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Sociological Theories on the Causes of Juvenile Delinquency

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Briefly list and describe the major schools of thought concerning theories on the causes of juvenile delinquency, then answer the following questions:
1. Which school of thought do you find most compelling? Why?
2. Which school of thought do you find least compelling? Why?
3. Imagine you have been given a large grant to start a program designed to decrease juvenile delinquency in your community. How would you allocate your resources and structure such a program? Which theory of juvenile delinquency would most support your approach? Why?

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List and describe the major schools of thought concerning theories on the causes of juvenile delinquency.

Deviant behaviour is "social" in nature. Juveniles need to be understood within a larger sociological context.

Social strain theories and cultural transmission theories, as I will focus on here, are also studied within criminology as sociology is regularly used within criminological study. Upon further examination, you will find that almost all, if not all, of the following theories fall within the Positivist School within criminology. This thought presumes that all criminal or delinquent behaviour is influenced and/or caused by internal and external factors outside of the individual's control.

The classical school of criminology generally states that juveniles choose to commit delinquent acts.

These explanations share the underlying assumption that "nonconforming behaviour arises out of social circumstances in which individuals or groups experience normative confusion or disruption." (Thompson, William E., and Jack E. Bynum. 2013. Juvenile Delinquency: A Sociological Approach. Ninth Edition. Pearson, p.92 [If the page number doesn't correspond then I am referencing the Eighth Edition]).

I have attached Chapter 4: Sociological Explanations of Juvenile Delinquency: Social Strain and Cultural Transmission Theories, of the above text. You can also access it from the following link:

This text explains the following concepts and theories:

"anomie": The condition of a society or group with a high degree of confusion and contradiction in its basic social norms (Emile Durkheim).

Durkheim's Concept of Anomie
During unstable social conditions, the usual rules that prevent people from committing socially unacceptable acts becomes weakened, and some people find it difficult to know what is expected of them.

Robert K. Merton's Concept of Anomie
There is dissatisfaction between what the individual aspires to do and the means available to that person to accomplish it. This realization is that some individuals are helpless in achieving socially approved roles which causes frustration.

Albert Cohen's "Delinquent Boys"
Cohen's research falls within "subcultural theory" within criminology. Simply stated, delinquent behaviour results from blocked goals and "status frustration." The class structure comes into theory here. In this case, boys of a lower class want to achieve the same access and privileges as those boys who are in the middle and upper classes but they are blocked from achieving this movement usually in the education system.

Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin's "Delinquency and Opportunity"
Cloward and Ohlin's research also falls within "subcultural theory" within criminology. They bring forward the concept of "illegitimate opportunity." They contended "that while lower-class juveniles have differential opportunities for achieving success through legitimate means, they also have differential opportunities for achieving it through illegitimate means" (p. 97). Youth will get frustrated if they cannot achieve their goals by either method.

Robert Agnew's "General Strain Theory"
Agnew sees crime and delinquency as adaptations to stress. The three major sources of this stress are: (1) There is a discrepancy between means and goals or between expectations and actual outcomes; (2) There is a loss of something positive in one's life; and, (3) There is a presence of negative circumstances or events in one's life.

The underlying assumption was that the heterogeneity of the American population associated with twentieth century industrialization and urbanization resulted in an inharmonious mixture of ethnic, religious, political, and ...

Solution Summary

This solution will assist the student in identifying sociological theories on the causes of juvenile delinquency. It will also assist the student in identifying the school of thought that is most compelling in a particular context will introduce program design.

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Juvenile Delinquency - Criminology and Public Policy


Serial references are those that are over 10-years-old and that put forth a theory that has been deemed to be a foundation for other theories. Examples: Sutherland and differential association theory, Freud and psychoanalytical theory, or Pavlov and behavioral theory.

The Labeling Approach to Delinquency: State of the Theory as a Function of Method. Academic Journal By: Meade, Anthony C. Social Forces. Sep74, Vol. 53 Issue 1, p83-91. 9p.

