a) Learning Disabilities
Many youths commit delinquent acts because they lack experience and expertise in coping with the pressures of home, school, peers, and community. A child who chronically loses standing in the competition of the classroom may feel justified in settling the score outside, by violence, theft, and other forms of defiant illegalities. Other reasons for doing poorly are minimal brain dysfunction (MBD) and learning disabilities. MBD is defined as an abnormality in the cerebral brain structure which causes behavior that is injurious to a person’s lifestyle and social adjustment. One specific type of MBD which has gained considerable interest is learning disabilities (LD), a term that has been defined as children who exhibit a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using spoken or written languages. Then learning disabilities may be manifested in disorders of listening, thinking, talking, reading, writing, or arithmetic and include conditions which have been referred to as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, developmental aphasia, etc. They do not include learning problems which are due to visual, hearing or motor handicaps, to mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or to environmental disadvantages.3
The relationships between learning disabilities and delinquency has been highlighted by studies showing that arrested and incarcerated children have a far higher LD rate than children in the general population. While it is estimated that approximately ten percent of all youths have learning disorders; estimates of LD among adjudicated delinquents range from 26 to 73 percent.4
Many youths going into institutions are mentally retarded, have low IQ’s or learning disabilities. As such, they are educationally handicapped and far behind their grade levels in basic academic areas. Most of these youths dislike school and become bored with any type of educational program. Their boredom often leads to acting out and subsequent disciplinary problems.
b) Theories for Delinquency
In conjunction with having learning problems, there are other reasons/explanations for delinquency. Most delinquency theorists are strongly influenced by their perceptions of children’s relationships with elements of their social environment. Some theoretical views on the family and delinquency are: Classical Theory: Parents who don’t teach children the consequences of rule-violating behavior will encourage them to be law violators. Biological Theory: The predisposition to commit crime may be inherited or encouraged by family activities such as diet. Psychological Theory: Family interaction determines such important psychological dimension as personality, intelligence, and learning which have also been associated with delinquent behavior. Social Structure Theory: The area and environment a child grows up in is controlled by his or her family’s socioeconomic position. Social Process Theory: The attachment of a child to his or her family will negate delinquency promoting inducements. Children may learn deviant values from parents. Labeling Theory: Some youths are actually labeled as deviants within their own family and made to feel like outcasts. Also, the justice system is more likely to label youngsters from powerless families. Social Conflict Theory: Socioeconomic conditions within the capitalist system control both the family’s economic well being and their child-rearing practices. These in turn affect delinquent behavior.5
c) Gang Support
Gang activity is of an all time high, even though the media and politicians ignored the warning signs for many years or tried to minimize the signs of gang presence. Gangs normally try to recruit individuals between the ages of 14 and 24. They are known to provide faithful members with care, custody, and protection. Also, they literally take the place of the family. Exiting or termination from a gang family can be fatal. The typical pre-gang behavior includes truancy from school, poor grades, resentment of authority, frequent negative police contact, and a lack of hobbies or activities in free time. These behaviors are very similar to the ones of the status offender.
Many social factors beyond my control (family stressors, peer pressure, lack of education, no jobs and opportunities), will continue to hinder the delinquent from being a socially acceptable student. The underlying causes of his inappropriate behaviors must be addressed and dealt with. The system should make efforts to provide changes within the realm of the “people, places, and things,” that affects the juvenile’s lifestyle, so that he can become a motivated learner. As an educator, I envision this unit to empower non-conforming youths with coping skills that address the pressure of home, school, peers, and community.