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Structural changes in society, including fewer two-parent homes and more maternal employment, have contributed to a lack of resources for the supervision of children's and adolescents' free time.
This tension between rehabilitation and punishment when dealing with children and adolescents who commit crimes results in an ambivalent orientation toward young offenders.
Criminal acts must be suppressed, condemned, and punished.
How to deal appropriately with those who commit crimes between the ages of 10 and 17 is the issue faced in juvenile crime policy.
Adolescence is a period of dating, driving, and expanding social networks—all choices that can produce positive or negative consequences for the adolescent and the community.
Although juvenile crime rates appear to have fallen since the mid-1990s, this decrease has not alleviated the concern.
Many states began taking a tougher legislative stance toward juveniles in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a period during which juvenile crime rates were stable or falling slightly, and federal reformers were urging prevention and less punitive measures.Arrests of those younger than 10 years old account for less than 2 percent of all juvenile arrests.By the age of 16 or 17, most adolescents are deemed to have sufficient cognitive capacity and life experience to be held accountable for intended wrongful acts.Crime policies in the United States have been moving in the direction of treating juveniles as adults, even though many young people continue to grow up in settings that “fail to provide the resources, the supports, and the opportunities essential to a healthy development and reasonable preparation for productive adulthood” (National Research Council, 1993a:2)—settings that put young people at high risk for delinquency.In 1997, 40 percent of all those living below the poverty level in the United States were under the age of 18 (Snyder and Sickmund, 1999).Concern about it is widely shared by federal, state, and local government officials and by the public.In recent years, this concern has grown with the dramatic rise in juvenile violence that began in the mid-1980s and peaked in the early 1990s.Historically, children under the age of seven have been considered below the age of reason, and therefore unable to formulate the criminal intent necessary to be held accountable for criminal offenses.In practice, children younger than age 10 are rarely involved in the juvenile justice system.Nevertheless, children and adolescents who commit criminal acts must be educated and supported in a growth process that should be the objective of government policy for all young people, including young offenders.A number of cognitive and social features of childhood and adolescence influence the content of juvenile crime policy.