Link Between Crimes and Substance Abuse in Juveniles and Its Prevention Strategies

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There has been several studies on the relationships between juvenile drug use and violent crimes. Although the primary focus of this review will juveniles in America, it is important to mention juvenile delinquency is not uncommon and is a very serious issue across the world. In a study conducted in New Delhi, the researchers came to the conclustion that there was a connection between substance abuse and criminal behavior amongst juveniles. Bristi Bartakai, Shridhar and Gautam Sharma (2016) studied a total of 487 juveniles and discovered that 86% of the juveniles had a history of substance abuse. The study also concluded that the more a juvenile was involved in substance abuse, the offenses committed by them had an occurrence of more severe violent behavior.

Over half of the juveniles who committed burglary was involved with substance abuse. Over 10% of the murders or attempted murders by juveniles involved with substance abuse. It is documented that there were about 1.47 million juveniles arrested in 2011 in the United States alone. Those statistics showed that juveniles accounted for 12.7% of all violent crimes across the nation (Hein, et al., 2017). It was learned from these statistics that most violent crimes were committed by older aged juveniles and that violent crimes lead to chronic offenses patterns. These chronic offense increased the chance of juveniles committing offenses once they became adults.

Violent crimes are defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Uniform Crime Report (UCR) defines it as any offense that involves force or the threat of force. A study that was conducted by the Center of Addiction produced startling results. The report discovered that out of 2.4 million juveniles arrested, there were 1.9 million juveniles who were victims of substance abuse. The report showed that drug and alcohol use were involved in about 69% of violent offenses committed by juveniles. A total of about 92% of juveniles arrested that tested positive for drugs were positive for marijuana and 14% were positive for cocaine (Califano, 2004).

According to juvenile crime facts (2018) provided by the United States Department of Justice, crime and drug abuse were rated as the first and third largest worries Americans had about the country. In a later study produced by the Center of Addiction, it was discovered that juveniles who witnessed the use of drugs chances increased for them becoming users. Juveniles who personally witnessed drug use had almost 10 times greater chance of becoming a user themselves (Teen Insights, 2019, p. 15).

Substance abuse in juveniles also causes other issues that may lead to criminal behavior. Involvement of substance abuse can have a negative effect on the relationship between a juvenile and their parents. Juveniles who suffer with substance abuse usually have issues with academics as well. Juveniles involved in substance abuse have seen a decline in grades and an increase in truancy. With the increase of truancy, there is a decline in the involvement of positive peers. The lack of positive peers and the increase in negative peers leads to delinquent behavior, which includes selling drugs. In 1988, a study conducted in Washington, D.C. provided information that juveniles who does both, sell and use drugs, were more likely to commit crimes than a juvenile who only done one of the two.

The act of selling drugs is a crime within itself and it is unsure if that offense was included with the data regarding the crime that a juvenile involved in both selling and uses commits. It was recorded that excessive or heavy drug users were more likely to commit property crimes than others (Crowe and Bilchik, 1998). Property crimes includes burglary, theft, and shoplifting. All these offenses are committed to gain money, which heavy drug users will probably commit to afford their substance abuse habits. Juveniles who sold drugs were more likely to commit crimes against persons (Crowe and Bilchik, 1988). These types of offenses include bodily harm and assaults which is typical for drug dealers. Drug dealers usually fight for control over “blocks” or neighborhoods, using violence to accomplish this goal. The involvement in drugs and selling could provide the gateway of a juvenile becoming involved in gangs, which increases delinquent behavior and more chronic offenses.

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Mulvey, Shubert, and Chassin (2010) followed a large group of serious juvenile offenders over the course of 7 years. They highlighted that chronic juvenile offenders were more likely than other juvenile offenders to be substance users. These users also qualified to have substance use disorders, which is a medical condition caused by using one or more substances. This disorder causes impairment and distress to the users. Substance use in and of itself is certainly not the primary cause of involvement in illegal activity. Substance use may initiate the risk of offending independently or in conjunction with other factors (Mulvey, et al., 2010).

Risk factors to take into consideration when discussing the reason for juvenile substance abuse could be due to socioeconomic status. A juvenile that lives in a neighborhood full of poverty does not have the same opportunities or outlets as someone in a higher class. This is not to say that drugs are not in higher economic classes, but they are found more in poverty areas. Many neighborhoods have gang members who sell drugs to provide for bad habits as well as their family. If you are raised and surrounded by negative behavior and drugs, it is only a matter of time that you begin to become engaged in one or both. The lack of assistance in these neighborhoods plays a significant factor.

Education opportunities and access to assistance in a neighborhood will cause an impact. Many juveniles receive false information from uncreditable sources, in regards to substance abuse. Primarily in regards to marijuana and the effects it has on the body. As a previous juvenile probation officer I have had many debates with juveniles on how marijuana decreases or hinders the development of the brain which will cause them to suffer socially and with their education. Parent and family history of drug use will be a concern as well.

As mentioned earlier, juveniles are likely to use illegal substances if they witness them being used. Using specific tools to determine the severity of the need for education programs are significant in solving this issue. The Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument (MAYSI), is a tool used in juvenile departments to assess certain needs of a juvenile. The instrument ask specific questions to determine if there are any suicidal ideations, anger irritabilities, and/or substance abuse needs. This could provide a small window or opening into what causes the behavior.

Parents and family members may have the largest impact on a juvenile. These are the people a juvenile begin to learn from at an early age prior to attending school and parents are were people develop majority of their beliefs from. There are several substance abuse prevention programs such as the Hanley foundation, Substance Abuse and Mental Illness Prevention (SAMHSA), and D.A.R.E program just to name a few. Majority of the programs are school-based that does not necessarily engage with the youth in a community-based environment, which is where most of the drugs reside. The lack of community-based programs may provide the interpretation that if the substance abuse does not occur on school premises, it is acceptable. Majority of violent crimes and use of substances does not occur on school premises. The increase of community-based programs will allow more opportunities for the parents of the youth to be more involved.

In summary, studies have shown that there is a relationship between substance abuse and youth involvement in violent crimes. Statistics have been found that majority of juveniles who have be arrested for committing violent crimes, test positive in drug screens for illegal substances. The family dynamics and socioeconomic status may assist with use of drugs and dilenquent behavior. There are programs that were created to assist in preventing juveniles from going down the path of substance abuse such as D.A.R.E. The concern is that majority of the programs are school-based and does not engage with the youth outside of that setting. The goal for this proposal is to shed light on this relationship and the importance to conduct more studies. The future of our youth depends on this and as adults, we should do everything we can to ensure they have an opportunity to develop into leaders.

If they continue to become victims of substance abuse and commit violent offenses that will lead them to extensive incarceration periods or adult criminal courts, they will not strive in any form or fashion. By conducting additional studies, a plan to improve and/or possibly eliminate the relationship is hoped to be the final product. The research studies provided in this review provides enough information to show that additional research needs to be conducted prove a deeper correlation among the two.

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