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Impact of Juvenile Delinquency and Incarceration on Individuals, Families, and Communities

Impact of Juvenile Delinquency and Incarceration on Individuals, Families, and Communities

Juvenile incarceration refers to the arrest and detention of young people below the age of 18. It is directly associated with juvenile delinquency because young people who engage in delinquent activities are arrested and put behind bars. Juvenile incarceration takes place when the court believes that the minor can commit more crimes or escape the law. According to Aizer and Doyle (2015), juvenile delinquency and incarceration has been an issue of great concern in the social work field, law enforcement field, and in correctional circles. It is evident that this is a serious problem through the way every state is implementing different strategies to reduce the number of juvenile incarcerations. Despite the many efforts devoted to reducing juvenile incarceration, the United States continues to record a high number of Juvenile offenders in correctional facilities. Therefore, this is a serious problem that needs attention from both the government and social work agencies.

The prevalence of delinquency and juvenile incarceration is high, and statistics released by the bureaus in different parts of the U.S indicate that juvenile offenses are on the increase. Offending patterns among young people are worsening. A high percentage of daily arrests in the United States is comprised of young people below 18 years of age. “On any given day, there are over 70,000 juveniles in custody in the US with an average (direct) cost of $88,000 per juvenile per year” (Aizer & Doyle, 2013, para. 1). Violence and crime among young people currently stands at 20%. This indicates that delinquency and incarceration is a serious problem that is not only affecting the children and their families, but also the community and the government at large. Parents are devastated seeing their children in custody and mostly, these children come from poor families that cannot afford to rescue them from the law. The communities are not growing due to the increase in crimes resulting from delinquency.

The justice or correctional system has been the main model used in solving the problem of juvenile delinquency and incarceration. However, this has always raised issues of whether the young people ages 18 years and below should be jailed or should they be enrolled in character development classes and guidance and counselling programs. Social work has been involved since it is the role of social workers to safeguard the welfare of individuals, families, and the community and ensure there is social justice. Some of these kids engage in delinquent behaviors because they lack proper parenting for guidance and counselling on appropriate and moral behavior. Therefore, social workers have to take an active role in solving juvenile delinquency and incarceration.

A Historical Overview of Juvenile Delinquency and Incarceration

Juvenile delinquency has been a problem in the United States ever since the colonial period. In the 1800s, youths who were seen as delinquents and rowdy were punished through whipping, required to work on the farm, and being locked in rat-infested prisons. The problem has been growing over the years and the community has felt its effect. According to Juvenile Justice (2011), “Juveniles accounted for 16% of all violent crimes arrests and 32% of all property crime arrests in 1999,” a year in which juvenile delinquency had dropped to an eleven-year low. In 1999, juvenile arrests “accounted for 54% of all arson arrests, 42% of vandalism arrests,

31% of larceny arrests, and 33% of burglary arrests” (para. 6). The U.S has been experiencing poor community growth due to an increase in crimes and youths dropping out of schools. In 1997, there was a disposition of close to 1.8 million juvenile delinquency cases. A good percentage of the cases involved homicide, forced rape, and aggravated assault. The highest percentage of the cases involved drug and substance abuse. (Puzzanchera et al., 2000).

The statistics on the trends in juvenile delinquency and its adverse effects on the community led to the recognition of the problem as a social problem. A high number of children were out of school due to drug abuse and violence-related crimes. The number of street children increased as children who engage in delinquent activities avoid staying with their families. Businesses could not grow as a result of crime and burglary. This made it a social problem that needs to be solved for the welfare of children and the community. Society believes that children are the backbone of the development of a socially and economically strong society. When children are educated and well developed, they become teachers, doctors, lawyers, and nurses who work for the welfare of the community. However, delinquency leads to underdeveloped communities and generational poverty, which increases social issues such as lack of education, poor healthcare, crime, and other social issues.

Juvenile delinquency is an issue of social welfare since it involves society and its well-being. Social workers have the role of advocating for children and their well-being in society. There are different agencies that work to ensure children are empowered to exploit their potential and improve their lives and those of their families. This includes mentoring children and preventing delinquency and incarceration.

