Sociological Views of Delinquency

Sociological Views of Delinquency

Social Disorganization Anomie/Strain Cultural Deviance

SOCIAL PROCESS THEORIES: SOCIALIZATION AND DELINQUENCY Preventing and Treating Delinquency: SafeFutures: Using Community Resources to Prevent and Control Youth Crime and Victimization What Does This Mean to Me? Tools That Can Make a Difference Preventing and Treating Delinquency: Dare to Be You Social Learning Theories Social Control Theories Social Reaction Theories

SOCIAL CONFLICT THEORIES Law and Justice The Conflict Concept of Delinquency Social Structure Theories and Delinquency Prevention Social Process Theories and Delinquency Prevention Social Reaction Theories and Delinquency Prevention Social Conflict Theories and Delinquency Prevention


After reading this chapter you should:

  1. Know what is meant by the term social disorganization.
  2. Understand the relationship between neighborhood fear, unemployment, social change, and lack of cohesion and delinquent behavior patterns.
  3. Be familiar with the concept of strain and anomie.
  4. Comprehend the elements of general strain theory and the concept of negative affective states.
  5. Understand how cultural deviance creates a breeding ground for gangs and law-violating groups.
  6. Know the social processes that have been linked to delinquency.
  7. Be able to differentiate between learning and control theories.
  8. Identify the elements of labeling and stigma that reinforce delinquency.
  9. Recognize the role that social conflict plays in creating an environment that breeds antisocial behaviors.
  10. Be familiar with the social programs that have been designed to improve neighborhood conditions, help children be properly socialized, and reduce conflict.


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Juvenile Delinquency: The Core COPYRIGHT © 2005 Wadsworth, a division of Thomson Learning, Inc

82 C H A P T E R 4

The kids who are being helped by the No More Victims programs often live in tough urban environments in families torn apart and in stress. Although there may be some factors related to delinquent behavior at the individual level, the majority of delinquency experts believe that the key to understanding delinquent behavior lies in the social environment. Most delinquents are indigent and desperate, not calculating or evil. Most grew up in deteriorated parts of town and lack the social support and economic resources familiar to more affluent members of society. Understanding delinquent behavior, then, requires analyzing the influence of these destructive social forces on human behavior.

Explanations of delinquency as an individual-level phenomenon fail to account for these consistent social patterns in delinquency. If violence is related to biochemi- cal or chromosomal abnormality, then how can we explain the fact that some areas of the city, state, and country have much higher crime and delinquency rates than others? Large cities have more crime problems than rural towns; inner-city areas have higher delinquency rates than suburban areas. It is unlikely that all people with physical or mental problems live in one section of town or in one area of the coun- try. Some individual-level theorists believe that viewing violent TV shows can cause aggression. Yet adolescents in rural and suburban areas watch the same shows and movies as kids who live in the city. If the media causes violence, how can urban-rural delinquency rate differences be explained? If violence has a biological or psychologi- cal origin, should it not be distributed more evenly throughout the social structure, as opposed to being concentrated in certain areas?

SOCIAL FACTORS AND DELINQUENCY What are the critical social factors believed to cause or affect delinquent behaviors?

■ Interpersonal interactions. The shape of interpersonal relationships may be a source of delinquent behavior. Social relationships with families, peers, schools, jobs, criminal justice agencies, and the like, may play an important role in creat- ing or restraining delinquency.1 In contemporary American society, there has been a reduction in the influence of the family and an increased emphasis on individuality, independence, and isolation. Weakened family ties have been linked to crime and delinquency.2

It is difficult to be a teen today. Some

kids are being raised in indigent areas

that are the sites of poor housing, un-

derfunded schools, and law-violating

youth gangs. Others are being raised in

dysfunctional families, and some are la-

beled as “losers” from the day they are

born. Kids whose parents are convicted

criminals serving prison sentences often

face all three of these social problems.

The organization No More Victims,

founded in 1993 by Marilyn K. Gambrell,

an author and former Texas parole offi-

cer, works with parents and students to

help them cope with the roadblocks in

their lives. No More Victims teaches kids

to understand their personal pain, and

in so doing, learn how to stop hurting

themselves and others.





culture of poverty View that lower-class people form a separate culture with their own values and norms, which are sometimes in conflict with con- ventional society.

Juvenile Delinquency: The Core COPYRIGHT © 2005 Wadsworth, a division of Thomson Learning, Inc

■ Community ecological conditions. Residing in a deteriorated inner-city area that is wracked by poverty, decay, fear, and despair influences delinquency. These areas are the home of delinquent gangs and groups.

■ Social change. Political unrest and mistrust, economic stress, and family disinte- gration are social changes that have been found to precede sharp increases in crime rates. Conversely, stabilization of traditional social institutions typically precedes crime rate declines.3

■ Socioeconomic status. Socioeconomic status may also affect delinquency. It seems logical that people on the lowest rung of the economic ladder will have the great- est incentive to commit crime: they may be enraged by their lack of economic success or simply financially desperate and disillusioned. In either instance, delin- quency, despite its inherent dangers, may appear an attractive alternative to a life of indigence. Economic influences may be heightened by the rapid advance in technology; kids who lack the requisite social and educational training have found the road to success almost impassable. A lack of opportunity for upward mobility may make drug dealing and other crimes an attractive solution for so- cially deprived but economically enterprising people.4

In this chapter we will review the most prominent social theories of delinquency. They are divided into three main groups: (1) social structure theories hold that delin- quency is a function of a person’s place in the economic structure; (2) social process theories view delinquency as the result of a person’s interaction with critical elements of socialization; and (3) social conflict theories consider delinquent behavior to be a result of economic deprivation caused by the inequities of the capitalist system of production.

SOCIAL STRUCTURE THEORIES In 1966, sociologist Oscar Lewis coined the phrase culture of poverty to describe the crushing burden faced by the urban poor.5 According to Lewis, the culture of poverty is marked by apathy, cynicism, helplessness, and mistrust of institutions such as police and government. Mistrust of authority prevents the impoverished from taking advan- tage of the few conventional opportunities available to them. The result is a permanent

S O C I O L O G I C A L V I E W S O F D E L I N Q U E N C Y 83

Social scientists find that stabi- lization of traditional social institutions usually precedes crime rate declines. Crime rates respond to the ability of social institutions, such as the police, to achieve public acceptance. Here, Officer James R. Clarke hands out his trading cards to students at Hardy Elementary School in Smithfield, Virginia. The cards, paid for through a community policing grant, act as public relations for the Smithfield department, which is trying hard to reach out to children.

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Juvenile Delinquency: The Core COPYRIGHT © 2005 Wadsworth, a division of Thomson Learning, Inc

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