Arrest records indicate that the majority of crime committed in the United States is associated with youths more than any other demographic. Year after year, files from the Uniform Crime Reporting Program show that young people from their early teens to their early 20s account for the bulk of reported street crime. These offenses range from homicide to minor drug charges. Criminologists have long warned that if things don't soon change, we could see a major youth-fueled crime wave in America.
Cause: Rational Choice Theory
Criminologists are fairly divided when it comes to determining the causes of juvenile crime. Those who espouse the rational choice theory believe that the individual is responsible for himself, and blame can't be put on other environmental factors. Backers of this theory believe most juvenile delinquents and other criminals assess the possible crime, weigh the costs and benefits, and choose the decision they feel provides the best reward-to-risk ratio. Proponents of the theory believe that removing the opportunities as well as raising the price for criminal activity are the best ways to stop juvenile crime.
Cause: Social Structure Theory
Social structure theorists believe that the cause of juvenile (and other) crime is not within the person themselves but is due to external factors. These causes may be within an individual's social circumstances (for instance, a child who grows up with parents who smoke pot may be far more likely to view illegal drugs as a viable choice), or could be related to overarching social policies. These people believe crime is created by social structures such as poverty, a peer group who believes there is nothing wrong with crime, and a racial imbalance in the justice system.
Effects of Juvenile Delinquency
Regardless of the causes, juvenile delinquency carries a high cost to the American system. These costs can be measured in terms of money spent and lost, as well as moral costs to a society. Government is forced to pay more for increased policing, as well as the costs of the entire judicial system process (prisons, juvenile halls, court trials). Medical costs skyrocket due to violent crimes and drug abuse. Property theft and vandalism result in high costs in the public and private sector. Also, there's a societal cost whenever a citizen is removed from society and placed in a juvenile facility or jail, as this person is no longer a functional, contributing person.