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According to Wikstrom and Sampson (1998) "an act of crime may be seen as primarily caused by the individual's reason / motivation to commit the particular act of crime, emerging from the interaction between the individual's propensity to engage in criminality and the criminogenic features of the behavior setting"
Wikstrom & Sampson (1998) further assert that
The motivational argument is basically that some types of behavior settings are more likely than other settings to make the individual see crime as an option and then to act upon such an option. The propensity argument is basically that different individuals in the same behavior setting will vary as regards their likelihood to see crime as an option and to act upon such an option.
The potential role in this of the community context is, at least, twofold. First, it may influence (in the longer term) an individual's development of characteristics relevant to the (future) propensity to breach the rules of law and lifestyles that contribute to the shaping of pathways in criminality (e.g., by influencing processes of onset, duration, desistance, and escalation). Second, it may influence (in the short term) the prevalence of criminogenic behavior settings that confront individuals in their day-to-day living and therefore impact upon their motivation to offend.
Research in criminology has brought to the fore previously unknown discoveries that are helping the society to effectively tackle crime. The aim of this study is to critically evaluate the effectiveness of life histories as a research method in explaining the causes of juvenile crimes.
For a long time the society has grumbled with the fact of juvenile delinquency. Organizations and laws have been enacted to try and contain this threat that is being more of a moral threat.
The disposition to juvenile crime has been linked to behaviour settings and other socio economic factors that researchers and law enforcers have been addressing. By understanding these factors, juvenile crime trends are better understood and can be tackled (Shore 2008).
Frum (1958) asserts that "offense sequence patterns were followed by adults who began their official criminal histories prior to the age of 18 years old."
This finding lends itself to the fact that life histories can play a vital role in researching on juvenile crime. This paper is going to ascertain the importance of life histories even in this light, helping understand trends in juvenile crimes.
Juvenile delinquency is characteristic of societies that have family dysfunction, low or impaired juvenile education processes, lack of employment, and severity of criminal code among other issues. These issues can be studied as causal factors to juvenile delinquency. However they must be in formats that are analytical or statistical in order to be of benefit to the researcher. They however remain critical to helping the researcher to understand the factors behind juvenile crime and possible ways of addressing this issue.
2.0 Critically evaluate the effectiveness of life histories as a research method in explaining the causes of juvenile crimes.
In order to therefore understand juvenile crime we must consider life histories which bring all the issues that shape the juvenile's life into perspective and be able to understand therefore how these issues contribute to a tendency of juvenile crime.
While unraveling the life history of a juvenile in crime we are likely to encounter a number of likely cause factors.
One of the most obvious and commonly cited causes of juvenile crime determinant is family violence. Juveniles on reaching puberty become erratic in behaviour and will become more attached to their peers than to family. These skewed relationships are more amplified if the family violence is the order of the day. When the juvenile is directly affected by this violence, they may exit from the family setup to find solace among peers. In so doing and while we consider incorporating the juvenile's family history we become aware and can be able to capture any recurrent behavioral trends within the juveniles.
Research alludes to the fact that very often juveniles who are abused or violently handled within their immediate families will turn to juvenile delinquency.
Physical, sexual or emotional violence histories among juveniles from within their families contribute to juvenile crimes. Research shows that one quarter of abused children will themselves turn out to be abusers.
As youth grow peer pressure becomes a notable influence on their bearing in life. We can see that when a juvenile therefore gets joined to peers whose morals are questionable they are quickly sucked into the vicious circle and their morals spiral towards those of their peers.
By studying the juvenile's relationship history one can determine any traces of delinquency.
The media has become strong influence factor in the lives of juveniles. Therefore all that the media portrays as acceptable will almost certainly be adopted by the juvenile. The society has especially valued violence; the juvenile being hungry for information will almost certainly ingest all that the media puts forward.
Due to family unit instability some juveniles end up in the streets and are prone to engaging in criminal activities because of the fact that the environment they find themselves in is less regulated as compared to the home environment. As a result these juveniles will take on a life of petty crime, drug abuse or begging to be able to counter the harsh environment.
While finding themselves in this unregulated environment and under pressure to withstand the harsh realities of street life these juveniles' moral standards quickly degrade resulting most likely into crime.
While studying juvenile crime we may not overlook the life experiences of some of these juvenile which has a bearing on their taking up crime.
As family stability quickly degenerates due to a myriad of other factors the tendency by some juveniles have questions in their minds that they seek to be addressed. The most likeable avenue for them to do this is their peers. This introduces another angle of influence on the juvenile's life. If the peers have a criminal disposition, this is likely to affect this juvenile leading them to engage in criminal activities.
