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The meaning of Juvenile delinquency

Criminology and Penology



Differential Association Theory


Labeling Theory

Rational Choice Theory

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See also: Wikibooks:Social Deviance

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Juvenile delinquency 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 and politicians. Crime committed by
young people has risen since the mid twentieth century, as has most types of crime.
Actually, in the UK crime levels on the whole have decreased since the 1960's. 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’ [1] 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. [2] 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.

[edit] Theoretical Perspectives on Juvenile Delinquency

[edit] Rational Choice Theory
Classical criminology stresses 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[1].
Rational choice theory is the clearest example of this approach. It states that people
weigh up the pros and cons of committing a crime, and offend when the former outweigh
the latter. [3] 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. [4] Neither can it explain differences between individuals
and groups in their propensity to commit crimes. James Q. Wilson said the conscience
and self-control of a potential young offender must be taken into account, and that these
attributes are formed by parental and societal conditioning. [1] Rational choice does not
explain why crime should be committed disproportionately by young people, males, city
dwellers, and the poor. (Walklate: 2003 p.2)[4] 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. [4] Rational choice theory
does not take into account the proven correlations between certain social circumstances
and individuals’ personalities, and the propensity to commit crime. [5]

[edit] Social disorganization theory

Current positivist approaches generally focus on the cultural and socio-economic

environment to which a young person has been exposed, and how these conditions may
be criminogenic. [6] These theories de-empathize individual agency, and stress criminal
behaviour is largely determined by factors outwith a young persons control. [1] Social
ecology or social disorganisation theory says crime is generated by the breakdown of
traditional values and norms. [1] 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.

[edit] Strain theory

Strain Theory is associated mainly with the work of Robert Merton. He felt that there are
institutionalized paths to success in society. Strain theory holds that crime is caused by
the difficulty those in poverty have in achieving socially valued goals by legitimate
means. [1] 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. [5] Merton's suggests five adaptations to this

1. Innovation: individuals who accept socially approved goals, but not necessarily
the socially approved means.
2. Retreatism: those who reject socially approved goals and the means for acquiring
3. 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.
4. Conformity: those who conform to the system's means and goals.
5. 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.

[edit] Subcultural theory

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)

[edit] Differential association

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 Marriage|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.

[edit] Labeling theory

Labeling theory 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)
[edit] Juvenile delinquency as a male phenomenon

Youth crime is disproportionately committed by young men. Feminist 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,
aggressive, 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)

[edit] Risk factors

[edit] Individual risk factors

Individual psychological or behavioural risk factors that may make offending more likely
include intelligence, impulsiveness or the ability to delay gratification, aggression,
empathy, 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)

[edit] Family environment

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
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)

[edit] Delinquency prevention

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.

[edit] See also

 Deviant behavior
 Juvenile delinquency in the United States
 Person in need of supervision
 Status offense
 Teen courts
 Victimology
 Youth
 Youth court

[edit] References
1. ^ a b c d e f Eadie, T. & Morley, R. (2003) ‘Crime, Justice and Punishment’ in Baldock, J. et
al (eds) Social Policy (3 rd edn.) Oxford: Oxford University Press
2. ^ Walklate, S (2003) Understanding Criminology – Current Theoretical Debates, 2nd
edition, Maidenhead: Open University Press.
3. ^ Farrington, D.P. (2002) ‘Developmental criminology and risk-focused prevention’ in
M. Maguire et al (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (3rd edn.). Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
4. ^ a b c d Walklate, S (2003) Understanding Criminology – Current Theoretical Debates,
2nd edition, Maidenhead: Open University Press.
5. ^ a b Brown, S (1998) Understanding Youth and Crime (Listening to youth?),
Buckingham: Open University Press.
6. ^ Walklate, S (2003) Understanding Criminology – Current Theoretical Debates, 2nd
edition, Maidenhead: Open University Press.

 Brown, S. (1998) Understanding Youth and Crime (Listening to youth?),

Buckingham: Open University Press.

 Farrington, D.P. (2002) ‘Developmental criminology and risk-focused prevention’

in M. Maguire et al (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (3rd edn.).
Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 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

[edit] Bibliography
 E. Mulvey, MW Arthur, ND Reppucci, "The prevention and treatment of juvenile
delinquency: A review of the research", Clinical Psychology Review, 1993.
 Edward P. Mulvey, Michael W. Arthur, & N. Dickon Reppucci, "Prevention of
Juvenile Delinquency: A Review of the Research", The Prevention Researcher,
Volume 4, Number 2, 1997, Pages 1-4.
 Regoli, Robert M. and Hewitt, John D. "Delinquency in Society", 6th ed., 2006.
 Siegel, J Larry. "Juvenile Delinquency with Infotrac: theory, practices and law",
 United Nations, Research Report on Juvenile Delinquency (pdf).
 Zigler E, Taussig C, Black K., "Early childhood intervention. A promising
preventative for juvenile delinquency", Am Psychol. 1992 Aug;47(8):997-1006.
 Gang Cop: The Words and Ways of Officer Paco Domingo (2004) by Malcolm
 The American Street Gang: Its Nature, Prevalence, and Control (1995), by
Malcolm W. Klein
 American Youth Violence (1998) by Franklin Zimring
 Street Wars: Gangs and the Future of Violence (2004) by Tom Hayden
 Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun (1995) by Geoffrey Canada
 Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic (1996) by James Gilligan
 Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them (1999) by
James Gabarino
 Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal Youth (2005) by John Hubner
 Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Expose of the Dark Side of American Policing
(2005) by Norm Stamper