Professor Virginia Jeronimus
3, April 2016
Social Theories of Delinquency
The problem of juvenile delinquency isn’t a new concept, as the earliest dates of laws regarding children appear to be around 4000 B.C. It has been addressed in many ways ranging from treatment themed approaches to litigation and even imprisonment. It is foolish to argue that is isn’t a problem, but the difficult question to answer is, why it is a problem? Sociologists have developed multiples theories regarding delinquent acts among juveniles. By examining two theories as examples, we may see the reasoning and implications of delinquency.
The first theory to examine is social disorganization theory. This theory attempts to connect delinquency to socioeconomic condition. Siegel and Welsh list conditions such as youth growing in disadvantaged neighborhoods with adults who admit there is little hope, poverty’s ability to create instability with families, kids exposed to violence and crime, and frustration from the inability to grasp the American dream (133).
The theory was formulated by two sociologists named Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay, after finding the high delinquency rates among, what are called transitional neighborhoods; areas that are undergoing a change in population and structure, typically moving to lower class (Siegal, Welsh, 134). It was noted that the heaviest levels of delinquency were found in inner-city zones. Conducting analysis of data over the past 65 years, it was discovered that the amount of delinquent activity shown to be a stable level (Siegel, Welsh, 134). According to the theory, “a healthy, organized community has the ability to” reach the common goals aimed for, but for communities that are considered unorganized, the ability to reach goals are hindered by “deterioration and economic failure” (Seigal, Welsh, 135). This can easily show why a number of teens resort to delinquent behavior as it is a norm in such communities, as their acts reflect the community itself. These communities consist of broken down buildings, abandoned structures and are viewed as unwanted; similarly the inhabitants can feel the same way.
The second theory to be view is differential association. This theory was developed by Edwin Sutherland whom combined ideas of behaviorism (a learning theory with the idea that learning occurs in group interaction) (Allen, Conrad, Cox, Hanser, 102). A further break down is presented by Seigal and Welsh as followed: delinquent behavior is learned, learning is a byproduct of interactions, learning occurs within intimate groups (such as families), criminal techniques are learned, perceptions of legal code influence motives and drives, deferential association may vary in duration, frequency priority, and intensity (156). There have been notable questions and criticisms to this theory such as how to measure the variable of intensity (Allen, Conrad, Cox, Hanser, 103). However, other evidence has shown supportive correlations including: having deviant parents and friends, holding deviant attitudes, and committing deviant acts (Siegel, Welsh, 157).
It has been said, who you are around will affect who you are. Both of these theories show how that idea holds incredible validity. Each of the theories above circulates around the idea of one’s environment affecting their socialization process. If a child grows around a family where drug use and alcohol use is a norm, then that child will likely develop the same attitudes. If they interact with a group that is rebellious and deviant it is, once again, they themselves are likely to be rebellious. To ignore these facts would be ignorant. The problem now is how do we go about solving the issue at hand that these theories point out? Are they too far gone? No, the best solution is to create opportunities for these communities such as tutoring groups, job opportunity center, and positive recreational center. Doing this could be beneficial to such communities as it had the potential is create a new normal for juveniles.
Seigal, Larry J. and Welsh, Brandon G. Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice and Law. Cengage Learning. 2015. Print
Allen, Jennifer M., Conrad, John J., Cox, Steven M. and Hanser, Robert D. Juvenile Justice: A guice to Theory, Policy and Practice. Sage. 2014. Print.