A life history as a research method in understanding juvenile crime becomes vital because some individuals never or rarely break the law; others may have no problem with carrying out acts of crime. Other people tend to act on impulse while others are more careful and will always consider the consequences of their actions.
By studying these life histories we begin to understand answers to some questions such as why people are differently disposed in their self control and morality and what role community perceptions play in generating these self control and morality
Community criminology research indicates a number of factors in interplay like community resources and rules which are determinants of criminal history in individuals; behaviour setting plays a vital part in this research.
One of the ways in which juvenile crime is researched is through life histories. One of the ways these life histories become of use is when they are used is the creation of crime profiles (Shaw 2003).
While creating crime profiles the researchers are looking at juvenile crime statistics gathered from various regions or localities each providing a different picture for each scenario which would then mean various implications.
According to Cooper (1989) suggests that
While detecting and studying individual crime reports which comprise juveniles within a police division during a given period of time there might be a total of ten crimes. But if the number of juveniles detected for those crimes were studied, the figure could be anything from one to ten or more. Furthermore, once cases have been disposed of, either by way of an official police caution or a conviction at court, it might be the case that, of ten juveniles, six received official cautions and four were convicted at court.
Cooper (1989) goes on to conclude that " It becomes clear that, when aggregated, numbers of crimes, numbers of offenders and numbers of cautions or convictions each offer a different insight into juvenile crime levels."
While studying life histories as a researching method on juvenile crime ,the example used above relates to only a percentage of similar crimes though we can see from the study that statistical combinations can be arrived at detailing how juvenile crime are presented. If we look at a large amount of data concerning hundreds of different types of crime, perhaps thousands of juveniles and resultant numbers of cautions and convictions, the possible combinations multiply and it is not difficult to see how discrete sets of figures could be misleading if they were not analyzed in conjunction with each other hence the importance of life history consideration during this research
According to Cooper (1989)
Twenty crimes of theft from motor-vehicles and twelve burglaries in a period of one week might be seen as a local escalation of criminality, but it takes on a different flavour if it is found that only two juveniles were responsible for them all.
Similarly, three cases of criminal damage to shop windows and two of taking and driving away motor cars during one month might arouse less initial concern but could well involve twenty or more different local juveniles.
Study and research approaches aimed at controlling the behaviour of a large group of juveniles are likely to be different from those which target the behaviour of only one or two individuals.
While still focused on the family environment we can establish that other factors such as parental supervision, parents' abuse or neglect and lone parenting will also contribute a tendency to juvenile crime.
In studying ad critically analyzing life histories as a means to understanding juvenile crime, researchers have been able to more clearly understand juvenile crime.
Some school of thought has proposed that most often juvenile delinquency is related to the way the law enforcement agents handle them. Using a typical example where a juvenile runs away from home to find solace on the street among his peers which could be as a result of violence within the family or inadequate parental supervision. Finding themselves on the street and homeless, they are quickly branded criminals even when they may not be. Therefore by virtue of their habitation some of these juveniles are wrongly branded by the society and hence forth find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Because there is an irreparable communication breakdown right from their homes they will choose to be what the society brands them or whatever the law enforcement agents perceive them to be. And therefore they involuntarily begin to engage in crime as a way of trying to communicate back to the society.
According to Shaw (2003), a police research and study was carried out to try and assess the mechanisms available to reach out to juveniles in an initiative called 'hard to reach youth and community safety, a model for participatory research and consultation'
The research was targeting the homeless and the school excluded juveniles those the Home Office perceived as likely offenders.
The research was able to establish the following findings:
(1) The young and homeless juveniles were being labelled as criminal and a threat to the society
(2) It was also established that their offences were petty crime or victimless 'lifestyle' crime, such as doing drugs or begging
(3) In this study it was also established that the homeless youth are most at risk in spaces where control is exercised over them, rather than on the street; which included their home and in dealings with the police
(4) Being involved in crime often made worse their situation and sometimes contributed to their becoming homeless.
The finding above were slightly different as compared to those arrived at while studying the histories of the school excluded juveniles
(1) The study ascertained that these juveniles were most often labelled as trouble-makers and offenders, and are despised by the society
(2) Most committed crime is petty crime, such as criminal damage and drug use, though some took part in more serious property and violent crimes
(3) They also committed more serious crimes that involved familiar people and in familiar places.
(4) Those victimizing them were most likely to be other young people a probable reason why they were excluded from school and many of them experienced harassment from the police.
