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DELINQUENCY IN WARTIME
To hear some people talk or to read some news releases, you would think that juvenile delinquency was something new. It is not something that suddenly appeared since the war. We had a great deal of delinquency before the war. In 1940, 4063 children were brought before the Juvenile Court of Los Angeles County. In 1941 there were 4762 cases, an increase of 17.2%. Then in December, 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It seems that not many people outside of those working directly with the Juvenile Court were aware of the great increase in juvenile delinquency which occurred in 1941, but everyone seems to have expected a tremondous increase after Pearl Harbor and some people almost seem to be disappointed that the increase did not come up to their expectations.
Strangely enough the increase in the number of Juvenile Court cases since Pearl Harbor has been much smaller than the increase which occurred in 1941. During the first six months of 1942 we had 5.2% more Juvenile Court petitions than in the first six months of 1941.
The question naturally arises as to why delinquency increased so much in 1941 (before the war) and why the rate of increase dropped so markedly since the war. The increase in delinquency in 1941 has many interesting implications which cannot be adequately discussed in the limited time at my disposal today. However, it appears that this increase was due to certain factors related to the sudden economic expansion of 1941.
In this County the index of business activity published by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce rose from 121.3 in 1940 to 147.6 in 1941 as a result of the tremendous sums being spent for war production, and past experience has shown that in boom years delinquency increases. 1929 was such a year and produced a record number of juvenile court cases, whereas there was a great decrease in delinquency during the depression years, not only in Los Angeles but in most communities throughout the United States. Why should this be so? Apparently it is because in prosperous times there is a tendency for parental supervision and control to be weakened. Many women go to work away from home, leaving young children without sufficient supervision. Divorce rates increase, the consumption of liquor soars, commercialized recreation draws children and adults more and more away from the primary circle of the home, and there is greater temptation and greater opportunity for children to get involved in delinquency.
In a paper given by Dr. Martha Elliott at the California Conference of Social Work in San Francisco last April, she called attention to children's need for emotional security within the
― 2 ―family group and within the community. In time of peace emotional disturbance among children is caused primarily by maladjustment, separation of parents, poor parent-child relations, lack of acceptance by the family or the community, and from many other social and economic factors essential to the child's basic sense of security. In time of war all of these causes are exaggerated. The family is broken by the father's entrance into the armed forces or by his leaving home for work, or by the absence of the mother from home in order to work. The family income may be seriously reduced if the father goes into the armed forces, or very materially increased if both father and mother are employed in defense activities. Adolescent children earn what for them is high wages. All of these things tend to break down the established way of life and cause a sense of insecurity and unrest.
In view of these facts we might expect delinquency to increase just as rapidly in 1942 as in 1941 since the trend of women into industry and the other factors which have been mentioned are continuing at an accelerated pace. The fact that delinquency has not increased more than 5.2% since the war is due to certain aspects of the war which have caused decreases in certain types of offenses as well as increases in others.
For example, the military service has taken a large segment of the male population away from the community including, of course, many potential law violators. As a result, the records of the Los Angeles Police Department reveal a 19% decrease in the total number of crimes reported during the first seven months of 1942 as compared to the corresponding period of 1941, this decrease occurring in nearly every category of offense.
The outstanding result of the war in respect to juvenile delinquency has been the drop in auto thefts which followed the rationing of tires and cars. During the first six months of 1942 we had 30.7% fewer cases of auto theft in Juvenile Court than in the corresponding period of 1941. Juvenile auto thefts are almost invariably due to the combination of a key left in the dash-board of a car and a boy who is not able to resist the temptation of joyriding in it. A car owner who makes it so easy for a youngster to steal his car is setting a trap which may cause great unhappiness to a boy and his parents. We have never been able to persuade people to take the keys out of their cars for altruistic reasons but since tires and cars have been rationed many people have begun to take a little more care of their property. As a result, from present indications, we will have about 225 fewer cases of auto theft this year than last year. This especially significant in view of the fact that all other types of juvenile theft have increased. The total increase in cases of grand theft, petit theft, burglary, robbery and forgery amounts to 21.8%.
