The Solution to Juvenile Crime Is Simple


         Crime is a plague that has haunted American citizens for centuries. The severity of crime has ranged from running a red light to cold blooded murder. Statistics indicate that crime rates have been on the rise in the previous decades, especially juvenile crime. Statistics show that, “the number of youths aged 14 and younger who have been charged with homicide has jumped by 43 percent in the past twenty years” (Kids With No Hope, No Fear, No Rules, And No Life, 2). This increase in juvenile crime has struck a chord of fear in many people . Motivated by this fear our society has to come up with a solution to this impending problem. While several suggestions have been offered, crime prevention is the most logical, effective and beneficial solution.
         Before going into detail about crime prevention, here is a little background information on juvenile crime. “Murders by young men between the ages of 14 and 17 jumped 161 percent between 1992 and 1993” (Juvenile Crime, 1). Aggravated assault arrests have grown 95 percent since 1985. Robbery arrests have grown 57 percent (Juvenile Violence, Drugs, and Weapons, 1). The number of juveniles arrested in 1994 was 94 percent greater than the total number arrested in 1981 (2).
         There are several reasons why juvenile crime has been on the rise. The most prominent ones are lack of education, the increased use and availability of firearms and the increase in use and availability of drugs.
         The most recent solution proposed to decrease juvenile crime is known in Arizona as Proposition 102. The proposition reads as follows:
         Amending Arizona Constitution to mandate adult     prosecution at age fifteen for murder, forcible     sexual assault or armed robbery; allow     alternatives for other juveniles; repeal court's     sole discretion to suspend prosecution of     juveniles accused of crime; repeal court     jurisdiction over juveniles; make juvenile     offenders' records and proceedings public, with     exceptions (State of Arizona Ballot Measures, 1).

In summary, the proposition says that every juvenile between the ages of fifteen to seventeen who committs armed robbery, rape or murder will be tried and sentenced as an adult. This is not the best solution to decreasing juvenile crime because it creates problems within itself. More specifically, the proposition is trying to amend something that is already in existence, the proposition lends itself to a loophole for attorneys, jails are overcrowded as it is, the proposition is deceiving and the framers of the proposition have failed to recognize that there are other possible solutions, such as crime prevention.
         Before the election, under the current law the courts already had the power to transfer a juvenile case to an adult court (1996 Ballot Propositions. Your Future... Your Choice. Vote!, 20). The judges presiding over the hearings made the discretion based on the seriousness and the circumstances concerning the crime, regardless of age. The proposition also fails to acknowledge the fact that Arizona courts are stricter with juvenile offenders than almost any other state (1996 Ballot Propositions. Your Future... Your Choice. Vote!, 21). Also, the proposition calls for immediate restitution from the offender. Statistics show that this is already in effect (State of Arizona Ballot Measures, 1). In addition to that, the proposition introduces an appeal for making juvenile cases public record, which is already the case (24).
         Another problem with the proposition is that it sets up a loophole for prosecutors. Richard Romely, Maricopa County Attorney, says that,
         "By singling out juvenile offenders over age fifteen for automatic transfer to adult court, the Governor ignores those violent murderers, rapists and robbers who are under the age of fifteen. All the experts agree that violent offenses are being committed by younger and younger offenders. Legal experts, including Presiding Juvenile Judge John Foreman, have stated that by limiting transfer of adult court to those over fifteen, the law makes impossible the transfer to adult court of anybody under the age of fifteen. In other words, the Governor's Initiative may legally prevent any transfer to adult court of fourteen year-old violent and repetitive juvenile offenders, even if they deserve to be tried in adult court. Defense lawyers are already anticipating the loophole if the initiative is approved." (22).
         Another huge oversight that the proposition makes is that our jails are overcrowded as it is. The proposition makes no provisions for the allotment of money to better the prisons or to expand jail space. "The average cost of incarcerating a juvenile for one year is between $35,000- $64,000." Comparably, the annual tuition cost for Harvard is approximately $30,000 per student. Still lesser than the cost of incarcerating one juvenile for one year (5-14-96-- ACLU Fact Sheet on Juvenile Crime, 1). Any new law that calls for putting more criminal offenders in jail is going to cost the public money!
         This proposition is also deceiving in that it implies that if juveniles are tried as adults then they will do adult time, and that when they are released they will be model citizens. However, this may not be the case. State Senator, Sandra D. Kennedy feels that, "...many of these juveniles will plea bargain and receive less jail time or probation instead of tough juvenile prison sentences and rehabilitation services." (1996 Ballot Propositions. Your Future... Your Choice. Vote!, 21). The Arizona Council of Centers for Children and Adults agree saying that, "Statistics show teenage criminals tend to get easier sentences in adult court than juvenile court." (24). The American Civil Liberties Union also feels that the proposition will backfire saying that,
         "Putting young offenders in adult prisons increases, not lessens, their propensity for committing crime. While in prison, the juvenile offender will learn from older, more hardened criminals. When he is released back into the community in his twenties--undereducated, unsocialized, unemployable, and at the peak of physical power--he will be the very model of the very person we wished most to avoid." (5-14-96--ACLU Fact Sheet on Juvenile Crime, 2).
         The most blatant mistake that the proposition makes though is that it fails to recognize other possible solutions. Instead of trying juveniles as adults, efforts should be focused on crime prevention. Not only will crime prevention provide a better answer, but it will provide more versatility as well. Crime prevention uses several different facets including the family, schools and the community.
         The family is a critical teacher of ethics and values. It is the family's responsibility to teach children how to participate in society in a non-violent manner. Studies show that children who have learned other ways to resolve a conflict without resorting to violence are more apt to turn the other cheek towards trouble (Deadly Consequences, 145- 146).
         The first step in being a good educator as a parent is to let children know that they are loved. They need to know that "someone is crazy about the kid." Children (and teens) need to feel loved so that they can give love and mature into a responsible adult that participates in society (146).
         While love is very important, it is not enough. Parents should also set boundaries for their child (children) so that they [the children] know that the adults are in control. Parents should also be aware that while discipline is beneficial and healthy, non-violent discipline is the most effective (147). The specialists at the Oregon Social Learning Center suggest that offering small rewards in return for the completion of a task is "far more effective" than instituting punishment. Parents who threaten their children, but do not follow through on punishment are only teaching their children to disregard authority figures (149). By offering rewards both the parent and the child win. The parent wins because they remain in power, and the child wins because they receive something in return (150).
         Other suggestions come from Gerald Patterson, PhD, also at the Oregon Social Learning Center. Dr. Patterson feels that parents should speak as politely to their children as they do to strangers or co-workers. He says that ranting and raving only creates a more violent environment (151). Patterson also believes that teenagers should be monitored. In other words a parent should ask their child where they are going, who they are going with and when they will be home. Dr. Patterson says that adolescents have less "street-time" where they are apt to get into trouble (152).
         Another institution where crime prevention can be implemented is in schools. Learning in and of itself is a key element in crime prevention. By using the skills acquired in school, teens can reason their way through an unfavorable situation or choice. "Young people whose language skills and analytic abilities have been well developed in the classroom are likely to think before striking and use words instead of force to persuade." (162).
         Teachers are the most essential tools in the learning process. Unfortunately, teachers begin to sour on students once they reach the age of adolescence (165). The attitudes change on both sides of the glass. Teachers start to see the student as the enemy and vice versa (166). One way to overcome this barrier is to create better schools. Research shows that the schools that have strong principles; where the discipline is fair, but firm; that are not too large; and where the parent is interactive in the child's learning process are the schools that children will succeed at. Three steps can be taken to make each and every school a successful school. These steps include:
         1. Students, teachers and administrators must feel
safe and secure at school. Suggestions to achieve this
security are:
A. Install metal detectors in high risk areas.
B. Employ friendly security guards.
C. Make sure that the presence of the faculty and
staff can be felt by the students.
         2. There must be a commitment to education. Schools
could try implementing reward programs or they could vary
the curriculum with music or games to enhance learning.

