Why do Societies need Juvenile Justice Systems?

Juvenile offences are a problem that is facing contemporary societies all around the world. Young people are becoming more and more susceptible to violence, deviant behaviors, delinquency, and substance abuse. Consequently, the outlaw behavior patterns could impact an individual’s future and career. There are tendencies to excommunicate juvenile offenders as socially unacceptable members of society. With an increasing number of juvenile offenders, it seems prudent to investigate the risk factors that might lead to delinquent behaviors.

What makes Youth Susceptible to Crime?

Delinquent behavior is a result of complex interactions between various risk factors. These interactions do not occur simultaneously but rather produce cumulative effects that result in delinquent behaviour. The multi-factorial violent behavior factor hypothesis claims that deviant behavior predictors might be noticed during various developmental stages in life. Risk factors play a critical role during a child’s personal development; hence, childhood delinquent behavior is one of the most powerful predictors of rule-breaking behavior in adulthood.

What are Risk Factors for Youth Delinquency?

The risk factors for juvenile delinquency can be divided into two categories: static and dynamic. While people cannot influence static factors such as gender and ethnicity, dynamic factors (living environment, friendships and other) have the potential to be altered. Lowering the exposure to dynamic risk factors can result in a positive change in individual behavior towards better integration into society. Identifying key risk factors at different developmental stages can serve as a base for designing and implementing preventative counteractive methods.

Static Risk Factors for Juvenile Offenders

Static risk factors for juvenile offenders have inherited variables. Static factors can serve as valuable indicators for assessing potential delinquent behavior. Many studies confirmed the importance of gender and ethnicity as predictors of juvenile delinquent behavior.


Genders express different mental health characteristics at various stages of life. Research suggests that gender differences may indicate susceptibility to delinquent behaviors. Gender differences play a role during the early phases of child’s development but tend to become relevant in adolescence. Males are more prone to becoming rebellious, violent and affiliating with delinquent peers. An increase in the number of female juvenile offenders, however, has been recorded throughout scientific literature. Studies indicate that females are more likely to conduct less severe offences such as status-offences rather than externalizing behavior, which is typical for males.  


Ethical disparities affect delinquent rates in juveniles. According to Kakade et al. (2012), African American juveniles are more likely to be arrested compared to white youths. In their study Zhou et al. (2012) identified predictors for the juvenile offences such as the use of alcohol and tobacco. Their results showed Chinese youth expressed higher health risk behaviors compared to youth from Europe or America. The same study found that there has been a significant increase in the rate of alcohol and tobacco use among Chinese from 1998 to 2003.  

Dynamic Risk Factors for Juvenile Offenders

Dynamic risk factors are multicausal factors dependent on the environment. Unlike static, dynamic factors can be altered and influence individuals in different ways. Among other dynamic factors are peer relationships (peer delinquency and bullying) and substance abuse, which can be used as a valuable indicator of delinquent behavior.

Peer Delinquency

The influence of peer groups affects individual behavior because peer groups shape personal perceptions about the world and influence the learning processes. Studies reported that susceptibility to peer influence affects both serious and minor forms of delinquent behaviour. Adolescents’ deviant behavior is enhanced through early affiliation with deviant peer groups. Engaging with deviant peers does not only pose a high risk for externalizing behaviors, but it is a reliable indicator of potential substance abuse. To lower the risk of delinquency, it is advisable to limit the engagement of individuals prone to deviance tendencies with delinquent peer groups.     


Bullying is a predictor of future offences as it is a manifestation of violent tendencies in an individual. Bullying and later offending are both signs of personal anti-social characteristics that express themselves in different stages of personal development and might predict future life outcomes. According to Farrington and Ttofi (2011), who observed bullying patterns at age 14, these patterns were an indicator of later violent convictions at age 15–20. Additionally, bullying also indicates self-reported violence at the age 15–18 as well as drug abuse between 27 and 32 years of age and a probability of “unsuccessful” life at the age of 48. Despite the inability to generalize bullying as a common denominator for future offences, it continues to be a relevant predictor of violent convictions.

Substance Abuse

The abuse of illegal substances is an important predictor of juvenile offences, especially during the adolescent period. The World Health Organization estimates there are around 90% of street children who misuse some sort of illegal substance. Using drugs such as marijuana or cocaine might predict aggressive behaviour in the future or increase the likelihood of severe persistent delinquency. Drug usage in adolescents depends not only on environmental factors, however, but also on personal characteristics and personal delinquent tendencies. The focus of scientific research when evaluating substance abuse as a risk factor for juvenile offences has mainly been directed towards drug availability, acculturation, and drug use before incarceration.


Benner, G. J., Stage, S. A., Nelson, J. R., Laederich, M., & Ralston, N. C. (2010). Predicting the cumulative recidivism of juvenile detainees. The Journal of Behavior Analysis of Offender and Victim Treatment and Prevention, 2(1), 51-62.

Brook, D. W., Brook, J. S., Rubenstone, E., Zhang, C., & Saar, N. S. (2011). Developmental associations between externalizing behaviors, peer delinquency, drug use, perceived neighborhood crime, and violent behavior in urban communities. Aggr. Behav. Aggressive Behavior, 37(4), 349-361.

Espinosa, E. M., Sorensen, J. R., & Lopez, M. A. (2013). Youth Pathways to Placement: The Influence of Gender, Mental Health Need and Trauma on Confinement in the Juvenile Justice System. J Youth Adolescence Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(12), 1824-1836.

Farrington, D. P., & Ttofi, M. M. (2011). Bullying as a predictor of offending, violence and later life outcomes. Criminal Behav. Ment. Health Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 21(2), 90-98.

Henggeler, S. W., Mccart, M. R., Cunningham, P. B., & Chapman, J. E. (2012). Enhancing the effectiveness of juvenile drug courts by integrating evidence-based practices. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 80(2), 264-275.

Kakade, M., Duarte, C. S., Liu, X., Fuller, C. J., Drucker, E., Hoven, C. W., . . . Wu, P. (2012). Adolescent Substance Use and Other Illegal Behaviors and Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice System Involvement: Findings from a US National Survey. Am J Public Health American Journal of Public Health, 102(7), 1307-1310.

Miller, H. V. (2011). Erratum to: Acculturation, Social Context, and Drug Use: Findings from a Sample of Hispanic Adolescents. American Journal of Criminal Justice Am J Crim Just, 37(1), 137-137.

Put, C. E., Asscher, J. J., Stams, G. J., & Moonen, X. M. (2013). Differences between juvenile offenders with and without intellectual disabilities in the importance of static and dynamic risk factors for recidivism. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research J Intellect Disabil Res, 58(11), 992-1003.

Sharma, S., Sharma, G., & Barkataki, B. (2015). Family and Social Factors as Predictors of Drug Misuse and Delinquent Behavior in Juveniles. International Medical Journal, 22(4), 237-240.

Stewart, D. (2009). Drug use and perceived treatment need among newly sentenced prisoners in England and Wales. Addiction, 104(2), 243-247.

Werb, D., Kerr, T., Li, K., Montaner, J., & Wood, E. (2008). Risks Surrounding Drug Trade Involvement Among Street-Involved Youth. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 34(6), 810-820.

Zhou, Z., Xiong, H., Jia, R., Yang, G., Guo, T., Meng, Z., . . . Zhang, Y. (2012). The Risk Behaviors and Mental Health of Detained Adolescents: A Controlled, Prospective Longitudinal Study. PLoS ONE, 7(5).


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