Juvenile delinquency is a global phenomenon, and interest in comparative studies of juvenile offending and society’s reaction to it has been steadily growing, despite the inherent difficulties of comparing juvenile justice processes across different regions. Both adolescence and the concept of juvenile delinquency are social constructs that vary by time and place. To know what constitutes a juvenile, or a delinquent act, requires detailed knowledge of a jurisdiction’s social, political, cultural, and legal history. International data in the form of officially recorded contact of juveniles with formal institutions are scarce, and they are often limited in their use for direct comparisons, due to divergent definitions and recording practices, or coverage of geographical regions. The United Nations Surveys on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (UN-CTS) have the widest geographical reach, but lack transparency of definitions or verification. The World Prison Brief by the Institute for Policy Research at Birkbeck University of London provides prison trends around the globe, but only offers one indicator of juvenile imprisonment. The Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics (SPACE) and the European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics collect data on a range of custodial and non-custodial measures, and include detailed notes on national definitions, but are limited to Europe. The largest self-report study of youth is the International Self-Report Delinquency (ISRD) study, which is currently in its third wave that includes 40 countries across the globe. Since 1990 the United Nations has developed international conventions, rules, and guidelines that govern the rights of children, particularly as they relate to juvenile justice, and these guidelines have shaped, and continue to shape, juvenile justice processes across the globe. Almost all regions in the world have provisions to treat juveniles violating the law differently from adults, but they do so in a multitude of ways. Not all countries have separate systems for juveniles and adults, and in some regions of the world informal reactions to juvenile law-breaking dominate, or coexist with formal juvenile justice institutions. Juvenile justice systems are often categorized according to their founding philosophies, between the poles of a welfare and protection approach on one extreme, and a crime control and justice approach on the other. However, such classifications mask important differences between countries, and can only be seen as broad generalizations. In order to capture the intricacies of existing systems, and compare them between jurisdictions, a localized approach to juvenile justice is needed. It is not sufficient to describe which legal orientations or traditions inform a system, but rather it is necessary to examine how these traditions (as well as global trends and pressures) are interpreted by local juvenile justice administrators. Comparative juvenile justice research that can contribute to public debates and to achieving better outcomes for juveniles across the globe needs to be localized, pay special attention to the specific cultural, legal, and historical context of the jurisdiction studied, and differentiate between the law in theory and the law in practice.
Katharina Neissl and Simon S. Singer
The following article on juvenile delinquency has three major objectives: First, it defines delinquency and discusses its measurement and extent; second, it reviews theory and risk factor data on causes of delinquency; third, it discusses current trends in juvenile justice intervention and delinquency prevention, including social worker involvement.
Henrika McCoy and Emalee Pearson
Racial disparities in the juvenile justice system, more commonly known as disproportionate minority contact (DMC), are the overrepresentation, disparity, and disproportionate numbers of youth of color entering and moving deeper into the juvenile justice system. There has been some legislative attention to the issue since the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA) and most recently with attempts in 2017 to reauthorize the Act. Originally focused solely on confinement, it became clear by 1988 there was disproportionality at all decision points in the juvenile justice system, and the focus changed to contact. DMC most commonly is known to impact Black and Hispanic youth, but a closer look reveals how other youth of color are also impacted. Numerous factors have been previously identified that create DMC, but increasingly factors such as zero-tolerance in schools and proactive policing in communities are continuing to negatively impact reduction efforts. Emerging issues indicate the need to consider society’s demographic changes, the criminalization of spaces often occupied by youth of color, and gender differences when creating and implementing strategies to reduce DMC.
David S. Tanenhaus
Juvenile justice is a technical term that refers to the specific area of law and affiliated institutions, most notably the juvenile court, with jurisdiction over the cases of minors who are accused of being miscreants. Although the idea that the law should treat minors differently from adults predates the American Revolution, juvenile justice itself is a Progressive Era invention. Its institutional legitimacy rests on the power and responsibility of the state to act as a parent (parens patriae) on behalf of those who cannot care for themselves. Since the establishment of the world’s first juvenile court in Chicago in 1899, this American idea of creating separate justice systems for juveniles has spread across the nation and much of the world. For more than a century, American states have used their juvenile justice systems to respond to youth crime and delinquency. Since the 1960s, the US Supreme Court has periodically considered whether juvenile courts must provide the same constitutional due process safeguards as adult criminal courts and whether juveniles prosecuted in the criminal justice system can receive the same sentences as adults, such as the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole.
Paul H. Stuart
Roger Nash Baldwin (1884–1981) was a social worker and progressive reformer. In 1914 he co-authored the first juvenile justice textbook. Jailed in 1918 for refusing to register for the draft, he went on to found the American Civil Liberties Union.
Runaways, throwaways, and homeless youths have always been present in the United States. In recent decades, however, society has become more aware of the problems they face as the problems have become more severe. The effectiveness of new approaches to helping these youths is yet to be determined.
