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Why Young Individuals Commit Crimes? Essay

Firstly, what does it mean when someone uses the term juvenile delinquency? Juvenile delinquency can also be referred to as juvenile offending which occurs when a young person under the age eighteen who in which has repeatedly committed a crime or offense. In the United States and other countries, juvenile crime is one of the most serious problems. The reason why juveniles commit crimes is sort of complicated and difficult to explain. There have been several disparate theories to better help with understanding juvenile delinquency. All of these theories are categorized and are placed under three different groups: biological, psychological, and sociological theories. Biological theories all are based on the concept that people are prearranged to commit crimes. An Italian criminologist, Cesare Lombroso created Positive Theory or Positivism which is the major biological theory. The positive theory stated that people are born criminals and are not made. The positive theory also explained criminal behavior by centering on the biological and psychological factors. Cesare used the corpse of criminals who were executed to compare physical features to determine were criminals different from non-criminals. His conclusion was that criminals shared facial features. Sheldon, a criminalist idea was that people behaved differently because of their different body types. He believed that a physically fit human was more likely to commit a crime than an out of shape or over weight human. XYY theory is another biological theory that has come into consideration. The XYY theory disputes that an abnormal chromosome is found in violent male criminals.

This theory states that this abnormality in individuals is associated with criminal activity and aggressiveness. This XYY theory is not a great when judging someone’s criminal behavior and is also rare. A trait theory is based on the concept that our ancestors and young criminals shared biological and physiological features. In the textbook The Juvenile Delinquency describes it as “savage throwbacks of an earlier stage of human evolution. These views had a strong impact on criminology in the 19th century but eventually these views evoked criticism for their “sound methodology and lack of proper scientific controls” (Siegel and Welsh, 2012). The favor of biological theories was no longer favored as an explanation of delinquency by mid twentieth century. The Biosocial Theory is a contemporary biological theory that states biological and social factors are bases for thoughts and behavior in juveniles. Genetics and social environments are used to decide if a child is a delinquent or not in this theory. It is said that poor environments, disturbed communities or lack of parenting is presented in the biosocial theory and that we must also consider genes. Genes is what separates everyone from each other and is the reason why people have different reactions to their environments. Social factors play an important role in the behavior of juveniles. The way teens see their life is supported by social factors. These factors also play an important role in turning teens to delinquent behavior. Since there are many different sociological theories, I will only mention a few.

Social Disorganization theory is when a community reduces the chances of advancement for its children. For example, schools have high dropout rates, high levels of graffiti, high poverty levels and so on. Residents in these areas experience conflict and despair and as a result they turn to antisocial behavior. Strain theory states that when an individual has goals or has wants that the economic mainstream creates desirable and is unable to achieve the goals set before them in a legitimate way, the individual will find alternative ways of achieving his/her goals, usually turning to criminal behavior. Cultural Deviance theories explain that due to the draining lifestyle of kids living in deteriorated neighborhoods they turn to social isolation and delinquent behavior. These behavior explained in cultural deviance create subcultures such as gangs and cults in which these adolescents join to feel accepted, loved and a part of a group. When a society creates conflict for a youth to achieve success, these teens experience status frustrations because they are not allowed to reach goals set by the larger society. (Siegel and Welsh, 2012).

Psychological theories assist with the understanding of juvenile delinquency and “like religion, more than like sociology or law, psychology is essentially concerned with the individual himself and is addressed centrally to the processes within and around the individual which gives rise to specific forms of behavior” (McDavid and McCandles, 1962). Psychological theories are based on someone’s way of processing a condition. Psychoanalytic and the social learning theory are two types of psychological theories. The psychoanalytic theory is based on Freud’s components: id, ego, and superego (Champion, 2004). The Id is the drive for immediate gratification and can explain delinquency acts such as shoplifting or burglary. The ego is the realization of real life and helps control the Id. Superego develops through interactions with parents and other responsible adults and develops the conscience of moral rules. This psychodynamic approach states that traumatic experiences during early childhood can prevent the ego and superego from developing properly, therefore leaving the Id with greater power (Champion, 2004). The way a person abides and follows rules, laws, and mores of society is based on the social learning theories. Social Learning theory is also a major theory that implies that criminal behavior is learned through close relations with others.Also, it asserts that children are born good but learned to be bad.

This theory states that all people have the potential to become criminals because modern society presents many opportunities for illegal activity but one has the choice to not engage. If a child is raised in a clean community that has strong morals and if that child has positive role models at home and in the community, he or she is more likely to grow up achieving her goals. In opposition to that scenario, when you have a child growing up in a poor neighborhood where he or she is surrounded by gangs, drugs and violence every day, it is very likely that this child will grow up committing crimes. (McDavid and McCandless, 1962) Strain theory, labeling theory, and social control theory are all included with the sociological theories of juvenile delinquency. Sociological theories are explanations of social action put together with assumptions, assertions, and propositions. Strain theories state that certain strains or stressors increase the likelihood of crime. These strains lead to negative emotions, such as frustration and anger. These emotions create pressure for corrective action, and crime is one possible response. Crime may be used to reduce or escape from strain, seek revenge against the source of strain or related targets, or alleviate negative emotions. For example, individuals experiencing chronic unemployment may engage in theft or drug selling to obtain money, seek revenge against the person who fired them, or take illicit drugs in an effort to feel better. The major versions of strain theory describe 1) the particular strains most likely to lead to crime, 2) why strains increase crime, and 3) the factors that lead a person to or dissuade a person from responding to strains with crime.

