Juvenile Delinquency

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Technical Report #14

Risk-Focused Prevention of Juvenile Crime

University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension Cooperative Extension

Risk-Focused Prevention of Juvenile Crime
By Karen Bogenschneider Assistant Professor, Child and Family Studies Family Policy Specialist University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension

What Factors Lead to Juvenile Crime?
"Do we know enough to prevent juvenile crime?" The response to this question hinges on one of the most effective prevention models in the last 20 to 30 years—the risk-focused approach used to prevent heart and lung disease. This approach, which originated in the health field, focuses on risk factors for heart disease including high blood pressure, smoking, too little exercise, and a diet high in fat. Taking steps to eliminate or reduce these risk factors actually prevented heart disease (Hawkins, undated). Juvenile crime, like heart disease, is influenced by a mosaic of risk factors. Ineffective parenting and early aggressiveness, for example, put a child in jeopardy. More risk factors mean greater danger. Prevention programs that work reduce these risk factors. Thus, one of the first steps in preventing juvenile crime is to identify the risk factors that increase its likelihood. Based on a growing body of evidence, juvenile crime is not influenced by a single factor, but by many; furthermore, these factors are not confined to any one part of the adolescent's world. As in the health field, we cannot be certain that these risk factors cause problem behavior, but we do know they increase the odds that juvenile crime will occur (Bogenschneider, Small, & Riley, 1990). This review begins with factors in the individual and proceeds to factors in the family, peer group, school, and community. Individual Risk Factors Alcohol and Drug Use Frequent use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs is more common among juvenile delinquents than nondelinquents. As indicated in Table 1, alcohol use was 2½ times greater among offenders than nonoffenders while marijuana use is over 5 times higher among offenders (Hawkins, Lishner, Jenson, & Catalano, 1987b; Loeber, 1987).


Alienation or Rebelliousness Child Abuse

Cognitive Deficits

Early Aggressiveness

Youth who rebel or who feel alienated from their family, school, or community are more apt to commit crimes (Hawkins, undated). About 20 percent of abused children become delinquent compared with 5 percent of all children (Yoshikawa, 1994). Abused children are more apt to be aggressive with their peers during early childhood than their age mates who were not abused. Cognitive deficits are related to both early antisocial behavior and later delinquency. Specifically, aggressive children display less empathy, have difficulty solving disputes, and tend to interpret others' actions as hostile, (Conduct Problems Prevention Group, 1992; Kazdin, 1987; Yoshikawa, 1994; Zigler, Taussig, & Black, 1992). Boys who are aggressive at ages 5, 6, and 7 are more apt to commit delinquent acts during adolescence and repeat them (Hawkins, Lishner, & Catalano, 1987a; Hawkins, et al., 1987b; Loeber, 1987).


Genetic Influences


Medical Risks at Birth



Aggression and adult crime appear to run in families, more so than juvenile delinquency; while genes create a capacity for violence, they do not guarantee it (Kazdin, 1987; Moffitt, 1993; Seville, 1990; Yoshikawa, 1994). Hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder increase the risk of juvenile delinquency, but alone don't cause delinquency (Yoshikawa, 1994; Zigler, et al., 1992). Stress at birth such as premature and low birth weight are associated with behavior problems at ages 5 to 7, delinquency at age 18, and violent offenses (Yoshikawa, 1994); maternal alcohol or drug abuse, complications during delivery, poor prenatal and post-natal nutrition, lead exposure, and lack of stimulations during infancy may harm the baby's nervous...
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