         3. Perhaps the most important step is to involve the
parents. Ways to do this include:
A. Call parents when students cut class.
B. Faculty and staff members could visit their
student's homes and family.
C. Plan more school events where parents are
invited such as picnics, athletic events or fine arts
performances (168-169).

         Another way for schools to teach crime prevention is to implement programs that deal with anger management or "the fourth R-Relationships." Programs like these teach juveniles five things:
         1. Conflict is a normal part of human interaction.
2. When people take time to explore their prejudices,
they can learn how to get along with (and enjoy) people
whose backgrounds are different.
3. Most disputes do not have to have a winner and a
loser. Win/win is the ideal way to resolve most disputes.
4. Children and adults who learn how to assert
themselves non-violently can avoid becoming bullies or
victims.

5. Self-esteem of children is enhanced if they learn
to build non-violent, non-hostile relationships with their
peers (173).

The biggest battle of all is fought in the community.
Prevention programs in the community can teach people two
things:
1. They are at risk of becoming the perpetrators and
the victims of violence.
2. Violence is not inevitable-they have choices.
Community policing is one good way to control crime in the
community. Policemen need to get out of their cars and back
out on a beat. By walking a beat they become integrated
with the community by developing relationships with the
citizens and encouraging those citizens to keep in contact
with their local law enforcement agency (195).
Richard Neely, Chief Justice of the West Virginia
Supreme Court suggests that neighborhoods could also have
their own patrolmen. Chief Justice Neely offers these
guidelines:
1. Wear a uniform to establish unity and authority.
2. Do not carry weapons. By carrying weapons the
patrolmen may be inviting more violence.
3. Organize in a formal manner.
4. Focus on self-prevention, burglary protection,
property identification and crime reporting (Coping with
Weapons and Violence in Your School and on Your Streets,
133-134).
Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, MD suggests that a
Comprehensive Family Policy would reduce crime in the
community. She feels that this comprehensive coverage
should include:
1. Universal health care for families.
2. Subsidized high quality child care.
3. Nutritional services for poor children.
4. Universal preschool programs for children who are
educationally at risk.
5. Universal, after-school programs for the children
of working parents.
6. Schools that are open and serving children
educationally, recreationally and socially from morning
until night, twelve months a year (Deadly Consequences, 199-
200).

         If as a society we chose to fight for our right to safety and happiness then we must chose crime prevention as the solution to juvenile crime. The preceding suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much we can do if we work together. Most importantly our communities need to realize the importance of not fighting violence with violence. For more information and guidance you can write to:

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