All strain theories acknowledge that only a minority of strained individuals turn to crime. Emile Durkheim developed the first modern strain theory of crime and deviance, but Merton’s classic strain theory and its offshoots came to dominate criminology during the middle part of the 20th century. Classic strain theory focuses on the strain involving the inability to achieve monetary success or the somewhat broader goal of middle-class status. Classic strain theory fell into decline during the 1970s and 1980s, partly because research appeared to challenge it. There were several attempts to revise strain theory, most arguing that crime may result from the inability to achieve a range of goals—not just monetary success or middle-class status. Robert Agnew developed his general strain theory (GST) in 1992, and it has since become the leading version of strain theory and one of the major theories of crime (Agnew and Scheuerman). The labeling theory concentrates on whether or not to refer to a person as a criminal. The labeling theory states that by labeling an individual as a criminal lures them to pursue in criminal activity. Labeling theories of crime are often referred to as social reaction theories, because they focus primarily on the consequences of responses or reactions to crime.

These responses or reactions typically focus on three sets of actors: (1) informal social others, such as the friends, parents, or partners of persons committing crimes, and who disapprove of the offender’s behavior; (2) organizations or institutions such as the criminal justice system, whose function it is to “do something about” crime; and (3) those who perceive a threat by some behavior and want to see legislation passed to outlaw it. All of these very diverse actions have one thing in common: they are all reactions to crime. As such, they are said to be “labels” because they have the quality of attaching a name or a signature to someone or some behavior—hence the name “labeling theory.” From this, labeling theory can be understood as involving two main hypotheses. First is the status characteristics hypothesis, which states that labels are imposed in part because of the status of those doing the labeling and those being labeled. The second is the secondary deviance hypothesis, which essentially argues that deviant labels create problems that the one being labeled must adjust to and deal with, and that under certain conditions labels can lead to greater involvement in crime and deviance (Bachman and Paternoster). Most theories explain the reason for people committing offenses but control theory is the explanation why people obey the rules. Control theory is the justification for how people behaviors are related to what is already expected. Social control theories, however, focus primarily on external factors and the processes by which they become effective. Deviance and crime occur because of inadequate constraints.

For social control theory, the underlying view of human nature includes the conception of free will, thereby giving offenders the capacity of choice, and responsibility for their behavior. As such, social control theory is aligned more with the classical school of criminology than with positivist or determinist perspectives. For the most part, the social control theory postulates a shared value or belief in social norms. Even those who break laws or violate social norms are likely to share the general belief that those rules should be followed. Crime and deviance are considered predictable behaviors that society has not curtailed. Explaining conformity, particularly the process by which people are socialized to obey the rules, is the essence of social control theory. Thus, social control theory focuses on how the absence of close relationships with conventional others can free individuals from social constraints, thereby allowing them to engage in delinquency. Alternatively, other prominent criminological theories focus on how close relationships with delinquent peers or negative relationships with others can lead or compel individuals to commit delinquency (Kemph-Leonard and Morris). Based on my research there are plenty of answers to why young people commit crimes. Biological, psychological, and sociological theories are theories to improve people’s knowledge and understand juvenile behavior. By better understanding our juveniles we can individually apply our knowledge to help keep other children from engaging in criminal behavior.


“Cesare Lombroso”. Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2014

Boyd R. McCandles, John McDavid. “Psychological Theory, Research, and Juvenile Delinquency.” The Journal of Criminal and Police Science 54.1 (1962):1-14. JSTOR. Web. 9 Mar 2014. Champion, D.J. (2004). The Juvenile Justice System: Delinquency, Processing, and the Law. 4th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall Inc. Ellwood, Charles A. “Lombroso’s Theory of Crime.” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and 2.5 (1912): 716-723. JSTOR. Web. 9 Mar 2014. Siegel, Larry J, and Brandon C Welsh. Juvenile Delinquency, Theory, Practice, And Law. Wadsworth Pub Co, print. Agnew, Robert, Scheuerman, Heather. “Strain Theories”. In Oxford Bibliographies Online: Criminology. 09-Mar-2014. http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396607/obo-9780195396607-0005.xml Paternoster, Ray, Bachman, Ronet. “Labeling Theory”. In Oxford Bibliographies Online: Criminology. 09-Mar-2014. . Kempf-Leonard, Kimberly, Morris, Nancy A.. “Social Control Theory”. In Oxford Bibliographies Online: Criminology. 09-Mar-2014.

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