In this book, David E. Brandt examines the legal, psychological, and cultural issues relevant to understanding antisocial behavior in adolescence. Based on his own research and a broad analysis of recent work in the field, Brandt identifies the factors that are common in cases of delinquency.
The discussion considers the long-term effects of social issues such as poverty as well as psychological issues such as the high levels of stress and anxiety suffered during childhood by many delinquents. He shows how a failure to meet the developmental needs of childrenat both the family level and at a broader social and political levelis at the core of the problem of juvenile delinquency. Brandt concludes with an inquiry into how best to prevent delinquency. Programs that address the developmental needs of children, Brandt argues, are more effective than policing, juvenile courts, or incarceration.
About the Author
David Brandt is professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY.
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Delinquency, Development, and Social Policy
By David Brandt
YALE UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2006 David Brandt
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDefinitions and Measures
A definition is the enclosing a wilderness of idea within a wall of words. Samuel Butler
When he was just fifteen years old, barely shaving, Bryan was charged by the police in a large urban city with the following crimes: murder in the second degree, robbery in the first degree, burglary in the first degree, and criminal possession of a weapon in the first and second degree. He lived with his mother, who suffered from AIDS and bone cancer, an older brother, and a cousin. Bryan had had academic problems dating from the beginning of his school career. He was frequently truant and was diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder, conduct disorder, and a learning disability. His IQ was measured to be in the low normal range.
Bryan said that he rarely went to school so that he could stay at home with his mother. School personnel said that he would come to school "reeking of marijuana," and when confronted by teachers about his behavior, he would curse at them. One teacher said she recalled his being in school only four times during the school year. He was functionally illiterate. The staff at the school believed thathe was involved in selling drugs. The psychologist who interviewed him for the court indicated that Bryan was aggressive and displayed little regard for authority figures, his peers, or the law. He had been arrested at least four times before.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the population of adolescents in the United States between ten and seventeen years of age was approximately 30 million. The population of youth between fifteen and seventeen years old, the ages of peak antisocial behavior in adolescents, was 9.3 million. At this same time there were approximately 2.3 million arrests made of young people under the age of eighteen for breaking the law. Of these, close to one hundred thousand were for violent crimes including murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The overall arrest rate for all crimes was approximately 7,400 arrests per 100,000 adolescents. And the rate at which juveniles commit crimes is actually higher than is indicated by their arrest rates.
Adolescent criminal behavior creates an enormous drain on our national resources in terms of the cost of policing and courts and the costs of treatment and/or incarceration. The cost of the wasted lives of these young people is immeasurable, as is the cost in pain and suffering to their victims. We face a problem of epidemic proportions. A physical disorder that affected our coming generation of adults to this extent would certainly be cause for alarm. Yet, our response as a nation to this problem has too often been inadequate, misguided, and not based on the information that has been available for decades to social scientists including psychologists, psychiatrists, and sociologists.
From a social or legal point of view, the term juvenile delinquent refers to any adolescent who breaks the law. Adolescents, as a group in our society, tend to engage in risk-taking behavior at a higher level than their older contemporaries; they are likely to experiment with drugs, alcohol, and sex in ways that cause great alarm among parents and teachers. The 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a self-report survey of adolescents between twelve and sixteen years of age, found that 29 percent reported having engaged in sex, 42 percent reported using cigarettes, 39 percent said they had consumed alcohol, and 21 percent said they had used marijuana. Adolescents take greater physical risks and are involved in automobile accidents at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. Some of this risk-taking behavior involves breaking the law. Most of the offenses are minor, often classified as "status offenses." A status offense relates to breaking a law that is related only to minors, such as underage drinking, truancy, and running away from home. Other minor offenses might include petty larceny, for example shoplifting, or experimentation with drugs. While such behaviors might be indicative of more serious problems, they are more typically self-limiting and tend to stop before the individual reaches adulthood. Labeling all teenagers who are accused of these minor offenses as "delinquents" dilutes the definition of delinquency.
This book is primarily about the adolescents who repeatedly commit serious offenses, and less about those who are guilty of the occasional minor offense or those who may commit only one or two more serious offenses. The distinction between the two types is quite important because there are a number of studies that show these two groups of young people most often have different backgrounds and histories and therefore need to be understood and responded to in very different ways.
