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There was a time when innocence was associated with childhood, and when kids could only do harmless things. No more can this be the case. The spate of teenage violence in the United States over the last few years has transformed this innocence into a teenage nightmare. We will now try to understand killings in Guyana through explanations of violent crimes in the US.
The Jonesboro schoolyard killings snuffed out the lives of four girls and one teacher. Schoolyard shootings included 25 murders in 5 years from 1993 through 1998 in Grayson, Kentucky; Amityville, New York; Redlands, California; Blackville, South Carolina; Lynnville, Tennessee; Moses lake, Washington; Bethel, Alaska; Pearl, Mississippi; West Paducah, Kentucky; Stamps, Arkansas; and Jonesboro, Arkansas. In 1997 alone, 9 fatal schoolyard shootings occurred. The average age of these teenage killers is 15. These add up to 11 multiple killings, all commiitted by boys from rural areas. The Shabazz tragedy of the Malcolm X family, too, has sharpened the spotlight on violent crimes executed by teenagers.
Traditionally, teenagers mainly committed property crimes. But the increase of violent crimes among juveniles (persons under 18) induced the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to analyze arrest rates of juveniles for violent crimes. Teenage arrests for murder and non-negligent manslaughter increased by 14 percent in 1990, and continue to rise to 15 percent in 1995. For other violent crimes (aggravated assault and robbery), teenage arrests increased from 16 percent in 1990 to 19 percent in 1995.
Two examples of the violent horrors perpetrated by teenagers follow. A 12 year-old pleaded guilty to arson and murder, thereby confessing to killing his babysitter, aged 53, but denied that he did it to see how it feels like to kill somebody. Harvard University denied admission to Gina Grant in 1995, after having learnt that she beat her mother to death with a candlestick.
The legal situation in the US
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate pushed through a bill to enable teenagers to be tried as adults, and which is now law. This law would only provide federal funding to those states that would allow prosecutors and not judges to determine whether a teenager should be tried as an adult. Some criminologists have referred to these violent teenagers as “superpredators" to signal the intensity and frequency of teenage violence.
There are no age restrictions in 27 States in prosecuting a juvenile as an adult - Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota,Tennessee, Washington, Waskington, D.C., West Virginia, and Wyoming. Age 14 is the
minimum age at which a child can be tried as an adult in 17 states - Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. No juvenile under 15 can be prosecuted as an adult in Louisiana, under 13 in Illinois and North Carolina, under 12 in Colorado, under 10 in Vermont, and under 7 in New York.
We can look for easy targets to explain these gruesome juvenile killings. One easy target is television. But the American society has always historically been violent. The media merely reflect this societal violence. By overly focusing on television as a cause for teenage killings, we seek answers and solutions in the wrong places.
Juveniles still are under the protection of the family that is the primary agent for socializing the child. It plays a significant role in determining how the child copes with the larger society. The family is saddled with facilitating the juvenile's personality to take on the meanings of culture and opportunities of society, and directs it into functional behavior. When this functional behavior emerges, the family can be assured that it has solidified its social control over the child's upbringing.
Reckless (1971), a pioneer of social control theory, argues that every person is driven toward deviance. There are two controls - inner control system, and the outer control system. The inner control system is the person's capability to resist pressure and includes inner morality like conscience, and what is right from what is wrong. The outer control system comprises groups, such as, family, friends that influence an individual to stay away from deviant behavior. When outer controls function effectively, the individual operates within the rules. We now can see the importance of the family as an outer control system in the juvenile years.
Bonds with society
When a person experiences bonds with society, the more powerful are their inner controls (Hirschi, 1969). These bonds have to do with attachment, commitments, involvements, and beliefs. If these control systems are not strong, the person might be driven toward unacceptable behavior. About 20-25 percent of juveniles in the U.S. has histories of delinquency, and the lack of social control is a frequent condition for delinquency (a necessary, but not a sufficient cause). The social control theory is just one of several theories attempting to explain delinquent behavior. Later, we shall explore other theories to explain delinquency.
Techniques of neutralization
Many criminals (both teenagers and adults) believe that their criminal acts are logical and rational. To do this, they develop techniques of neutralization that enable them to justify illegal or deviant behavior, according to Matza (1957). The following mechanisms represent the forms for techniques of neutralization: denial of responsibility - criminals claim that they are not responsible for their actions; denying the injury - criminals claim that their actions cause no harm; denial of the victim - criminals claim that the victim deserves what he/she receives; condemnation of the authorities - criminals claim that those in authority are deviant; and appealing to higher principles - criminals claim that they are complying with rules that are better than those that exist. Criminals use these techniques to violate the rules of society without experiencing moral unworthiness.