The society can effectively deal with and prevent Juvenile delinquency when its causes are well understood. The treatment of an offender has to be based on the understanding of the causative factors that have made him or her to get involved in crime. This paper aims at developing appropriate preventive programs based upon two theories of juvenile delinquency; the Behavioral Theory and the Social Learning Theory.
Delinquency prevention programs should focus on protective and risk factors that causes juvenile delinquency. The risk factors are those which trigger a youth or an adolescent to engage in crime or abuse of alcohol. Exposure of alcohol use in the home or within the neighborhoods is an example of a risk factor which a child can be exposed to at an early age. He will be socialized knowing the use of drugs and alcohol is part of the social norm. Other risk factors are long –term unemployment which contribute to idleness and poverty, negative peer influence, truancy, poor achievements in academics, lack of school or community involvement and high violence rate in the community or within the family. If the community assesses the wide range of risk factors, be it among the peers, school, family or those within the community, mitigative measures can be undertaken to curb these factors which foster delinquency.
It is possible to come up with preventive strategies which have a comprehensive scope and of positive orientation. Successful strategies that a community uses to prevent delinquency give an opportunity for a healthy social, physical, and mental growth of juveniles. Such programs consider the peer group, the family, the school and the community for the development of a child. The Behavioral Theory and the Social Learning Theory gives the basis which these preventive measures can be achieved.
Social Learning Theory
The Social Learning Theory seeks to answer the question as to why people engage in crime. According to the theory, people engage in crime primarily because of socially associating with others. A group of people influence one another to believe that engaging is crime is favorable for their own survival. These are the criminal model which juveniles can be exposed to. As a result, the juveniles will view crime as being a desirable act that in certain situations is justifiable. Ronald Akers developed the Social Learning Theory in the field of criminology. His theory is related to Albert Bandura’s theory in psychology and Edwin Sutherland’s theory of differential association.
Social learning theory postulates that crime engagement among the juveniles is a learning process just like in any other behavior that is developed through association and interaction with other people. The peer group and the family are the main source of impact on what we learn. Therefore, when a youth or an adolescent associates with delinquent friends, he or she is most likely to adopt their negative behaviors. Media also plays a role in causing the youth to engage in delinquent behavior .Three mechanism by which people can learn crime from others have been described by social learning theory. These are through beliefs, modeling and differential reinforcement.
In the differential reinforcement of crime, individuals teach each other through infrequent punishment and reinforcement to engage in crime. If one is awarded for crime through pleasures, social approval or with money, then this will result to encouragement to engage in crime. This means that reinforcement may either be positive or negative. A negative reinforcement is that which encourages one to do negative activities like stealing using drugs or engaging in sexual behaviors at an early age.
Some societies according to Social learning theory foster negative reinforcement with no punishment for any form of crime. Parents may deliberately encourage their children to engage in aggressive behaviors. A peer group may also cause one to use drugs or involve herself in crime.
Beliefs are another mechanism which can foster crime. Certain beliefs in the society favor crime and the children growing up in such a society will be socialized to this belief system. They will eventually internalize them and as a result, they too will engage in crime. On the contrary a belief system which does not favor crime will socialize members of the society from engaging in crime.
Criminal models can be imitated by the juveniles. Such models are those which surround them and do not originate from punishment, reinforcement , or beliefs. A juvenile can imitate these models, especially in cases where, the criminals are respected and liked by others in the society. Eventually, the youth and adolescent will admire and tend to imitate their behaviors. Bandura supports social learning theory by stating that children are at greater risk of observing aggressive actions or violence and then model the behavior which they have seen either in media or in real life. He calls this instantaneous direct learning of modeling behaviors that is observed (Wiesner et al, 2003, p. 320).
The Behavioral Theory
Behavioral learning theory is classified in to three main categories. These are classical conditioning, contiguity and operant condition. Behaviorists define learning as a process of permanent change of behavior as a result of practice or experience. The behaviorists believe that learning is a psychological and internal event that can only be displayed whenever there is a change of behavior.
Behavioral learning theory majors on behavioral aspects which can be impacted by the environment which an individual is in. The theory also acknowledges the fact that genetics and biological maturation have a relative permanent change to the behavior of human beings. The S-R paradigm is a representation of behavioral learning theory which explains that what goes on inside the mind of an organism averts behavior. This paradigm is in the order of Stimulus- Organism- Response.
Guthrie, E R developed the Contiguity theory which proposes that any response and stimulus which is connected in space or time is most likely to be related. Early behaviorists developed the classical conditioning theory. The major theorists of classical conditioning theory is associated with is Ivan Pavlov. He was a Russian theorist who majored in medicine and biology. He observed the behavior of a dog when it was deprived food. The dog responded by salivating when it saw the feeder. He called this behavior through classical conditioning law. The salivation of the dog in the sight of the feeder is viewed as respondent conditioning which is a learning process according to Skinner. The phenomena describe a learning process that is a response to stimulus in the environment. The process starts with a reflex which is involuntary and innate. The involuntary act is caused or elicited by an event in the environment.
Applying this concept to human behavior, we tend to respond or get associated to natural stimuli that make us happy. Sometimes, we get exposed to those that make us angry or sad. What attracts our attention is those which make us feel good and happy. For example, when we are at school, home, with teachers, or being in a classroom. Activities performed in these setting causes emotional response which will associate with the orienting or neutral stimulus. For example, when a child is constantly harassed at school. he or she will associate school and harassment as one entity. The emotion that will be associated with school will be negative such as sadness crying and torture.
