refers to criminal
acts performed by juveniles
. Most legal systems
prescribe specific procedures for dealing with juveniles, such as juvenile detention centers. There are a multitude of different theories on the causes of crime
, most if not all of which can be applied to the causes of youth crime. Youth crime is an aspect of crime which receives great attention from the news media
. Crime committed by young people has risen since the mid-twentieth century, as have most types of crime. The level and types of youth crime can be used by commentators as an indicator of the general state of morality
and law and order
in a country, and consequently youth crime can be the source of ‘moral panics
’ Theories on the causes of youth crime can be viewed as particularly important within criminology
. This is firstly because crime is committed disproportionately by those aged between fifteen and twenty-five. Secondly, by definition any theories on the causes of crime will focus on youth crime, as adult criminals will have likely started offending when they were young. A Juvenile Delinquent is one who repeatedly commits crime, however these juvenile delinquents could most likely have mental disorders/behavioral issues such as schizophrenia
, post traumatic stress disorder
or bipolar disorder.
Theoretical Perspectives on Juvenile Delinquency
Rational Choice Theory
Classical criminology stresses that causes of crime lie within the individual
offender, rather than in their external environment. For classicists, offenders are motivated by rational self-interest
, and the importance of free will
and personal responsibility
is emphasised. Rational choice theory
is the clearest example of this approach. It states that people weigh the pros and cons of committing a crime, and offend when the former outweigh the latter. A central deficiency of rational choice theory is that while it may explain when and where people commit crime, it can’t explain very well why people choose to commit crimes in the first place. Neither can it explain differences between individuals and groups in their propensity to commit crimes. James Q. Wilson
said the conscience
of a potential young offender must be taken into account, and that these attributes are formed by parental
and societal conditioning
. Rational choice does not explain why crime should be committed disproportionately by young people, males
, city dwellers
, and the poor
. (Walklate: 2003 p.2) It also ignores the influence a young persons peers
can have on them, and the fact that some youths may be less able to accurately foresee the consequences of their actions than others. Rational choice theory does not take into account the proven correlations between certain social circumstances and individuals’ personalities
, and the propensity to commit crime.
Social disorganization theory
Current positivist approaches
generally focus on the cultural
environment to which a young person has been exposed, and how these conditions may be criminogenic. These theories de-emphasise individual agency, and stress criminal behaviour is largely determined by factors outside a young person's control.
Social ecology or social disorganisation theory
says crime is generated by the breakdown of traditional values
. This was most likely to occur in urban areas with transient
populations and high levels of migration
, which would produce the breakdown of family
relationships and community
, competing values, and increasing impersonality
is associated mainly with the work of Robert Merton
. He felt that there are institutionalized
paths to success
. Strain theory holds that crime is caused by the difficulty those in poverty
have in achieving socially valued goals by legitimate
means. As those with, for instance, poor educational attainment have difficulty achieving wealth and status by securing well paid employment, they are more likely to use criminal means to obtain these goals.
Merton's suggests five adaptations to this dilemma:
- Innovation: individuals who accept socially approved goals, but not necessarily the socially approved means.
- Retreatism: those who reject socially approved goals and the means for acquiring them.
- Ritualism: those who buy into a system of socially approved means, but lose sight of the goals. Merton believed that drug users are in this category.
- Conformity: those who conform to the system's means and goals.
- Rebellion: people who negate socially approved goals and means by creating a new system of acceptable goals and means.
A difficulty with strain theory is that it does not explore why children of low-income families would have poor educational attainment in the first place. More importantly is the fact that much youth crime does not have an economic motivation. Strain theory fails to explain violent crime, the type of youth crime which causes most anxiety to the public.
Related to strain theory is subcultural theory
. The inability of youths to achieve socially valued status
and goals results in groups of young people forming deviant
or delinquent subcultures
, which have their own values and norms. (Eadie & Morley: 2003 p.552) Within these groups criminal behaviour may actually be valued, and increase a youth’s status. (Walklate: 2003 p.22) The notion of delinquent subcultures is relevant for crimes that are not economically motivated. Male gang
members could be argued to have their own values, such as respect for fighting
ability and daring. However it is not clear how different this makes them from ‘ordinary’ non-lawbreaking young men. Furthermore there is no explanation of why people unable to achieve socially valued goals should necessarily choose criminal substitutes. Subcultural theories have been criticised for making too sharp a distinction between what is deviant and what is ‘normal’. (Brown: 1998 p.23) There are also doubts about whether young people consciously reject mainstream
values. (Brown: 1998 p.23)
The theory of Differential association also deals with young people in a group context, and looks at how peer pressure and the existence of gangs could lead them into crime. It suggests young people are motivated to commit crimes by delinquent peers, and learn criminal skills from them. The diminished influence of peers after men marry
has also been cited as a factor in desisting from offending. There is strong evidence that young people with criminal friends are more likely to commit crimes themselves. However it may be the case that offenders prefer to associate with one another, rather than delinquent peers causing someone to start offending. Furthermore there is the question of how the delinquent peer group became delinquent initially.
