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Delinquency - Week 4

Timothy Mason (cv)

Université de Paris 8

The characteristics of delinquents

If we study the characteristics of those processed by control agencies, and if we accept that they are representative of all delinquents, we may conclude that the typical juvenile delinquent is different from his peers in a number of ways. That is to say that there are a number of traits which are significant predictors of delinquent activity.

1. Some of these traits appear to be fundamental personality factors

- hyperactivity
- tendency to alcoholism
- psychosis
- low measured intelligence
- small stature and poor health
- male rather than female

2. Some characteristic modes of social interaction - bad temper

- unpopular with peers
- disruptive behaviour in school
- parents found him a difficult child
- likely to be violent
- poor work and bad results at school

3. Some background traits

- environmental
- living in a slum area - living in an area of high delinquency - social class - father unskilled labourer
- family dynamics
- poor surveillance - irregular discipline - lack of affection - family interaction characterised by antisocial behaviour - family breakdown - poverty

These young people are recognized as being difficult by parents, other children and teachers. The onset of these problems was very often early in the child's life, and the first steps into delinquency were often taken as early as 9 or 10 years old

One implication is that bad behaviour is a general trait. Robins and Ratcliff (1980) have shown that

- each separate type of childhood deviance (hyper-activity, conduct disorder, bed-wetting, etc) is independently correlated with the overall level of adult deviance
- each separate type of adult deviance is predicted by the overall level of childhood deviance
- the overall level of childhood deviance is a better predictor of adult deviance than any one particular childhood behaviour
- these relationships do not depend on the continuation of the same behaviour from childhood into adulthood.

Variation in the kind of bad behaviour manifested is more a function of age than of character.

Marc Le Blanc, in a study of 470 French-speaking boys from Montreal who had been identified as offenders, aged 14 - 16 at the start of the enquiry, followed his subjects over a period of 9 years, until they were about 24 years old. The study consisted of a series of interviews, checked against the police records of the subjects. Most of the subjects started their delinquent activities at the age of 11 or 12, and continued for roughly 8 years, although some of them went on for over 12 years. The earlier the boys started, the more intense was their delinquency.

1 - Subjects who began before the age of 9 went on to commit about 800 offences
2 - Subjects who began between 9 and 12 had a median level of about 90 crimes
3 - Subjects who began between 13/14 had a low frequency - the group committing a median of 22 crimes
4 - Subjects who began at ages 15/16 were more active than those in the third period, committing a median of around 65 offences. This may be related to school-leaving, for most of the subjects left school on or before this date.
5 - Subjects beginning later - particularly after the age of 18 - do not go in for an intense delinquent career, and very few recidivate.

Early beginners not only commit more crimes, they also continue longer. The youth who begins a delinquent career in midadolescence may rapidly commit a large number of offences, but does not continue for a very long time. However, the type of crime does not seem to vary greatly as between those who start at different ages. What does happen is that the crime varies by age.

1 - the child begins with petty larceny - theft of sweets, cigarettes, toys, small sums of money, etc - between 8 and some time during the 12th year - emergence
2 - he then may move on to shoplifting, vandalism between ages 12 and 14. - exploration
3 - at 13, there is an explosion - substantial increase in variety and seriousness - common theft, public disorder; burglary and personal theft
4 - at around 15, four more types of crime are added - Drug trafficking, motor vehicle theft, armed robbery and personal attack - conflagration
5 - Those who continue into adulthood will progress to more sophisticated or more violent forms of criminal behaviour - fraud and homicide - outburst

At each stage, a large number of actors may drop out and cease offending. Thus although offences at each stage are good predictors of the next stage, they are not good predictors of further stages. Furthermore, around 30% of the sample - remember, they are selected from among those most likely to be delinquent - limit themselves to a single stage of offending - mostly burglary

d) Conclusion

We have seen then that, according to the realists

- there is a group of people whose behaviour can be categorized as delinquent
- these people are well represented by those who are caught by the police, so that we can base hypotheses about their characteristics on the known characteristics of youths who have been processed
- youths known to the police do have characteristics that make them different from the non-delinquent population
- their misbehaviour is a general characteristic - young people who cause trouble in school are more likely to be delinquent than those who do not and young delinquents do not specialize to any great extent
- there is a delinquent career - a series of stages - although delinquents can, and often do, stop at any one of the stages, and either continue to commit the offences appropriate to that stage or cease activity altogether
- the vast majority of young delinquents do cease their criminal activities before adulthood, but those who begin earliest tend to continue the longest

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