grow up in unstable homes with large amounts of conflict, or who are unsupervised most of the time, are at greater risk of becoming delinquent. (Doggett 1) In even more specific terms, positive parenting practices during early years of childhood and adolescence appear to act as safety helmets; simply because they add to the structure and foundation of what a child believes, values, and understands as right from wrong.

This exact idea is evident in the case. From what I concurred as I watched the court case, the mother and son relationship was troublesome based on the lack of communication they shared. In the text “Family Influences on Delinquency”, author David Farrington says “mother love in infancy and childhood was just as important for mental health as vitamins and proteins for physical health”. (211) It is essential that a child experiences a warm, loving, encouraging, continuous relationship with a mother figure from a very young age.

If they experience a maternal detriment, as early as the first five years of life, it will have negative effects on the development of their character. This includes becoming an “affectionless”, and “cold” person, also a delinquent. This explains the very distant relationship displayed between the mother and son in court. In addition, the fact that the boy’s father was not present is also an important facet in my observation.

Farrington states that it is generally common for the loss or absence of a father, rather than a mother. However, this too impacts the future of the juvenile. Children from broken homes are more likely to offend than ones from “intact families”. (Farrington 211) To further verify this idea, a study was carried out by researcher, Joan McCord, in which she studied the relationship between homes broken by loss of the biological fathers and boys who later commit serious offenses. She found that the prevalence of offending was high for boys from broken homes without affectionate mothers (62 percent) and for those from unbroken homes characterized by parental conflict (52 percent), irrespective of whether they had affectionate mothers.

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