states that once young people have been labeled as criminal they are more likely to offend. (Eadie & Morley: 2003 p.552) The idea is that once labelled as deviant a young person may accept that role
, and be more likely to associate with others who have been similarly labelled. (Eadie & Morley: 2003 p.552) Labelling theorists say that male children from poor families are more likely to be labelled deviant, and that this may partially explain why there are more lower-class
young male offenders. (Walklate: 2003 p. 24)
Juvenile delinquency as a male phenomenon
Youth crime is disproportionately, committed by young men
theorists and others have examined why this is the case. (Eadie & Morley: 2003 p.553) One suggestion is that ideas of masculinity
may make young men more likely to offend. Being tough, powerful
, daring and competitive
may be a way of young men expressing their masculinity. (Brown: 1998 p.109) Acting out these ideals may make young men more likely to engage in antisocial and criminal behaviour. (Walklate: 2003 p. 83) Alternatively, rather than young men acting as they do because of societal pressure to conform to masculine ideals; young men may actually be naturally more aggressive, daring etc. As well as biological or psychological
factors, the way young men are treated by their parents may make them more susceptible to offending. (Walklate: 2003 p. 35) According to a study led by Florida State University
criminologist Kevin M. Beaver, adolescent males who possess a certain type of variation in a specific gene
are more likely to flock to delinquent peers. The study, which appears in the September 2008
issue of the Journal of Genetic Psychology, is the first to establish a statistically significant association between an affinity for antisocial peer groups and a particular variation (called the 10-repeat allele) of the dopamine
transporter gene (DAT1).
Individual risk factors
Individual psychological or behavioural
risk factors that may make offending more likely include intelligence
or the inability to delay gratification
, and restlessness
. (Farrington: 2002)
Children with low intelligence
are likely to do worse in school
. This may increase the chances of offending because low educational attainment, a low attachment to school, and low educational aspirations are all risk factors for offending in themselves. (Walklate: 2003 p. 2) Children who perform poorly at school are also more likely to truant
, which is also linked to offending. (Farrington: 2002 p.682) If strain theory or subcultural theory are valid poor educational attainment could lead to crime as children were unable to attain wealth and status legally. However it must be born in mind that defining and measuring intelligence is troublesome.
Young males are especially likely to be impulsive which could mean they disregard the long-term consequences of their actions, have a lack of self-control
, and are unable to postpone immediate gratification. This may explain why they disproportionately offend. (Farrington: 2002 p.682) (Walklate: 2003 p. 36) Impulsiveness is seen by some as the key aspect of a child's personality
that predicts offending. (Farrington: 2002 p.682) However is not clear whether these aspects of personality are a result of “deficits in the executive functions of the brain
”, (Farrington: 2002 p.667) or a result of parental influences or other social factors. (Graham & Bowling: 1995 p.32)
Family factors which may have an influence on offending include; the level of parental supervision
, the way parents discipline
a child, parental conflict or separation
, criminal parents or siblings, parental abuse or neglect
, and the quality of the parent-child relationship (Graham & Bowling: 1995 p.33)
Children brought up by lone parents
are more likely to start offending than those who live with two natural parents, however once the attachment a child feels towards their parent(s) and the level of parental supervision are taken into account, children in single parent families are no more likely to offend then others. (Graham & Bowling: 1995 p.35) Conflict between a child's parents is also much more closely linked to offending than being raised by a lone parent. (Walklate: 2003 p. 106)
If a child has low parental supervision they are much more likely to offend. (Graham & Bowling: 1995) Many studies have found a strong correlation between a lack of supervision and offending, and it appears to be the most important family influence on offending. (Farrington: 2002 p.610) (Graham & Bowling: 1995 p.38) When parents commonly do not know where their children are, what their activities are, or who their friends are, children are more likely to truant from school and have delinquent friends, each of which are linked to offending. (Graham & Bowling: 1995 p.45,46)
A lack of supervision is connected to poor relationships between children and parents, as children who are often in conflict with their parents may be less willing to discuss their activities with them. (Graham & Bowling: 1995 p.37) Children with a weak attachment to their parents are more likely to offend. (Graham & Bowling: 1995 p.37)
Delinquency Prevention is the broad term for all efforts aimed at preventing youth from becoming involved in criminal, or other antisocial, activity. Increasingly, governments are recognizing the importance of allocating resources for the prevention of delinquency. Because it is often difficult for states to provide the fiscal resources necessary for good prevention, organizations, communities, and governments are working more in collaboration with each other to prevent juvenile delinquency.
With the development of delinquency in youth being influenced by numerous factors, prevention efforts are comprehensive in scope. Prevention services include activities such as substance abuse education and treatment, family counseling, youth mentoring, parenting education, educational support, and youth sheltering.
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- Graham, J. & Bowling, B. (1995) Young People and Crime, Home Office Research Study No. 145, London: Home Office.
- Walklate, S. (2003) Understanding Criminology – Current Theoretical Debates, 2nd edition, Maidenhead: Open University Press.
- Eadie, T. & Morley, R. (2003) ‘Crime, Justice and Punishment’ in Baldock, J. et al (eds) Social Policy (3 rd edn.). Oxford: Oxford University Press
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