Keith points out (see post immediately below) that the intolerable failure of adults in this country to enforce the laws against assault and theft as they apply to children leads some children “to drop out of school, or become depressed, or retreat into drugs and alcohol, or take their own lives.”
It also leads some of them to construct informal alternatives to state power for mutual self-defense. Alas, those institutions are also capable of collective aggression; we call them “gangs.” All the random psychologizing about how gang membership provides a substitute for the family misses its role in providing a substitute for the state. If we really want to shrink gang membership among juveniles, we might start out by making non-membership safer.
This is easier said than done. The lawless condition of teenagers has led to a situation where the rates of violence and theft are so high that enforcing those laws would require an intolerably heavy hand; the last thing we want is to bring more juveniles into contact with the existing juvenile justice system. So the campaign to re-incorporate juveniles into the civil community by enforcing that community’s laws with respect their crimes against one another would need to be carefully planned, done in small phases, and loudly pre-announced. But every day we delay the start of that process is another day in which we condemn our children to life in the Hobbesian State of Nature.