The trend in certain other types of cases is interesting. There was a decrease in the number of children brought into court
― 3 ―because of transiency. There was an increase in the number of children from unfit homes. There was a slight increase in the number of sex problems (4.7% for boys, 5.8% for girls.) During the first six months of 1942 we had only one case of negligent homicide as compared to eight in the first six months of 1941. There was also an increase in truancy cases.
We have heard a great deal about the problem of delinquency among Mexican children in Los Angeles lately, and I am afraid that many people have an incorrect impression. For some years the Probation Department, police authorities and social agencies have been faced with the problem of gang fights among Mexican children. It is estimated that there are approximately 36,000 Mexican children between the ages of 6 and 18 in this County, many of them coming from poverty stricken homes, with foreign born parents, and reared in the disturbing atmosphere of economic stress, cultural conflict, and social isolation. Among this large number of children there are some aggressive, maladjusted, and sometimes abnormal elements, just as there are in every racial group. The juvenile gang problem which has been acute at one time or another in practically every large American city, has been particularly serious among these Mexican children. Two years ago an intensive study was made of this situation which was at that time acute in the Clanton Street area, and some progress was made in coordinating the efforts of public and private agencies for a systematic attack on this problem. This year there have been several serious outbreaks of gang fighting, and at present the public and private agencies concerned with recreation and the prevention and correction of delinquency are working together through a committee organized at the suggestion of the Judge of the Juvenile Court to further reinforce and coordinate their efforts. Much progress has been made and is being made, but we must not expect to find a panacea, nor should we lose our sense of proportion. The great majority of Mexican children are not involved in these delinquent activities. As a matter of fact, the total number of Mexican boys brought into Juvenile Court during the first six months of 1942 showed no increase over the number in Court during the corresponding period of last year. An analysis of their cases shows that auto thefts committed by Mexican boys decreased more than the total rate of decrease and that other types of theft committed by Mexican boys increased only 6% (as compared to the 21.8% increase in the total for all racial groups). In other words, there is no "wave of lawlessness" among Mexican children, although there is a specific problem of gang violence that must be, and is being dealt with.
As far as the so-called gang warfare among Mexican children is concerned there are two things that seem to be of paramount importance. One is, that the law enforcement agencies quickly remove from the community those juveniles who are the leaders and who are guilty of acts of vandalism and violence. Secondly, and even more important, is the necessity to let the thousands of
― 4 ―American children of Mexican descent know that the courts and social agencies and the people of Los Angeles are proud to have them in the community and guarantee them the full protection and rights of our Constitution and of our American way of life.
The instances of gang fighting among Mexican youths which have been so well publicized have naturally appealed to the imagination of the public (including suggestible youths who might like to see their names in the papers too.)
There is, however, another racial group which, like the Mexican population, suffers from serious economic and social disadvantages, and among whom there has been a much more serious increase in juvenile delinquency. There was an increase of 111.8% in the number of Negro boys brought into our Juvenile Court in the first six months of 1942 as compared with the first six months of 1941.
In 1941 Negro boys constituted 7.1% of the total number of boys' cases. During the first half of 1942 the percentage rose to 11%. In contrast to this the Mexican boys who formed 28.1% of the total cases in 1941 were only 25.5% of the total in 1942. Other boys constituted 65% of the total in 1941 as compared to 63.5% of the total in 1942. In other words, the Negro group has increased much more than other racial groups. This situation illustrates the fact that if we are to deal with these problems intelligently we must be guided by objective knowledge of the facts and not be unduly influenced by the newspaper sensation of the moment.