Labeling theory is a theoretical concept that is well-respected throughout the criminal justice field, and is predicated upon the hypothesis that juveniles are more prone to delinquency when labelled as delinquent or when placed into contact with the formal criminal justice system. The article analyzes the labelling approach by developing a hypothesis for selective bias on the part of official decision-makers and the independent effect of social control upon delinquency recidivism. The results of the tests used to test the hypothesis discovered that juvenile recidivism is impacted by official labelling (formal hearings) of juveniles as delinquents, and this contributes to future delinquency. The researchers offered future suggestions for, and examples of, promising lines of methodological inquiry into central but neglected dimensions of labeling theory.

THE LABELING THEORY: A Critical Analysis. Academic Journal By: Ward, Richard H. Criminology. Aug-Nov1971, Vol. 9 Issue 2/3, p268-290. 23p. 3 Charts.

Researchers' used literature review to analyze studies of juvenile delinquency which adopted a labeling approach or perspective. The objective of this study was to ascertain decisions made by officers when they come into contact with juvenile offenders. Police officers have great autonomy and discretion when deciding whether a juvenile will be formally entered into the justice system for delinquency offenses such as statutory crimes. The researchers found that the decision to implement the juvenile into the justice system depended upon cues which emerged from the interaction between the officer and the youth, cues from which the officer inferred the youth's character. What the researchers hypothesized has lead the research of minorities and juvenile delinquency for decades. The researchers discovered that police officers would treat minorities (Negros) differently when encountering them engaging in delinquency than how they treated white children for the same delinquency offenses. This study was a precursor for the extensive research that has shown consistently how minority youth are disproportionately implemented into the justice system for juvenile delinquency in comparison to their white counterparts who commit the same statutory offenses

THE EFFECT OF INSTITUTIONALIZATION ON THE DELINQUENT INMATE'S SELF CONCEPT. Academic Journal By: Culbertson, Robert G. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology. Mar1975, Vol. 66 Issue 1, p88-93. 6p. 1 Chart, 2 Graphs.

This study used qualitative research design to interview self-concept scores of 222 delinquent boys incarcerated in a juvenile facility using a cross-sectional design. The researchers discovered that juveniles that had never been incarcerated experienced a significant decrease in self-concept scores after their first interaction with the justice system. In reference to cases involving an increase in self-concept scores, a more troubling aspect began to emerge according to researchers as juveniles began to internalize their label as a delinquent with groups of juveniles increasingly involved in more delinquent behavior as they began to identify themselves with a delinquent value structure and a delinquent self-concept. This research was integral because it showed the correlation between labelling juveniles as delinquents and juveniles seeing themselves as delinquents as a result of this label. The juvenile justice system commences a negative labelling process resulting is depreciated self-concepts for juveniles labeled as delinquents, which is the essence of the labelling theory.

•Select 10-15 sources that you will use for your annotated bibliography.
•For each selected source, complete the following: ◦Make an APA reference for the material.
◦Write a brief description that summarizes the central theme of the material. ◾Evaluate the background of the author, comment on the intended audience, compare or contrast this work with other sources that you have referenced, and explain how this work relates to your topic.

Historical Theories of Crime and Delinquency. Academic Journal By: Fitzgerald, Charity Samantha. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment. Apr2011, Vol. 21 Issue 3, p297-311. 15p.

The researchers in this journal article reviewed historical theories of crime and delinquency identifying four constellations of historical theories that explain crime and delinquency including history of social science explanations, positivism, constructionism, and post-structuralism. Researchers' concluded that integrating social environments and human behaviors in historical explanations of crime and delinquency was mandatory for understanding delinquency.

Economic Theories of Crime and Delinquency. Academic Journal By: Jacob, Anupama. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment. Apr2011, Vol. 21 Issue 3, p270-283. 14p. 1

Researchers conducted a literature review to provide three theoretical economic frameworks for explaining persistent social problems in modern society such as crime and delinquency. These three frameworks included rational model, the present-oriented or myopic model, and the radical political economic model. Researchers' provided hypotheses such as rational crime and delinquency wherein a juvenile chooses to engage in crime or delinquency by focusing on short-and long-term gains, which is debunked by most researchers. In contrast to the rational model, the most widely accepted model for juveniles is the present-oriented or myopic model wherein juveniles only focus on the short-term benefits without particular concern for the long-term consequences of their actions because of their lack of mental development.

