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Juvenile Delinquency

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JUVENILE DELINQUENCY One of the most important of all social problems in connection with adolescence is that of delin quency. A certain amount, given a proper setting, safeguards, and antecedents, is altogether normal. What middle-aged citizen does not look back to adolescent escapades which would have come with in the law if the law had happened to be busy at that particular spot and moment; within at least that degree of disfavor which the French happily call "contraventions," and for which we have no less awkward term than "violation of city ordi nances?" If there is a citizen who has no such memory, I fear that in his youth he was not looked upon as normal by his contemporaries. Judge Lindsey points out that it is not for the most part courts, not even juvenile courts after they are es tablished, that deal with delinquents. Parents, teachers, Sunday-school teachers, and neighbors are the real social agencies for dealing with delinquents; for quite literally all healthy normal children, girls as well as boys, are likely now and then to trans gress the rules. If they are fortunate in their try and-fail experiments, in their gradual adaptation of themselves to their environmental condition, they come into contact with indulgent but firm dis ciplinarians, parents, teachers, or it may be police men, who check their wrong actions without caus ing that deep-seated resentment, that spiritual re volt against social control, which is the beginning of an anti-social career of crime.

A large number of offenses are, of course, purely conventional, subject to a necessary condemnation because of the environment in which they occur, but in themselves harmless or even wholly com mendable when age and need of physical expression are considered. Playing ball is a normal function of youth in a proper place. Driving a bicycle or a motor-cycle or an automobile beyond the speed recognized as desirable on the city streets is quite compatible with a law-abiding spirit if done in an appropriate environment. We need not multiply illustrations. The surprising thing is that young people, on the whole, so naturally cease to be "natural," so normally fit themselves into the "ab normal" conventions we impose upon them, so readily demonstrate that they are fitted for a social life, better fitted by the complex nature which is their social heritage than for a savage life.

And so, when it comes to the delinquent boy in a narrower sense, it is as well to recognize that his early offenses may differ mainly in degree and by accident from the offenses of other boys who are not called delinquent. There is a difference; but,

except in the case of the mentally defective, a large proportion of those who are convicted and sent to reformatories, this difference between the delinquent and the normal child is one not difficult, or at least not impossible, to bridge.

Delinquents before the courts and in reforma tories very often are found to be subnormal in physical condition, in weight, in strength, in de velopment, in vitality, in acuteness of senses. It is sometimes because of such disadvantages that they are caught, while their more alert and vigor ous companions escape. If these more alert and vigorous delinquents escape to the care and custody of indulgent but firm and skilled disciplinarians in the person of their own parents, or others who have influence over them, no harm may come of their having escaped, but rather good. If, however, they escape from their first experiences without warning or arrest, to fall upon other lines, there may be very serious consequences indeed.

On the whole, it is better for the petty thief, the juvenile law-breaker, to be caught. The one who is taken into custody is reasonably certain in the present state of public opinion—it was not always so—to have his first chance to reform, as a result of warning and paternal counsel. He is only too likely to have his second and third chance zo 8 many chances that if he does not profit by them he may come to lose respect for authority and to speculate with adolescent precocity on the curious turns of the wheel by which an all-too-blind justice distributes her penalties and favors. This was especially so in the still so recent dark ages, when youthful and adult criminals were penalized ac cording to a fixed scale of punishments, rigidly prescribed in the penal codes—so many months or years for one offense and so many for another, regardless of the personal equation, regardless of all the differing traits and circumstances which, rightly understood, give the only basis for deciding what treatment is desirable. It is better for the boy and the girl who go wrong to be caught, but it is well that society, having made the capture, does not itself go wrong.

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