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Juvenile Justice – Identifying the Root of Drug–Related Offenses

By Jason K Jensen, Private Investigator

A. The Role Alcohol and Other Drugs Play in Juvenile Crimes and How Often Drugs Are Factors.

According to a recent study, alcohol and other drugs play a major role in juvenile offenses. The report suggests that as much as 80 percent of juvenile offenders are drunk or high, or both when they were arrested. According to the recent article published by the Columbia University, four out of five arrested teens and children who were arrested as a result of committing crimes were under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, tested positive, were arrested committing an alcohol or drug offense, or admitted being addicted. This 177 page report entitled Criminal Neglect: Substance Abuse, Juvenile Justice and The Children Left Behind was the result of a five year study of over 2.4 million juvenile arrests. In it, the Chairman of the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) accused the juvenile justice system of writing off these young Americans instead of helping them. That allegation is based on the fact that of those 2.4 million cases reviewed, only 68,600 individuals received drug or alcohol treatment of the 1.9 million juveniles who allegedly committed drug–related offenses. This report claims that only 3.6 percent of these youth offenders received drug and alcohol treatment as a condition of their disposition. For such an alarming high rate of drug or alcohol abuse by youth offenders, the low figure of actual treatment is just as alarming. If we in the juvenile justice system are aware of this disparity, it is our duty to make treatment more available to offenders as we strive to avoid these youth offenders from becoming career adult offenders.  (CASA, 2004)

These are markedly high numbers, in that “four out of five” cannot be dismissed as merely coincidental. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s interpretation of that act, drug addiction and alcoholism are both qualified disabilities under the law, (28 C.F.R. § 35.104(1)(B)(ii)), thus the formation of the Drug Courts for adults. Where are the drug courts for our youth offenders? If they say, “Our children are our future,” then we must strive to ensure our future does not become bleak. If these youth offenders are addicted to drugs or if they are alcoholics, according to the ADA, services or other reasonable accommodations must be made available to these offenders in the course of their treatment. (28 C.F.R. § 35.101, et seq.)

B. The Juvenile Offender’s Apparent Drug of Choice.

Our modern juvenile justice system and even the juvenile court itself was created in our society’s response to assist our wayward children from becoming career criminals. Society would rather have a youngster become a productive member of the community (Territo, Halsted, and Bromley, 2004). The most effective way to accomplish this goal is to treat the root of the problem, it is not a focus on guilt or innocence, rather the juvenile courts are to focus on rehabilitation. It would appear that the drugs and alcohol abuse by these youth offenders is the root of their criminal conduct. According to the Columbia University report (cited above), of those 80 percent youth offenders who were arrested under the influence of drugs or alcohol, 92 percent of them tested positive for marijuana and 14.4 percent tested positive for cocaine.

Traditionally, marijuana along with alcohol and tobacco are considered to be “gateway drugs.” The “gateway drug theory” is that theory describing the phenomenon in which an introduction to drug–using behavior through the use of tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana is related to subsequent use of other illicit drugs. (Melbourne, 1997).

Statistics show that youth offenders between 12 to 17–years of age with no other problem behaviors, those who drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes at least once in the past month are 30 times likelier to smoke marijuana than those who didn’t. (CASA, 1997) Among youth offenders between 12 to 17–years of age with no other problem behaviors, those who used all three gateway drugs (cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana) in the past month are almost 17 times likelier to use another drug like cocaine, heroin, or LSD. (CASA, 1997) It’s a scary prospect, that just because someone was a social drinker or enjoyed smoking a cigarette, he was posturing himself to possibly become a drug addict.

These gates are prime targets for early intervention and prevention strategies with our reported youth offenders. There is also a clear dose–response relationship between the quality and frequented use of gateway drugs and the likelihood of subsequent illicit drug use. It would stand to sound reasoning that preventing the use of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana has or would have a profound effect on subsequent criminality.

C. The Crimes Juvenile Offenders Are Committing; Differences from Adults.

There are two categories that youth offenses fall under: Delinquency offenses and status offenses. We will start with a review of status offenses. “Status offenses” are relatively minor. They are offenses that are defined largely by the youth offender’s age. Examples of these are curfew, possession of cigarettes or alcohol or their consumption. Delinquency offenses are the same as the crimes that would be committed if committed by an adult offender. Any crime that would be committed by a youth is a delinquency offense. Some examples are assaults, vandalism, and disorderly conduct. (Territo, Halsted, and Bromley, 2004)

Drug–related offenses are tracked by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Drug–related Offense” are crimes not limited to trafficking cases, where someone is charged with possession of an illicit drug or with an attempt to distribute. Directly, the possession, distribution and/or their arrangement of trafficking of illicit drugs is a major problem all by itself. But the HHS also tracks other crimes indirectly affected by drugs. These types of crimes include acts of violence, including domestic violence, retail theft, and yes even rape. (HHS, 2000)

There, if we can attribute the youth offender’s crime troubles to a drug problem. Who or what is responsible for the youth offenders’ drug problem. That is problem which apparently lies in the hands of the youth offender’s parental relationships. I would think it comes from the way their own parents handled the drug and alcohol use themselves. These parents usually taught their own kids to abuse tobacco, drugs or alcohol. When the parents of youth offenders become responsible for teaching their children how to commit drug–related crimes, then the problem becomes the community’s to correct before that behavior becomes a career.

As I see it, there are differences between adult drug–addicts and youth drug–addicts. First, the youth offender has not had the opportunity to abuse the drugs nearly as long, or had not “experimented” as broadly as an adult may have exposed himself/herself to. Secondly, a youth offender’s mind is likely more fragile than an adult’s, because it is likely still under development. As I see it, if we as a society is ever going to get control over a growing drug–addiction–crisis, the approach will be through education and awareness in the context described above. As parents, being aware of the problem gives us increased understanding and a desire to prevent future generations of addicts.

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