Juvenile delinquency is a big problem in the United States, where 45,567 minors were incarcerated in residential facilities for juveniles in 2016. In fact, about 17% of all the people arrested in the United States are under the age of 18. Not only does the problem affect the victims of the crime; it also affects the juvenile delinquent's family, future, and society as a whole.
Effects on the Victims
The most obvious people affected by juvenile delinquency are the victims. Whether the crime involves theft, vandalism, or violence, the victim always suffers loss. The victim may incur expenses related to lost wages, health care, or psychological care in addition to the cost of replacing damaged or destroyed items.
Effects on the Juvenile Delinquent
The juvenile who commits a crime also suffers effects that he or she is probably unable to predict. He or she may lose his or her freedom while being incarcerated or placed on probation. The juvenile may lose ground academically as well. Although placement in residential detention centers for juveniles may be appropriate consequences for the adolescent's criminal actions, it also puts him or her in relationships with other delinquents, who may be more sophisticated or influential. This makes recidivism likely and, in many states, when a juvenile older than 14 becomes a repeat offender, he or she can be tried and sentenced as an adult. The delinquency may even have future consequences on the adolescent's college and career choices.
Effects on the Families
The upheaval and trauma of having a family member who is a juvenile delinquent can create instability for the other relatives. Not only does the family have to cope with the needs of the child who is in trouble, but they may also have to raise large amounts of money to pay for lawyers. In addition, the family has to face the ethical issues of responsibility to the victims of the child's crime. Families must usually attend group counseling sessions, which can be disruptive and costly during the time when the child is in detention or on probation.
Effects on the Community
There is a correlation between juvenile delinquency and drug use, gang involvement, alcohol abuse, and sexual behavior. All of these issues challenge communities by making neighborhoods unsafe and costing large amounts of public money to be spent on law enforcement and school safety.
Effects on Society
Young people who commit serious crimes before they are 18 years old challenge the future for everyone involved. They may be acting out to protest perceived abuses that have been perpetrated against them. They may believe that there is no future for them outside of a life of crime. They may be expressing anger or frustration directed against another person or group or looking for approval from a gang. Whatever the motive, juvenile delinquency affects too many American individuals, families, and communities. It is a serious problem that challenges the efforts of government agencies, politicians, educators, faith communities, and nonprofit organizations alike.