Causes of Juvenile Delinquency and Incarceration and Issues Associated with It

Social workers, criminologists, and psychologists agree on the definition of delinquency as the violation of the law by a minor. Even though they have varying ideas on the causes of juvenile delinquency and incarceration, they all agree that most of the causes are social. For instance, poverty has always been considered as the main cause of juvenile delinquency and incarceration. Many families in the United States are experiencing generational poverty and children from these families are forced to engage in delinquent activities for survival. These are families with low, levels of education, low income, lack of access to healthcare, and inability to meet their basic needs. “Poverty has increased the number of street children who continue to devise ways of surviving in the streets. This leads to formation of small gangs among the street children leading to deviant behavior” (Nanjala, 2008, p. 18). These children drop out of school because they cannot afford school fees and other necessities.

Another cause of juvenile delinquency and incarceration is poor family structure. Research indicates that family plays a huge role in influencing delinquent behavior more than other factors such as poverty and peer pressure. There are families that lack unity and emotional bonding and they end up producing children with delinquent behavior. Some families are involved in violence daily under the watch of children and the children are desensitized and become violent as a defense mechanism. Other children develop psychological problems such as low self-esteem, trauma, and rejection, which lead them to develop delinquent behavior because they believe no one cares for them. Non-traditional families have also been found to contribute to juvenile delinquency. According to Nanjala (2008), children raised by single parents turn out to have delinquency than children raised in traditional families with mother, father, and grandparents as the heads of the family.

Delinquency and incarceration have also been caused by drug abuse. Today, youths at younger ages are using mood-altering substances and even injecting themselves. Drug abuse leads to various problems including academic difficulties and engagement in crime. Drug users sometimes experience compulsive behaviors involving engaging in violence to solve issues. For instance, alcohol abuse is linked to violence. It reduces cognitive ability and limits understanding in communication. Over 40% of incarcerated youths are associated with drug and substance abuse.

The Strengths of Delinquent Incarcerated Youths

Children below age 18 have the psychological space that can allow positive development and a change of behavior. At this age, they are still developing and therefore it is easy to persuade them and use psychological therapy to help them change their ways and lead moral, straight, and healthy lifestyles. Some of these youths have led a life of hardships and if provided with the necessary needs, services, and proper guidance, they will empower themselves and exploit their potential. “Research has indicated that youth empowerment can result in both positive cognitive (e.g., increased self-esteem, increased confidence) and behavioral (e.g., improving quality of life, social integration) changes” (Patterson, 2013, p. 4). Their confidence and self-esteem is enough to help them deal with the challenges of incarceration.

Many social work agencies recognize these strengths and that is why they have advocated for different policies that can help solve the problem of youth incarceration. Social work practitioners and psychological interventionists work closely with offenders and they have advocated for research on alternative strategies of handling juveniles. They have called for empowerment and counseling programs that will help the offenders easily change their ways and be re-integrated into the community by emphasizing developing and building a good life, skill development, positivity, and optimism. Educational programs that focus on treating the problems of youthful offenders will help them develop a sense of psychological empowerment and responsibility toward their families and the community.

The social system has many strengths, which include the availability of resources and volunteer work from many social service agencies to ensure these youths are empowered enough to be productive to society. Agencies such as National Youth Advocate Program (NYAP) are committed to achieving what is good for children and youths, including their families. Members of the agency believe that every child and youth in America has an innate ability to learn, grow, and develop. The agency has innovative programs and services that provide resources to youths and poor families with children to ensure they are empowered to develop their full potential. This and many other agencies are on the frontline of ensuring that children and youth are empowered to complete their education and participate in positive community development. Such agencies will accommodate delinquent youths and provide counseling services to them, which will help them change into good children and stay in school to empower themselves.

Social Programs on Juvenile Delinquency and Incarceration

The programs that have been developed to prevent juvenile delinquency have been aimed at solving the problem before in happens. In most communities, there have been education programs aimed at ensuring children and their families have enough information to prevent them from engaging in delinquent behavior. In these programs, parents are educated on how to raise responsible and moral children. Children and youths are educated on the negative effects of delinquency and other activities such as drug abuse and violence. Youths and their families are given a platform to express themselves and they are taught of their innate worth. The education ensures youths are aware that every action has consequences and if the action is bad, the consequences are bad and vice versa. The programs have given youths hope and opened up opportunities for them. Other programs include mentors who take the responsibility of giving youths career directions and ways of becoming responsible citizens. This has reduced the number of incarcerated youths. [In-text citation needed].

Other delinquency prevention programs are within the justice system. When young people below 18 years of age are incarcerated, the state intervenes in ensuring that they receive counseling services that will transform them to better individuals once they are back in the community. Every youth has the opportunity to be cared for by the government and receive educational services, counseling, and rehabilitation assistance. These programs have been successful and they have been evaluated annually to ascertain how well youths are prepared to re-enter the community and contribute to positive development after detention. The reduction in crimes by incarcerated youths is also an indication that these programs are successful. They give youths the chance for job training, educational opportunities, and skills to enable them to dwell in safe and unsafe environments. They are empowered enough to break their harmful habits and transform into productive members of the community. [In-text citation needed].

