Is it Possible to Prevent Juvenile Delinquency?

What to do with underage law-breakers, juvenile delinquents, has stirred debate for decades.  Many theories of behavior seek to explain criminal acts, including juvenile delinquency. Some include the classical focus on freewill, the deterministic belief that external events cause crime, biological theories that stress internal human factors, and psychological theories (Champion, 2010).  There are many others, but none completely explain all human behavior, including juvenile delinquency.

Regardless of this void of facts, some organizations have developed that are helping reduce the recidivism rate among juveniles.  Among these may be found glimmers of evidence that may, like bread crumbs, lead to the answers of some of the most puzzling aspects of human behavior.

Two Local Organizations Helping Juveniles

English: Looking south at Boys and Girls Clubs...
English: Looking south at Boys and Girls Clubs of Hudson County on a cloudy morning. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In nearly every major community nationwide, chapters of the organizations Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Boys & Girls Clubs are actively striving to help reduce recidivism rates among juveniles.

Both organizations boast considerable success and according to outside sources, such boasts appear true.   In fact, one study of Big Brothers/Big Sisters indicates that youth who participate in the program learn to improve school and home relationships, are less inclined to substance abuse, and more inclined to graduate (Tierney, Grossman, and Resch, 1995).

A Harris survey of Boys & Girls Clubs of America indicates a similar trend, with 57% surveyed stating that their life was saved through the program (Boys and Girls Club of Acadiana, 2010).

Why are Organizations like Big Brothers/Sisters and Boys/Girls Village Effective in Reducing Juvenile Delinquency/Recidivism?

Ignoring popular notions of human aberrant behavior, these two organizations are achieving success through the emphasis and teaching of sound values.  Boys & Girls Clubs focus on building character and leadership skills in participants and according to their website, 83% of Big Brothers/Big Sisters participants surveyed attributed the values taught to them to be the greatest factor in their success (Boys & Girls Clubs of America, 2011; Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Acadiana, 2010).

If one examines every theory of behavior that relates to criminal behavior, a key factor that is missing is the impact of values.  The classical school comes close with the concept of freewill but falls short because of the theory focuses on such behaviors as being either good or evil—such concepts are certain to fail in a secular society (Champion, 2010).

The evidence, however, that values or moral beliefs have a major impact on behavior is overwhelming when looking at these two organizations that have helped so many young people off the road to ruin.  By providing mentoring as in the case of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, young people are taught how to make wise choices such as why it is good to remain drug and alcohol free.

All volunteer “Bigs” are screened and trained in how to work with the child; they are required to commit a minimum of two days a month to their little brother or sister (Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Acadiana, 2010).

Through classes and activities, Boys & Girls Clubs of America teach life and health skills that provide participants with the knowledge needed to navigate the difficult teen years.  Some of the specific skills taught through these classes include how to build healthy relationships with others, good nutrition, and even internet safety (Boys & Girls Clubs of America, 2011).

Lower Eastside Girls Club 56 1st Street
Lower Eastside Girls Club 56 1st Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although these organizations developed independently of the Criminal Justice system, most states now provide partial funding for the programs.  In addition, many courts work with these organizations to encourage youthful offenders to participate.

Sigmund Freud proposed a concept of human development that plays into this equation.  He suggested that human development progresses in stages and in some people, these stages of growth become stunted for various reasons.

Regardless of the reasons, when growth does not continue, a person remains in many ways a child, though physically grown (Champion, 2010).  Given this idea, if a person has the emotional and mental maturity of a child but the rights, freedom of movement, and abilities of an adult, there is little wonder that such a person will eventually run afoul of the law.

Idle time is the devil’s playground?

In the case of juveniles, one need simply add in boredom that stems from too much idle time and the recipe for delinquency is complete.

However, Freud fell short because his theory sought to retrain ideas of aberrant behavior to the individual only through mental processes; values did not factor in.

Abraham Maslow later hypothesized that behavior is driven by needs, but many of his ideas failed to gain ground because these did not manage to explain all behavior (Oakes, C.J. 2012).

