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Juvenile delinquency is a common problem that all societies seem to face. Although it is apparent that all juveniles will at some point in their life commit some sort of delinquent act, it is unclear as to why juveniles behave this way. Many theories have been developed to try to explain the phenomena but, no single theory has the perfect answer to the problem. After researching several theories, a theoretical integration of the Anomie theory of Deviance by theorist Robert Merton and the Social Bond theory by theorist Travis Hirschi, juvenile delinquency could both be better explained and potentially be prevented. Ideas from both theories are both accurate; however, when combined the theories could truly rise to their full potential because of shortcomings that both theories show. While the Anomie theory is a social structure theory relying on the environment, it would complement the social bond control theory by integrating the idea that delinquency is a matter of environment, and it will bring out the inherent evil within all humans (Orcutt 2002). Basically, the environment can enhance the evil or help contain it depending on the positive or negative influence the environment in question has on the individual that is struggling with the internal instinct.
The Anomie theory of Deviance offers a good explanation as to why Juveniles are delinquent. In America people live big and our definition of economic well being is very different than those societies in less developed nations, for instance, Africa. The more "stuff" the better off you are in the current time. This includes: a home, a car, an iPod, the latest trends, and a well paying job or essentially the most amount of money you could possibly get your hands on. According to this theory, the main motivation of our society and the way it operates is this most common focal concern: economic stability (Orcutt 2002). Since this theory is a social structure theory, it considers the "macro" or larger level of societal conditions. Furthermore, this theory puts the blame on the structure of society and claims that society is the reason for juvenile delinquency. Merton argues that everyone in our society has been socialized and that money and economic prestige and status are so essential to happiness and life fulfillment. Our concentration on material things and economic status is the motivation for juvenile delinquency within this theory because of the disproportionate opportunities between social classes to achieve the cultural goal (Orcutt 2002). Thus, the problem in society that causes juvenile delinquency, in accordance with this theory, is a lack of legitimate means of achieving what society deems most important: money.
Merton believes that that majority of people will conform to the cultural goal and the institutionalized means to achieve it. The ideal and culturally acceptable ways of achieving the cultural goal are what Merton calls "institutionalized means" (Orcutt 2002). These would include opportunities such as a well paying job, a college education, supporting capitalism and free enterprise, starting your own business, and even working hard or overtime for promotions. However, our society has a problem structurally because the means listed previously are not equally offered between the American social structures. Merton says that although everyone wants to achieve this goal of economic success, the social structure does not provide enough institutionalized means to go around (Orcutt 2002). There are not enough opportunities to support all the people in society who are pushing for the same goal.
The upper class obviously has the most opportunity to benefit from institutionalized means because they have a monopoly on the means. They can afford universities, have resources to start businesses, and they can leave money to their children to continue economic success. So they take their share of the means first by simply being born into a high social status. The middle class gets second pick because they too share some of the same opportunities as far as legitimate ways of achieving economic success. On the other hand the problem arises when it comes time for the lower class to try to take advantage of the institutionalized means of achieving the cultural goal.
Many in the lower class cannot attend college for lack of money to do so, they cannot pass down money to their children, and they do not have access to higher education which hinders them from being competitive in a higher paying work force. Thus, many opportunities are gone before they even reach the age to apply for college. This situation is called "anomie" or nomlessness because people have accepted this goal of economic success, but the norms are not consistent with achieving it. This causes the strain between the cultural goal and institutionalized means. The frustration that the strain causes for people of the lower class causes them to turn to illegitimate, or socially unacceptable, means of pursuing the cultural goal (Orcutt 2002). The first is conformity, or, people who achieve the cultural goal by taking advantage of an institutionalized mean (Agnew 2007). The second is innovation. People who become innovators accept the cultural goal, but because of the lack of institutionalized means, they strive toward economic success by "inventing" illegitimate or illegal means such as: drug dealing, black market selling, illegal gambling, prostitution, or robbery (Agnew 2007). Basically, their goal is the same but their method of achieving it is different and socially unacceptable. The third category is retreatism. People who fall into this category reject the cultural goal. They cannot achieve the goal and give up on wanting to accomplish it. They also give up the institutionalized means of accomplishing it. They become drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill, or those who commit suicide. People who just fade out of society and no longer take part in it- they "retreat" from society due to the pressures that the narrow cultural goal causes (Agnew 2007). Fourth is the ritualism category. People who fall into this category give up on the cultural goal, but go through the motions of the institutionalized means blindly. They do the means with no goal in mind (Agnew 2007). For example, someone who gives up on getting a degree but still comes to class and simply sleeps or daydreams through lectures is simply following the ritual. They take exams but flunk them all. People that go to work and work 40 hours a week, then go blow their paycheck in hours also fall into the ritualistic category. This theory declares that this kind of behavior is a result of not having the institutionalized means to try to achieve the more middle/upper class lifestyle (Agnew 2007). These people are most likely going to fall in the working class. Finally the fifth category is rebellion. The goal of people in this category is to replace both the cultural goal and the institutional means to achieve it (Agnew 2007). For example a socialist feels that the cultural goal is not economic success, but more so political reform. The white supremacists and black panthers would fall under this category. The Amish would also (in some respects) fall under this umbrella when considering our societies' goal by growing their own food and making their own life through means of labor not money.
