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To best answer the questions of how to deal with young offenders requires knowledge of factors in the individual, family, social settings, and community that influence the development of delinquent behavior; of the types of offenses committed by young people; and of the types of interventions that can most efficiently and effectively prevent offending in the first place or prevent its recurrence.This study reviews literature in all of these areas to provide an objective view of juvenile crime and the juvenile justice system in the United States.
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).
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.
Although young people can approach decisions in a manner similar to adults under some circumstances, many decisions that children and adolescents make are under precisely the conditions that are hardest for adults—unfamiliar tasks, choices with uncertain outcomes, and ambiguous situations (see, for example, Beyth-Marom and Fischhoff, 1997; Cohn et al., 1995).
Further complicating the matter for children and adolescents is that they often face deciding whether or not to engage in a risky behavior, such as taking drugs, shoplifting, or getting into a fight, in situations involving emotions, stress, peer pressure, and little time for reflection.
Young people are liable to overestimate their own understanding of a situation, underestimate the probability of negative outcomes, and make judgments based on incorrect or incomplete information (Quadrel et al., 1993).
Although adults are also prone to the same misperceptions, children's and adolescents' lack of experience increases their vulnerability. (1993) found that high-risk adolescents (with legal and substance abuse problems, recruited from group homes) were more likely than middle-class youngsters to have incorrect information about risks, while being extremely confident in their information.
Many such changes were enacted after the juvenile violent crime rate had already begun to fall.
The rehabilitative model embodied in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, focusing on the needs of the young offender, has lost ever more ground over the past 20 years to punitive models that focus mainly on the offense committed.
A number of cognitive and social features of childhood and adolescence influence the content of juvenile crime policy.
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.