Overview of the Literature

According to Uehara et al. (2014), it is the role of social workers to help individuals in society live a good life and access equal opportunities. At the micro-level of social work, the best way to intervene in the issue of juvenile delinquency and incarceration is by coaching and counseling young people and their families. As a social worker, moving from home to home providing educational services will help youths avoid delinquency and reduce incarcerations. While visiting homes, social workers will educate and empower young people with information on how to avoid delinquent activities and become powerful and empowered youths. Parents will be educated on how to guide their children as they grow up to ensure they do not engage in bad behaviors such as drug abuse. This is an effective strategy of solving the problem of delinquency and incarceration. The micro-level services will include counselling and other therapies for those young people undergoing stress, trauma, and low self-esteem that can lead them to engage in delinquent behavior. [In-text citation needed].

At the mezzo level, Sawyer and Clair (2021) believe that social workers have the role of collaborating and coordinating to cultivate a culture of social responsibility in the community. They can nurture this culture by collaborating with schools and social agencies to ensure that children receive essential education on delinquency and incarceration. Social workers will ensure that schools are notified of the behaviors to watch out for in delinquent children and implement necessary strategies of mitigating those behaviors. At the mezzo level, it is also essential to arrange activities such as mentorship whereby mentors meet children in the community and provide them mentorship services. The social workers, children, and mentors will work together to ensure that children are empowered enough to utilize their full potential and better themselves. Activities such as raising funds to keep children is school are also essential. [In-text citation needed].

At the macro level, Pritzker et al. (2021) believe that social workers must engage politicians and the government in social work for success. At this level, social workers will advocate for policies that will influence the entire community, states, and even the whole of the United States. Social workers can conduct research, understand the problem of juvenile incarceration better, and propose government policies that can help reduce delinquency and incarceration among young people. For instance, proposing a free primary education policy for every child in the United States will ensure that all children have access to education. This will reduce the number of street children, deviant behavior, drug abuse, and other bad behaviors that lead to mass juvenile incarceration. It is the role of social workers to communicate with legislatures and persuade them to consider these policies for the overall well-being of society. [In-text citation needed].

Social Work Values and Ethical Standards

Among the top values and ethical principles of social work are “service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, and the importance of human relationships” (NASW, 2021). Cannot locate quote. Page or paragraph number needed. All these values are relevant to the issue of juvenile delinquency and incarceration. The profession calls on social workers to provide services to those in need. Young people need the guidance of social workers to follow the right path and become productive in society. Social workers have to ensure that there is social justice in the way youths are handled and their way of life. Advocating for guidance and counseling services instead of incarceration will help achieve social justice for the youths who engage in delinquency to survive. Social workers must serve every child regardless of their social, economic, cultural, or ethnic background. According to the NASW code, “ethical principle: Be respectful of every person and mindful of cultural and ethnic diversity”. [In-text citation needed with page or paragraph number]. This will ensure that every young person has the chance to avoid delinquency and incarceration. They have to develop positive relationships with these youths so that they will be able to trust them in enhancing their well-being and that of the community.

The ethical dilemma that could be experienced when solving the issue of juvenile incarceration is going against the law. The law requires that every offender must be imprisoned and punished. Social workers advocating for an alternative form of correcting delinquent behavior among young people may go against the law. It may cause a conflict between the government and social workers. However, social workers can solve this by communicating with the government and agreeing on the appropriate way of solving the problem. For instance, building guidance and counselling centers in incarceration institutions where social workers can visit these youths and guide them can solve the problem. [In-text citation needed].

How I Would Advocate on Behalf of the Family or Individual

As a future Master Social Worker, I would advocate on behalf of the family or individual at the macro level. I will call for the implementation of a youth and child care subsidy policy whereby all poor families in the U.S will receive monthly cash from the government. These finances will help them keep their children in school and meet their basic needs. Sherman, Trisi, and Parrott (2013) state that “Various supports for low-income families reduce poverty and have long-term positive effects on families and children” (p. 1). Most of the problems facing children and youths are caused by lack of financial resources. With child care subsidies, families will be able to access quality healthcare and education services for their children and other basic necessities such as food and clothing. This will reduce the number of youths in the streets and ensure they have capital to fund their businesses and develop the community.


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