Kayla Crawley and Paul Hirschfield
The school-to-prison pipeline (STPP) is a commonly used metaphor that was developed to describe the many ways in which schools have become a conduit to the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The STPP metaphor encompasses various disciplinary policies and practices that label students as troublemakers, exclude students from school, and increase their likelihood of involvement in delinquency, juvenile justice, and subsequent incarceration. Many external forces promote these policies and practices, including high-stakes testing, harsh justice system practices and penal policies, and federal laws that promote the referral of certain school offenses to law enforcement. Empirical research confirms some of the pathways posited by STPP. For example, research has shown that out-of-school suspensions predict school dropout, justice system involvement and adult incarceration. However, research on some of the posited links, such as the impact of school-based arrests and referrals to court on school dropout, is lacking. Despite gaps in the empirical literature and some theoretical shortcomings, the term has gained widespread acceptance in both academic and political circles. A conference held at Northeastern University in 2003 yielded the first published use of the phrase. Soon, it attained widespread prominence, as various media outlets as well as civil rights and education organizations (e.g., ACLU, the Advancement Project (they also use “schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track”), the National Education Association (NEA), and the American Federation of Teachers) referenced the term in their initiatives. More recently, the Obama administration used the phrase in their federal school disciplinary reform efforts. Despite its widespread use, the utility of STPP as a social scientific concept and model is open for debate. Whereas some social scientists and activists have employed STPP to highlight how even non-criminal justice institutions can contribute to over-incarceration, other scholars are critical of the concept. Some scholars feel that the pipeline metaphor is too narrow and posits an overly purposeful or mechanistic link between schools and prisons; in fact, there is a much more complicated relationship that includes multiple stakeholders that fail our nation’s youth. Rather than viewing school policies and practices in isolation, critical scholars have argued that school processes of criminalization and exclusion are inextricably linked to poverty, unemployment, and the weaknesses of the child welfare and mental health systems. In short, the metaphor does not properly capture the web of institutional forces and missed opportunities that can push youth toward harmful choices and circumstances, often resulting in incarceration. Many reforms across the nation seek to dismantle STPP, including non-exclusionary discipline alternatives such as restorative justice and limiting the role of school police officers. Rigorous research on their effectiveness is needed.
Wendy Haight and Min Hae Cho
“Crossover youth” are maltreated youth who have engaged in delinquency. They are of particular concern to child welfare, juvenile justice, and other professionals because of their risks for problematic developmental outcomes. Effective interventions that promote more positive developmental trajectories require an understanding of the various pathways from maltreatment to delinquency. A growing body of research identifies potential risk and protective processes for maltreated youth crossing over into delinquency at ecological levels ranging from the micro to the macro. Most scholarship, however, is not developmental and provides little insight into how children’s emerging capacities relate to their abilities to actively respond to risk or protective processes. Solutions to crossing over are likely to be found in interventions that simultaneously address risk and protective processes across multiple ecological levels and across development. Emerging research suggests that the Crossover Youth Practice Model is one such promising intervention for improving outcomes for maltreated youth.
Michael Adorjan and Wing Hong Chui
A penal paradigm is an overarching criminal justice framework, salient within a certain era, that guides how we perceive of crime and criminality (including those who commit crimes) and how appropriate responses align with the internal logic of the wider philosophical framework. Paradigms of response to youth crime and delinquency in Canada and Hong Kong emerged in response to shifting sociopolitical exigencies salient in both contexts, respectively. Three epochs are of particular relevance in Canada: the penal welfare period under the Juvenile Delinquents Act, the due process and crime control framework salient during the Young Offenders Act, and the proportionate justice model central to the current Youth Criminal Justice Act. While both Canada and Hong Kong have drawn on Britain in crafting their youth justice systems, Hong Kong’s colonial period is of relevance, particularly the 1960s and 1970s, during which time unique cultural factors influenced Hong Kong’s framework of welfare protectionism and disciplinary welfare in response to youth delinquency and crime. Contemporary trends in juvenile justice and recent political unrest and potential implications for youth in Hong Kong refer back to this historical period, and comparing Canadian and Hong Kong penal paradigms of juvenile justice promotes a criminological imagination with the relation of state and citizen as central to understanding the significance of responses to youth deviance and criminality.
When it comes to helping gang-involved youth, interventionists are faced with a significant primary challenge: Must youth leave their gangs before receiving treatment? Or can treatment successfully be delivered while a youth remains gang-affiliated? Despite a broad evidence base showing the effectiveness of interventions for aggressive, antisocial, and/or justice-involved youth, there is very little research illuminating the effectiveness of individualized interventions for gang-involved youth in particular. This is a significant gap in the literature given that gang-involved youth typically exhibit significantly higher levels of violence and victimization than do other youth. However, existing best-practice intervention models might hold promise for effectively serving gang-involved youth. These models indicate that interventions for youth offenders should be grounded in behavioral theory while focusing on caregiver skills and family dynamics and leveraging broader social-ecological supports. Recent evaluations of two evidence-based interventions (Functional Family Therapy and Multisystemic Therapy) with respect to how they work for gang-involved youth indicate that it is indeed possible to implement effective treatment for this population. The probability of successfully treating gang-involved youth also might be augmented through the integration of new discoveries emanating from the life-course study of gang members. Specifically, it might be possible to leverage the motivating value of typical life events during the transition to adulthood to encourage youth to leave the gang lifestyle and all its attendant risks. One key task for interventionists, then, is to ensure that gang-involved youth can be engaged and maintained long enough in treatment to benefit from those motivations during that critical natural developmental transition.