We have been hearing a great deal about England recently. Reports of increasing delinquency in England have been quoted very freely, and all sorts of statements have been based upon scraps of statistics from that embattled land. Certainly we would expect an increase in delinquency in a country which has been so severely bombed as England, where one-fifth of all the homes have been damaged by bombs, where hundreds of thousands of children had to be hastily taken from their homes in mass evacuation, and where 55% of all the people, including a large proportion of the women, are engaged in war work or military service. As a result of these conditions it appears that the delinquency rate in England has now nearly reached the level of delinquency in the United States. It is impossible to make an exact comparison as to delinquency in different countries but authorities have generally agreed that delinquency rate has been higher in the United States than in any other civilized nation. (Carr: "Delinquency Control") It is meaningless to speak of increases unless we know what level we are starting from, and I am afraid that some of us have forgotten that we in the United States begin to count our increases from a much higher level than does England.
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So far I have been discussing the effects of the war upon juvenile delinquency. Perhaps more attention should be given to the fact that juvenile delinquency has a very serious effect upon the war. Recently a boy in New Jersey, in attempting to burglarize a store, started a fire which resulted in the destruction of $250,000 worth of property. In this time of war emergency that kind of loss is equivalent to sabotage. In some cases of sabotage the effect of juvenile delinquency is not so serious as in that case. Perhaps it is just a stolen car damaged or the tires blown out; perhaps it is merely a home burglarized and personal property stolen or destroyed. Nowadays we are trying to conserve every scrap of useful material, and the material damage resulting from delinquency in Los Angeles County alone would make a staggering total if it could be added up, but the material damage caused by juvenile delinquents is not the most serious way in which delinquency impedes our war effort. More serious is the loss of man power. To take a single example: there are in excess of 600 youths at the Preston School of Industry who might be contributing to victory either by serving in the military forces, working in agriculture, industry, or preparing themselves for future service. Instead of that they are hindering the war effort by requiring special care and supervision at a time when our nation needs the aid of every citizen. However, it is not the juvenile delinquents only who must be considered in this connection for we know that a majority of our adult offenders began their criminal careers as juvenile delinquents. At the present time there are approximately 18,000 adults in the jails and prisons in California. These people are not in a position to aid the war effort but are a dead-weight interfering with the defense of our country. In other words, I believe it is important for us to realize that juvenile delinquency constitutes a kind of "Fifth Column" in our midst and must be combatted not only for humanitarian reasons but as a measure of national defense.
In the face of the fact that the war is resulting in an increase of delinquency and that delinquency is a threat to our national safety, we find that facilities for combatting juvenile delinquency are being curtailed and eliminated. The crime prevention projects of the W.P.A. have been withdrawn, W.P.A. Playground Directors are no longer available, CCC Camps have been closed, and other Federal activities in the field of delinquency prevention have been curtailed. At the same time volunteer and professional personnel in the field of recreation, education, and social case work have been increasingly diverted into the war effort. Play-grounds have been requisitioned for military use. Perhaps these things, are unavoidable but I wonder if some of them are not due to a mistaken feeling that delinquency prevention is not essential. In addition to these factors we see increasing numbers of unsupervised children as a result of women going into war industry and war services.
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We have been talking about trends in delinquency and the seriousness of the problem in Los Angeles County at present. The war has intensified this problem. On the other hand, juvenile delinquency is an obstacle to victory, sabotaging essential materials, and reducing our manpower. Moreover, the agencies attempting to prevent delinquency and to redirect delinquents are being seriously hampered by loss of personnel and curtailment of programs.
I have no panacea to suggest. This is not a problem that can be solved overnight. There is no magic formula by which the causes of delinquency can be suddenly abolished. Good intentions are not sufficient to do the job. First of all, we must get at the facts objectively and not be governed by subjective impressions or wishful thinking. In the second place, we must be willing to face the facts, unpleasant as they may sometimes be, and not evade important issues for fear of hurting someone's feelings. In the third place, sustained effort is needed, not just the temporary enthusiasm of the moment but the unselfish continuing loyalty and hard work, without which no program can be effective.
Speakers at this conference were requested to make recommendations which in their opinion would be of value both in long time planning and in helping to solve immediate needs. In compliance with this request I venture to offer the following recommendations which may be worthy of some consideration:
We talk so much about winning the war. It seems to me that it is time each one of us realizes that the job of winning the war begins right here with you and with me, and not with the fellow next door or the man across the street.