Len, a fifteen-year-old boy referred to me by the court, is an example of a more limited offender. Len had stolen an expensive car from the parking lot of a suburban train station. The owner had left the keys in the car. The adolescent took the car for a short time, and when the police found him he was asleep in the car, not far from the station. He had committed a felony, a serious offense, but since this was his first offense, the court put him on probation. Conversations with Len revealed that his mother had recently remarried and had had a new baby with his stepfather. His biological father lived in another state, and was only able to visit Len infrequently. He told me that since the baby was born, his mother had very little time for him. When she came home from work, she went straight to the baby's room, and rarely stopped in his room to see how he was doing. His perceptions were verified when I met with her. She was clearly more involved with other issues in her life, including her appearance, than she was with her adolescent son. Stealing the car was a way for Len to get her attention. I suggested to his mother and stepfather that they try to find a way to spend more time with Len, a suggestion that they were responsive to. Len has since successfully graduated from high school and has not had any further trouble with the law. To put Len in the same category as a Bryan, who has committed a series of assaults and been repeatedly arrested, would blur the definition of delinquency.
A precise definition of delinquency is important for three reasons. First, because it makes communication about delinquent behavior clear. When delinquency is mentioned, it can be assumed that everyone is talking about the same behavior. Second, when research is conducted on the problem of delinquency, the nature of the problem can be agreed upon. Third, it more clearly defines the population that needs help either by altering existing behavior or preventing it.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fourth edition, of the American Psychiatric Association, more commonly referred to as the DSM IV, is a compilation of all of the recognized psychiatric disorders, grouped by category: mood disorders, substance abuse disorders, anxiety disorders, and so forth. Each disorder lists a set of behavioral and other criteria which must be present in the individual to warrant a given diagnosis. The authors of the DSM IV state that "the specified diagnostic criteria for each mental disorder are offered as guidelines for making diagnoses, because it has been demonstrated that the use of such criteria enhances agreement among clinicians and investigators.... The purpose of the DSM IV is to provide clear descriptions of diagnostic categories in order to enable clinicians and investigators to diagnose, communicate about, study and treat people with various mental disorders" (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, xxvii).
The DSM IV criteria for what is known as conduct disorder appear in table 1.1. One of the underlying criteria for conduct disorder is that the behavior in question be repetitive and persistent; the child or adolescent has to have exhibited three or more of the behaviors described during a one-year period. These include behaviors that involve aggression (such as initiating fights), destruction of property, deceitfulness, theft (such as shoplifting), or serious violation of rules that apply to minors (such as chronic truancy).The diagnosis of conduct disorder also requires that the clinician specify whether the problem is mild, moderate, or severe. The rating of severe indicates that the child or adolescent has exhibited a large number of the behaviors or that the behaviors exhibited have caused serious harm to the victims.
The large majority of seriously antisocial adolescents would meet the criteria for severe conduct disorder. Also, with the exception of the last category-"serious violation of rules," which includes status offenses-all the criteria involve breaking laws and many involve violence. Len would be defined as a delinquent from a legal point of view, but would not meet the criteria for conduct disorder because his behavior was not repetitive and persistent. Bryan, however, would meet the criteria for both definitions. Society suffers most from adolescents whose antisocial behavior persistently violates criminal laws.
Most children brought to family courts for antisocial behavior meet the criteria for conduct disorder, but not all conduct-disordered adolescents are necessarily delinquents, and some may never come to the attention of the law. A class bully may meet the criteria for conduct disorder but not a social/legal definition of delinquency. And there are instances in which very serious law violators, such as the teenagers who shoot their classmates, may be first-time offenders and so would not meet the criteria for conduct disorder.
The problem with the term juvenile delinquent is that it is a legal concept that varies from one state to another; this is why I believe conduct disorder, a psychiatric definition, is preferable because it more precisely delineates the group of adolescents that most concerns society. It defines the individual on the basis of his or her behavior regardless of legal involvement, and it is a more consistent definition. Defining these youngsters as conduct-disordered adolescents (CDAs) would provide a more consistent and uniform definition regardless of the legal variations that exist among different states. In addition, the research on conduct disorder suggests that we are dealing with the same population as delinquents in terms of their school histories, family backgrounds, temperaments, and other associated psychiatric disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and borderline personality disorder (see chapters 3 and 4). (For stylistic reasons I will also refer to conduct-disordered adolescents as juvenile delinquents or antisocial youths. However, my underlying meaning is as I have described.)
