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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Essay on Learning Disabilities and Juvenile Delinquency

            It is estimated that more than 30 million youths will never come into contract with juvenile justice system in the United States. (Laura Nissen1)  They are lucky because they will never be labeled as juvenile delinquents.  Yet, more than a million youth below the age of 18 will come into contact with the juvenile justice system. (Laura Nissen 1)  These are the ones who will be labeled as juvenile delinquents.  They will be placed inside institutions for rehabilitation. 

The youth today is facing much more difficult challenges and obstacles to their lives.  The world that they know now is very much different from that of their parents and their ancestors.  They are now more exposed to family problems, vices, antisocial behaviors and criminal acts.  Children are much more vulnerable to peer pressures and influences.  Statistics shows that “between 1979 and 1989 our youth population declined by 11% and the high school age population declined by 2.8 million.” (George Hart 1995).  This is followed by a steady increase in the number of youths placed in confinements.  Research shows that “our confined juvenile populations rose steadily and expenditures for juvenile correctional facilities grew from $1.3 billion to more than $2.8 billion dollars.” (George Hart 1995) The present trend of jurisdictional transfers of juvenile delinquents from juvenile courts to adult courts is making the problem of juvenile delinquency a lot worse.  It must be stressed that when juveniles are placed under the jurisdiction of adult courts they can be confined in prisons together with adults. 

            The reality is that we live in a world where the minors are capable of committing a crime as heinous that which an adult offender can commit.  The state therefore as the “parens patriae” or the parent or the guardian of its people is responsible for the welfare of its people, especially the minors.  It has the duty to pass laws designed to protect and care for the minors within its jurisdiction. The objective is to prevent these minors from further committing delinquent acts, to rehabilitate them and to restore them to mainstream society.  It must continue to develop policies and programs to address the needs of the youth and protect them from the risks that they are exposed to.  It is because of this reason that the juvenile justice system was created.

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            Several studies have been made so that the root cause of juvenile delinquency may be addressed.  It is worth noting that majority of the cases of juvenile delinquents have problems with school.  They are either not studying or they have dropped out of school.  Thus, it was suggested that juvenile delinquency has direct relationship with a child’s problems at school.  Perhaps, juvenile delinquency is a direct result of a child’s learning disabilities. 

            According to studies, children with disabilities represent 26% up to 73% of juvenile delinquents. (Katherine A. Larson 358)  Accordingly, three theories have been suggested to explain the possible correlation between learning disability and juvenile delinquency.  The first is the School Failure Hypothesis.  Essentially, this hypothesis states that a child who suffers from learning disability is more likely to fail in school.  The failure in school has a negative impact on a child’s self image.  To explain further, it is possible that children who suffer from learning disabilities are labeled by their teachers and peers in school as different.  Being labeled as different in schools negatively affects a child’s perception of himself which may cause him to alienate himself from his peers and his teachers.  Being labeled as different may also cause the child to reject his peers and his teachers and even the institution that they belong which is the school.  As these children rebels from social institutions, they are more likely to find acceptance from gangs and engage in delinquent activities.  Negative self-image further affects a child’s self image leading to dropping out of school which further leads to delinquency. 

Research affirms that children with learning disabilities have significantly higher rates of dropout from schools than children who do not have learning disabilities. (Katherine A. Larson 358).  Research also affirms that there is a strong link between difficulty in school and juvenile delinquency (Katherine A. Larson 358).  Some research, however states that appropriate intervention at school may decrease the chances of juvenile delinquency of individuals with learning disability. 

            Another theory which attempts to explain the relationship between learning disability and juvenile delinquency is the Susceptibility Theory.  The Susceptibility Theory explains that certain types of personality characteristics result in increased susceptibility to delinquent activity or in the probability of being adjudicated as delinquent.  Under this theory, it is not school failure that is the cause of delinquent behavior but rather the personality traits of a child with learning disabilities that makes him susceptible of delinquent behavior.  For instance, children with learning disabilities also lack impulse control, unable to anticipate the consequences of their actions and have poor social perceptions. (Shelly Wilson Hook citing Waldie & Spreen 1993)  These personality traits make them unable to recognize or interpret people leading to their delinquent behavior.  

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