Operant conditioning theory deals with the study of consequences of a behavior. These behaviors are voluntary behaviors. When these behaviors are reinforced according to Skinner, a total change of behavior is achieved. Juvenile deviancy according to Behavioral theory is therefore, based on negative or positive reinforcement. The behavioral theory has been applied in criminology and in methods of correcting deviant behaviors among the members of the society. Correction of behavior involves a change of behavior. Therefore, when the society understands how to change one’s behavior, it can facilitate effective methods of correction through the making of policies. For example, if we understand that stealing is a learned behavior cause by poverty and hunger, then the society can come up with ways of addressing the underling issue of poverty and not just simply punishing the behavior of stealing. This is the development of social control mechanism that every society should have.
Preventive measures of delinquency in the society
Watson, J Pavlov, and Skinner B. F have together studied behavioral theory by describing that certain behaviors have consequences which are most likely to repeat themselves in future when they are not control. Delinquency behaviors are therefore, likely to be repeated by a juvenile if he/ she is not controlled. Skinner’s operant conditioning theory describes a learning method which behavior can be decreased or increased by use of punishment or reinforcement. Negative reinforcement supports negative behavior while positive reinforcement stops delinquencies. When the society knows this, control measures will be developed to check bad behavior among the juveniles are completely stopped. One form of operant condition used all over the world is punishments. When the juveniles or even adult criminals, are punished, bad behavior will be decreased leading to a change of behavioral pattern among offenders as indicated by behavioral theory.
Preventive programs of juvenile delinquency according to behavioral theory should be based on negative and positive reinforcement. For example, the use of waiver or boot camps is negative reinforcement which will foster a change of behavior. These are restrictive measures that can be used towards the juvenile offenders. They are confided in a restrictive and secure facility and given physical or drill exercises from dusk to dawn (Fagan, Zimring, 2001, p. 88). Such a militaristic style is a program which focuses on change behavior and attitude through the use of strict disciplinary rules. Another method that has been used to change the behavior of the youth is through waiver of juvenile offenders to adult court. As they become conversant with adult offences, they learn to improve their lives and become better people in the society.
Mentor programs involve positive reinforcement that also aims at changing the behavior of the juveniles. These programs have been developed by volunteers who mentor and share information with the youth (Colvin, Cullen, Vander Ven, 2002, p. 20). Such programs are less costly compared to booty camps and waiver. These prevention programs are self supportive or supported by the community. The staff volunteers do not receive any reimbursement for their services. Mentoring is a juvenile justice strategy which provides support especially when there is weak social control or unavailability of social structures.
A Juvenile delinquency preventive program derived from social learning theory is by the creating of a favorable environment where the youth and the adolescent will less be tempted to copy violent behavior from others. This may involve placing one in an environment like the church to conduct social services. This means that any religion; be it Christianity, Jew, or Islam plays a contemporary role of preventing delinquency which will also depend on the will of an individual to follow the doctrines. Religions have well set of rules of morality that conform to the US legal law and the law of religion on practices and beliefs. These measures establishes a systems with norms of social control which are directly related to the legal system (Wiesner et al, 2003, p. 320). Religious social services help in providing intensive, experience and therapeutic assistance to offenders which can not be found in public resources.
A change of community behavior can also assist the members from negatively influencing the youths and the adolescent in engaging in delinquencies. Community planning and organizations shows a great possibility of controlling delinquency. Inadequacies of children towards their parents or hostility from their parents cause a child to have negative attitude leading to the development of delinquent behaviors. To control this, the family system should be encouraged to live in harmony and improve their relationship quality. This can be done through family counseling. Developing of facilities for offering counseling and family such programs can be very beneficial in areas which have been recorded to have very high rates of divorce leading to dysfunctional families. Children raised in single parent family are at a higher risk of engaging in crime because the parent may not have time to be with the children as she or he is busy working for income. Such families deserve medical, emotional and psychological support from specialized counselors before things becomes worse (Asetline, Gore, Gordon, 2001, p. 258).
The school system has a role to play in preventing delinquency among juveniles. It should develop an educational program against delinquency. A child should be able to associate school life with happiness and not hostility by giving them a chance to express their views freely without any form of harassment. This allows pupils to have the freedom of adaptation and prevent passive indifference and aversion towards school (Houchins, Guin, Schroeder, 2001, p. 110). This touches on the psychological well being of the students. They will also be free to discuss their problems with the school counselor instead of engaging in delinquent behaviors like alcohol and drug abuse or other negative behavior due to peer pressure.
Finally, the government has to ensure equal distribution of resources which will give the youth the opportunity for employment. Eradication of poverty programs through self-help among women, men, and the youth is a way which the community can economically empower the youth and the whole society thus, preventing juveniles from engaging in delinquent behaviors.
Various contributing factors lead to a child becoming delinquent which originate from psychological or environmental factors. Various theories have been postulated to establish the causative factors to delinquency. Therefore, the application of a single preventive measure is not possible to reduce cases of juvenile delinquency in the society. Hence, these preventive measures should be all rounded covering the causes of criminology postulated by Behavioral, social and General Strain Theory.
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