Sociological Theories of Crime and Delinquency. Academic Journal By: Zembroski, David. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment. Apr2011, Vol. 21 Issue 3, p240-254. 15p. 1 Diagram.

Researchers conducted a literature review of the most frequently cited sociological theories of crime and delinquency. Anomie theory, theories associated with the Chicago School of Sociology, and theories of strain, social control, opportunity, conflict, and developmental life course are all examined. The researchers attempted to ascertain the inter-relationships and contexts of the major theoretical perspectives.

LABELING AND DELINQUENCY. Academic Journal By: Adams, Mike S.; Robertson, Craig T.; Gray-Ray, Phyllis; Ray, Melvin C. Adolescence. Spring2003, Vol. 38 Issue 149, p171. 16p.

The research article analyzes the relationship between labeling and teenage delinquency. The perceived informal labeling of the self is measured by researchers of by analyzing the effects of parent, teacher and peer labeling and contact with social control agencies on self-reported delinquency of juveniles. Powers of labeling variables in relation to delinquency and drug-related offenses are confirmed.

Stigma Sentiments and Self-Meanings: Applying the Modified Labeling Theory to Juvenile Delinquents. Conference By: Lee, James; Kroska, Amy; Carr, Nicole. Conference Papers -- American Sociological Association. 2008 Annual Meeting, p1. 0p.

This research paper analyzing stigma sentiments associated with juvenile delinquency and researchers found consistent support for the validity of the evaluation component as measures of these conceptions. Modified labeling theory was the conceptual framework that researchers hypothesized would positively correlate with each stigma sentiment and the researchers confirmed that self-identities among juvenile delinquents contributed to delinquency. We find support for this hypothesis on the evaluation dimension. The results of the study found that negative cultural conceptions associated with the category of "a juvenile delinquent" impact the self-meanings of individuals charged in juvenile delinquency court.

devils in disguise: the contribution of positive labeling to "sneaky thrills" delinquency. By: Brezina, Timothy; Aragones, Amie A. Deviant Behavior. Nov/Dec2004, Vol. 25 Issue 6, p513-535. 23p.

This article takes a separate theoretical approach to by offering the hypothesis that positive labelling has crime-facilitating wherein positive labeling has the potential to promote delinquent behavior under certain conditions such when positive labeling increases opportunity for delinquent involvement. The researchers argue that youths could actively campaign for positive labels as a deceptive tactic to gain the trust of adults in order to overcome barriers to engaging in delinquency. Using literature review, the researchers provide quotes and interviews from other research studies involving juvenile offenders to illustrate their hypothesis.

Stigmatization or Normalization? The Declining Relevance of Labeling Theory in Disadvantaged Urban Communities. Conference By: Hirschfield, Paul. Conference Papers -- American Sociological Association. 2004 Annual Meeting, San Francisco, p1-20. 21p.

This research article also offers a separate hypothesis for labelling theory by arguing that in areas where criminal occurrences are high and communities are severely disadvantaged, the impact of labeling is not integral in causing juveniles to identify with crime as a result of being labelled a delinquent because it is already normalized within these communities. Researchers used personal interviews with twenty minority youth (aged 18-20) from high poverty urban neighborhoods, who experienced at least one juvenile arrest to illustrate their hypothesis that juvenile arrests carry's little stigma and do little discernible harm to self-concept or social relationships of juvenile offenders from these neighborhoods. It suggests that traditional labeling theory does not adequately capture the impact of criminal justice intervention in inner-city black communities.


In this assignment, you will take the annotated bibliography that you made in Week 2 and prepare a literature review with the material that will bring forth the ideas of your study. Literature reviews have many citations. This literature review will analyze and evaluate previous research on the topic.

A literature review is not a collection of paraphrased material. It is an in-depth evaluation and review, along with critical thinking, pertaining to the articles that you are reading. "As a general rule, certainly for a longer review, each paragraph should address one point, and present and evaluate all of the evidence, from all of the differing points of view" (What Is A Literature Review, 2011).

Assignment Guidelines
•Using your annotated bibliography from Week 2, conduct a literature review of your selected sources.
•Your literature review should be 4-6 pages in length.
•Remember to use APA style for all references and citations.


What is a literature review? (2011). Retrieved from http://www.experiment-resources.com/what-is-a-literature-review.html.

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