There has always been alarm and despair over escalating juvenile crime. In the 1950s there were reports about the mushrooming problems with youthful gangs in the big cities. In the 1960s we began to hear about a surge of juvenile crime in areas that had been regarded as virtually crime free. In the suburbs as well as the inner cities, youngsters were dropping out of school, using drugs and committing crimes. In the 1970s and 1980s, juvenile court dockets became increasingly jammed with criminal cases. According to the Department of Justice, the percentage increases in arrests from 1985 to 1994 have been greater for juveniles than for adults. During 1994 alone, 2.7 million juveniles were arrested. During the latter part of this century, juvenile courts that customarily provided social services in order to rehabilitate rather than punish lawbreakers were faced with an onslaught of children who were not simply wayward youths, but hardened repeat offenders. The 1980s witnessed an increasingly desperate outcry for courts to take more extreme measures to contain juvenile crime, which is assuming ever more serious forms.
It is almost a daily occurrence to turn on the nightly news and hear stories of ever increasing youths committing crimes. Even more alarming are the ages of these offenders. In Lake Station, Indiana, three first-grade students were plotting to kill a classmate. They even went so far as to draw a map of where the slaying was to take place. In California a six year old boy was charged with attempted murder of a 3 month old baby. In Southern California, three 17 year old girls were charged with false imprisonment, conspiracy, aggravated mayhem and torture when they held a 15-year-old runaway against her will and tortured her for hours. In Mount Morris Township, Michigan, a first-grader shot and mortally wounded another 6 year old one day after the two had quarreled in the schoolyard. When police arrest 14- and 15-year-olds who shrug off cold-blooded, unprovoked murder as a rite of passage, the rational public response is fear and anger. When 6 year olds shoot each other, the rational public response is shock. What makes a 6-year old point a gun at another and pull the trigger? How does a 6-year old know how to pull the trigger? They may understand from all the attention they receive afterwards, that what they did was naughty, but do they understand the gravity or seriousness of their actions? There is a presumption in the law that a child 6 years old is not criminally responsible and cannot form the intent to kill that is necessary for criminal prosecutions. Children at that age can be fighting with each other one minute and hugging each other the next.
What causes these juveniles to commit such crimes? Some theorize they are affected by problems such as poverty, family breakdowns, neglect, alcoholism and poor education. Upon identifying negative environmental factors, many regard delinquency...