What Qualifies as Juvenile Delinquency? Defining precisely the types of behavior that should warrant involvement in the juvenile jus- tice system is complicated. For example, although murder is clearly a crime that would invoke court involvement, other forms of delinquency are less clear. Crimes committed by juveniles range from minor violations like vandalism and truancy to more serious crimes like rape and robbery. Should individuals who engage in less serious forms of delinquency be subjected to the same arrest and court processing as those who commit more serious crime? Understand- ing this issue requires us to examine a brief history of the concept of juvenile delinquency in the United States.
Those born in the 1980s and later have known only a juvenile justice system oriented toward punishment. Historically the juvenile justice system was oriented toward rehabilitation and care of delinquent youth . Rehabilitation or reformation is the foundation behind parens patria, one of the core concepts of the system. Parens patria (Latin for “parent of the nation”) refers to the court’s focus on the welfare of the juvenile. The court’s parent- ing role becomes particularly important in cases in which a juvenile is a victim of abuse or neglect.
The juvenile court assumes jurisdiction over behaviors that are illegal only for juveniles. These types of crimes are referred to as status offenses and include delinquent acts such as tru- ancy, running away, and violating curfew. Status offenses are considered fairly minor forms of delinquency and in some states may qualify for particular types of services, such as diversion or educational classes, rather than incarceration. For example, some states offer seminars both for youth who engage in chronic truancy and for their parents. The classes might discuss the impact of skipping school on the youth’s financial and emotional well-being.