In studying the histories of this crime disposed juveniles the Home Office established a number of findings. Among these were the following; the juveniles are capable of raising and discussing a range of appropriate ideas for policy solutions. Their skills need to be valued, and they should be encouraged to participate in devising solutions to the problems that they experience.
They have specific perspectives on crime. Their own stories and interpretations need to be taken into account and acted upon; many are disadvantaged by criminal justice, housing, education and/or welfare policies which contribute to the creation of homelessness and school exclusion, and criminalize certain groups of young people. Their victimization is under-reported, not always taken seriously by law enforcement agencies, and seldom addressed in any way by policy (Term paper on Criminology n.d).
Many of them have been both offenders and victims of crime and there is no absolute distinction between these two roles. The perception that they are labelled, subject to a high level of control, and rarely listened to.
Based on this research conclusive evidence points to the fact that life histories can be critical to understanding juvenile crime tendencies.
Consultation should include a strong qualitative element for example their attitudes, experiences and understandings of crime should be explored in depth; participatory research approaches offer great benefits in involving young people in the audit and strategy process and in promoting their interests ; research findings should be addressed and acted upon where appropriate but, since there are certain limitations to such methods, their use as a basis for action must be acknowledged if they are to be used effectively
It will be an uphill task to effectively tackle juvenile crime if their life histories are not studied and a number of factors understood from these studies.
What is conclusive concerning juvenile crime is that this delinquency comes into play as a result of some factors that may or may not be obvious. Therefore while researching the juvenile crime tendency we need to critically evaluate their life history (Simon 1994).
Shore (1999) points out the character of the juvenile criminal in this history as follows:
The nineteenth century juvenile crime was slotted into a model of criminal progression. From scrumping apples from orchards, to shop-lifting from stalls and generalized petty thieving, a boy aspired to the more skilful occupation of picking-pockets. But why was this characterization so important and central to the ways in which Victorian juvenile offenders have been mythologized? Firstly the pickpocket suggested a level of skill and thus training. For the social commentators of the early nineteenth century this opened a frightening vista of an organized sub-culture in which adult agents trained the children of the street into crime. Secondly, there was progression beyond picking pockets: the most skilful thieves became burglars. The most admired of these boy-men, pickpocket-burglars were described as being members of the Swell mob, a loose, and probably semi-mythological, group of prosperous thieves who dressed stylishly, lived in the best parts of town and cruised the streets of London with their girls on their arms, flaunting their success in the hierarchies of the criminal underworld (Williams 2002).
3.0 Conclusion and Recommendations
In conclusion we are able to gather from this study and many other studies on crime that the vice is becoming more sophisticated. We also understand that the juvenile crime angle complicates the matter of crime further especially so for the law enforcement agents. This calls for concerted efforts among all the stake holders within the society to try and decipher this juvenile crime trends.
One of those ways to do this is by the use of life histories as a research method especially so in understanding juvenile crime. Studies and research continues to reveal that juvenile crime will graduate to adult crime unless deterrent or adequate correction methods are set up. Researching the histories of potential juvenile criminals helps the researchers to alter the trend where this juvenile crime tends to graduate into adult crime
The role played by life histories is therefore of great importance and cannot be ignored because of the fact that researchers and law enforcers continue to rely on this in order to be able to curb crime rates and understand crime trends within the society.
Picking on the histories researchers are able to address all the factors in interplay based behaviour settings.
Establishing crime profiles as mentioned in this study is helping researchers to understand the pre-depositions to crime. Once these data is collected and readily available it can be used as a source of reference to for all those groups concerned (Reiss 2008).
According to Home Office records a great deal of information about juvenile crime and behaviour is available and that it is possible to compile from it a useful, quantified, profile. The task is not easy however. Police data, which forms a substantial base of information, is not necessarily stored in a convenient way for a purpose such as this. And time, depending on the volume of juvenile offending in a particular area, in addition to a degree of doggedness, is required to gather and "reclassify" the data for use in crime prevention. At a more general level, though no less important, the overall task of tackling juvenile crime is made less daunting by being able to break the problem down into more manageable components; and, very importantly, the approach demonstrates a means of separating out, from crime generally, problems related to local juveniles.
This is not possible apart from life histories are considered and incorporated into the whole process. It's therefore vital for the police department and other related agencies like home office to come up with dependable and comprehensive policies of handling juvenile crime. One of the areas as already demonstrated that can be relied upon to achieve this is the use of life histories in researching these juvenile crimes. However this is only possible if policies are in place to address these issues.