There are, of course, implications of using a psychiatric, as opposed to a social or legal, definition for antisocial behavior. First, it implies that the behavior is the result of a psychiatric disorder, and therefore that it has a particular etiology. It causes us to focus on not only the social issues involved-the criminal behavior and its consequences-but also on the reasons for this behavior that lie within the adolescent. This is not a new or original way of looking at things. August Aichhorn, who wrote a well-known book on delinquency entitled Wayward Youth (1935), stated that the symptoms of delinquent behavior are often confused with its causes. In fact this perception of delinquency as a symptom of a psychological disorder is pervasive throughout the psychological and psychiatric literature on delinquency, though it is less emphasized in sociological and criminal justice theories of delinquent behavior. It raises other issues as well. If society, and that includes the criminal justice system, considers delinquent behavior to be symptomatic of an underlying psychiatric disorder, that requires society to respond o the problem in a way that emphasizes treatment and prevention, rather than just enforcement, punishment, and detention. It also raises the issue of criminal responsibility in young adolescents. Should fifteen year olds diagnosed with a mental disorder be held criminally responsible, if they were unaware they were doing something wrong and/or could not have controlled the impulse to do it? These issues were raised by the founders of the first juvenile court in Chicago over a century ago.
Considering Numbers-Taking Count
How many adolescents commit serious crimes, what kinds of serious crimes do they commit, and how often do they commit them? Unfortunately these are not questions that can be answered with a great deal of accuracy, because a lot of crime is unreported or unresolved (i.e., the perpetrator is never apprehended) or the data are inaccurate for other reasons. However, there are sources of information available that can provide at least approximate answers. Table 1.2 is reproduced from the most recent edition of the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), a yearly document compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in a publication called Crime in the United States. The FBI collects information on arrests from police departments across the country on a voluntary basis and then summarizes the information in various ways. (All police precincts do not necessarily submit information, and in some instances an entire state might not contribute data. Obviously this makes literal comparisons and interpretation impossible.) The summaries consist of the number of arrests made for various crimes and demographic information on the individual arrested, such as age, gender, and race. In addition, the FBI also computes the changes in the arrest rate over time, which makes it possible to examine trends. (Different tables present different demographic breakdowns. I have presented only ten-year trends for age and gender. The complete UCR is available on the internet through the FBI's web site [FBI.Gov].)
The more serious crimes are referred to as index crimes. These are divided into two categories, violent crime and property crime. Violent crimes include murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Nonviolent index crimes include burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. Statistics are also kept on arrests for "less serious" crimes such as forgery, carrying a weapon, drug abuse violations, disorderly conduct, curfew violations, driving under the influence, etc. The consequences to the victims of these "less serious" crimes can nonetheless be quite severe.
As I noted earlier, according to UCR the police across the country made approximately 2.3 million arrests of juveniles under the age of eighteen for various offenses in 2001. This represented a 3 percent decrease over the ten-year period between 1992 to 2001. While the majority of all those arrested are adults, about 17 percent of all arrests in 2001 were of adolescents. Figure 1.1 presents a breakdown of arrests of juveniles for various crimes. Young people accounted for 17 percent of all arrests for violent crimes and 30 percent of all arrests for property crimes (McCord, Spatz-Windom, and Crowell, 2001).
While arrest rates for male adolescents decreased by about 6 percent between 1993 and 2002 after several years of dramatic increases, it is interesting to note that the arrest rate of female adolescents has increased by 6.4 percent over the past ten years. In addition, minority youth are disproportionately represented among the population of young offenders. While black youngsters represent 15 percent of the population between the ages of 10 to 17 they account for 26 percent of all arrests of individuals in this age range and 44 percent of the arrests for violent crimes.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Definitions and Measures....................1
Chapter 2 Childhood and Delinquency....................18
Chapter 3 Adolescence and Delinquency....................46
Chapter 4 Social Response: Rehabilitation and Retribution....................70
Chapter 5 Preventing Juvenile Delinquency....................107
Chapter 6 Summary and Conclusions....................131