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tive policies have had a disproportionate impact on some minority groups, particularly black youngsters, an important issue that is explored in depth in Chapter 6.
Crime policies in the United States have been moving in the direction of treating juveniles as adults, even though many young people continue to grow up in settings that “fail to provide the resources, the supports, and the opportunities essential to a healthy development and reasonable preparation for productive adulthood” (National Research Council, 1993a:2)—settings that put young people at high risk for delinquency. In 1997, 40 percent of all those living below the poverty level in the United States were under the age of 18 (Snyder and Sickmund, 1999). Structural changes in society, including fewer two-parent homes and more maternal employment, have contributed to a lack of resources for the supervision of children's and adolescents' free time.
Government policy on juvenile delinquency must often struggle with the appropriate balance of concern over the healthy development of children and adolescents who violate the law and a public desire to punish criminals. This tension between rehabilitation and punishment when dealing with children and adolescents who commit crimes results in an ambivalent orientation toward young offenders. Criminal acts must be suppressed, condemned, and punished. Nevertheless, children and adolescents who commit criminal acts must be educated and supported in a growth process that should be the objective of government policy for all young people, including young offenders.
A number of cognitive and social features of childhood and adolescence influence the content of juvenile crime policy. Historically, children under the age of seven have been considered below the age of reason, and therefore unable to formulate the criminal intent necessary to be held accountable for criminal offenses. In practice, children younger than age 10 are rarely involved in the juvenile justice system. Arrests of those younger than 10 years old account for less than 2 percent of all juvenile arrests. By the age of 16 or 17, most adolescents are deemed to have sufficient cognitive capacity and life experience to be held accountable for intended wrongful acts. How to deal appropriately with those who commit crimes between the ages of 10 and 17 is the issue faced in juvenile crime policy. Adolescence is a period of dating, driving, and expanding social networks—all choices that can produce positive or negative consequences for the adolescent and the community. Public policies in the areas of education, medical care, alcoholic beverage control, and juvenile crime reflect beliefs that adolescents have not acquired the abilities or capacities necessary for adult status. Creating the appropriate public policy for a period of semiautonomy is no small task (Zimring, 1982). To