Home Law International Handbook of Juvenile Justice
CAUSES OF JUVENILE CRIME
It is well established that the causes of juvenile crime are complex and interrelated making explanations unsuited to simplistic analysis. The waters are further muddied in distinguishing between correlates or markers of juvenile crime and actual causation factors; the latter defined as factors that when altered culminate in changed behavioural outcomes. Large-scale systematic investigation into the correlates or causal factors relating to juvenile crime has not been undertaken in Ireland to date. The existing research consists of a number of relatively small- scale studies based on relatively modest sampling frameworks (Carroll and Meehan 2007; Hayes and O’Reilly 2007). Nevertheless, the profile of juvenile offenders presented in these studies broadly resonates with the evidence from international studies in identifying early onset of offending, childhood trauma, behavioural and learning difficulties, problematic family relationships, parenting dynamics, poor educational outcomes, substance misuse, mental health issues, and anti-social peers with involvement in juvenile crime.
Alcohol plays a dominant role in explanations of juvenile crime in Ireland especially when combined with other substances. A national survey of 721
offenders aged 20 years or less on statutory supervision in 2012 found that 87 % were considered to have misused drugs (12 %>), alcohol (12 %>) or a combination of both (63 %) and in over 80 % of cases, substance misuse was linked to current offending (Horgan 2013). The level of reported substance misuse was similar for males and females and alcohol was the substance mostly commonly associated with current offending. The relationship between alcohol misuse and juvenile crime cannot be viewed in isolation from a normalised cultural acceptance of excessive alcohol consumption, ‘binge-drinking’, and public tolerance of drunkenness among the adult population in Ireland (Seymour and Mayock 2009).
The social context of young people’s exposure to criminal influences within their respective communities is not inconsequential in explaining pathways to offending behaviour. Previous research reports on young people’s access to drugs within impoverished communities, as well as the dangers involved when drug debts accumulate (Seymour and Butler 2008; Seymour 2013). Some are drawn further into criminality in an effort to clear drug-related debts and avoid the wrath of drug dealers. Others are lured by the prospect of financial gain and status in communities, where few legitimate opportunities exist. Vicious struggles for control of drugs markets in some of the main urban centres in Ireland has seen children and young people recruited into criminal gangs and exposed to increasing levels of violence over the last decade and beyond (Hourigan 2012).
Less well documented in the narrative of juvenile crime explanations is the broader systemic issue of inequality including limited access to adequate service provision. This is particularly relevant against the background that more than 11 % of children aged 0-17 years live in consistent poverty in Ireland and single adult households with children are recorded with the highest rate of consistent poverty (22.1 %) (CSO 2015). A study of the experiences and mental health needs of children and young people in the care and justice systems in Ireland reports an absence of child-centred care, limited focus on early intervention, resourcing problems, and deficiencies and inequities in terms of assessment and interventions (McElvaney et al. 2013). More broadly, a survey of 120 professionals working with young people in the juvenile justice system identified inadequate or unsuitable service provision in key areas including family support, education services, residential care placements, drug and alcohol treatment as well as mental health services (Seymour and Butler 2008). These findings demonstrate the gap that exists between the factors associated with juvenile offending and the absence of holistic approaches to address them.
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