Today, there is a theory that encompasses all human behavior that can be applied with good results to juvenile justice.  This theory considers not only the factors of development promoted by Freud, the needs factors presented by Maslow, and the element of freewill found in the Classical theory of Criminal Justice, but also considers the facts displayed in such programs as Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Boys & Girls Club of America.  This theory is founded on the idea that everyone simply seeks to meet their needs based on the values they have learned.

A New Way to Look at Old Theories

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smok...
Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smoking cigar. Español: Sigmund Freud, fundador del psicoanálisis, fumando. Česky: Zakladatel psychoanalýzy Sigmund Freud kouří doutník. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In looking to most of the old and new theories relating to the human aberrant behavior called crime, including how these relate to juvenile crime, one thing stands out:  Each theory contains elements that when tested empirically, stand sound, but each is missing pieces of the complete picture.

This is a good analogy for each picture of human behavior (individual theories), when looked at from a distance, looks much like pieces of a larger picture (a unified theory).  The theoretical situation is much like the story of the six blind men each touching different parts of an elephant and reporting with conviction that each knows the correct appearance of the beast.  All are partially right, yet all are wrong.  This seems to be the situation in the Psycho-Social sciences, Criminal Justice included (C. J. Oakes, 2012).

Hence, this new theory contains elements of nearly all prior science into the subject of behavior, especially criminal behavior, with a view to behavior modification techniques.  The key elements of this theory are:

  1. The brain is an organ.
  2. The mind can control the brain within limits
  3. All humans have the same basic needs
  4. There are 12 needs comprised of 3 facets and 4 forms; combined, this array of needs can be called motivators
  5. All behavior is driven or motivated by this array of needs
  6. All behavioral choices are filtered according to individual values
  7. There are six methods for determining self-accepted values; these can be called values systems (Lewis, 2003)
  8. Conflicting needs and/or values create mental or emotional stress; such conflicts often appear/are manifested as psychological illness
  9. Mental or emotional confusion is eliminated when needs are fulfilled according to self-accepted values
  10. To be wholly healthy, self-accepted values must align with known positive values

In looking at the success stories of both Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, one thing stands out:  These organizations provide the structure and understanding needed to determine sound values. Most such organizations provide suitable training by helping young people decide what are values for living a better life and which values are harmful.

In teaching sound values along with methods of better determining ones individual values, these organizations are helping young people satisfy their needs in ways that are acceptable to the whole of society. In this way, these organizations are transforming lives using the approach defined in this new theory, lending credence to the validity of this theory.


English: Group photo in front of Clark Univers...
English: Group photo in front of Clark University Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung; Back row: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi. Photo taken for Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts publication. Česky: Foto z Clarkovy univerzity roku 1909. Dole (zleva) Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung, nahoře (zleva) Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As most of the research located on these two organizations appear to be solicited, yet sound (Tierney, Grossman, and Resch, 1995), it is difficult to determine which is having a greater success; both organizations appear to be improving every year and one may even attribute recent downturns in juvenile crime to such programs.

On the one side, there is an emphasis on one-on-one relationship building via the Big Brothers/Big Sisters.  Then on the other side are the very structured, well-organized Boys & Girls Clubs of America; each very effective, yet very different.

There are some common threads:  Each is sincere in their efforts.  It is this sincerity that permits each organization to travel a slightly different path and find the same destination.   Each stresses values that most agree are sound:  Honesty, dignity, respect, and determination to name a few.  So for the most part, each organization manages to help juveniles learn a better path.

Further study into these groups is needed. Such research would consider the commonalities among successful juvenile programs and how these relate to values research.  Then it will be possible to develop future programs to prevent juvenile delinquency.


  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of Acadiana. (2011). We Are Here to Start Something. Retrieved from
  • Boys & Girls of America. (2010). Boys and Girls Club of Acadiana. Retrieved from
  • Champion, D. J. (2010). The Juvenile Justice System: Delinquency, Processing, and the Law (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentis Hall.
  • Lewis, H. (2013). A Question of Values: Six Ways We Make the Personal Choices That Shape Our Lives. Mt. Jackson, VA: Axios Press
  • Oakes, C. J. (2012). Why We Do What We Do. Retrieved from (currently unpublished)
  • Tierney, J. P., Grossman, J. B., & Resch, N. L. (1995). Making a Difference:  An Impact Study of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Public/Private Ventures, (), .

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