This theory is favorable for consideration as an explanation for all crime except for white collar crime. The reason the strain theory does not apply to white collar crime is because people who have committed such crimes have already achieved the cultural goal and thus dismiss everything the theory stands for. From this perspective, there is no real reason, according to Anomie, for their delinquency. This theory is also favorable because it is relatively easy to test.
Travis Hirchi's Social Bond theory is another interesting perspective to consider as an explanation of Juvenile delinquency. According to Hirchi's social bond theory, there are four elements to consider and explain why people conform to societies norms. Because this is a Control theory, instead of explaining why crime is committed this theory explains what is needed to prevent delinquency from happening; in other words, control theories explain why people conform (Welch 1998). Hirchi believed that it is necessary for one to have attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief in order to prevent delinquency and promote more pro-social behavior (Shoemaker 2000).
Attachment refers to the psychological and emotional connection one feels toward another persons or groups and the extent to which one cares about their opinions and feelings. This is the more social concept of the theory (Shoemaker 2000). Commitment is the result of a cost-benefit approach to delinquency. It refers to investments accumulated in terms of conformity to conventional rules, such as time, money, effort and status, versus the estimated costs or losses of investment associated with nonconformity. This is the rational aspect of the theory. Commitment is also involves the commitment to ones future. This means an individual's hopes, dreams, aspirations, and desires. The stronger commitment to ones future allows less risk for delinquent behavior because it gives individuals a reason to not commit delinquent acts. Involvement refers to the participation in conventional and legitimate activity, which could include extracurricular activities such as school plays, clubs, organizations, and athletic events (Shoemaker 2000). Belief involves the acceptance of a conventional value system. The weakening of the belief in conventional values and norms is a major factor in the risk of delinquency. If youth does not believe in the values they are being taught, there is much less reason for them to conform.
In the Shoemaker book, this theory was evaluated with three relationships in mind; delinquency and religion, delinquency and the family, and delinquency and school (Shoemaker 2000). Although this theory can be used to explain all types of crime, these relationships further proved its accuracy.
According to Shoemaker, there is a relationship between delinquency and religion in the aspect that delinquents are less religiously active than nondelinquents (Shoemaker 2000). However, when considering the family lives of delinquents, "broken homes" were a huge pre-indicator of delinquency to come. If a family life is healthy and stable for an individual, the risk of delinquency is much less than that of a single parent home or an abusive home. School can also play a significant part, especially when considering the attachment factor of the theory. School failure is almost always correlated with delinquency therefore it is important that a student feels both attached and committed to their education. The frustration from missing such components in their school experience can be devastating to their future and can run a much higher risk for delinquency (Shoemaker 2000).
The social bond theory is favorable because it can be easily tested by breaking down all the components of the bond. Attachment and commitment can be observed as well as the other elements of this theory. Yet, the unfavorable factor about this theory is that it does not adequately explain the drift theory alone. This theory only gives the view on people who are delinquent and by society learn to control their delinquency. It does not account very well for those who commit a delinquent act once in their youth and then grow to be productive citizens of society. Despite this flaw in my integration theory I have included a valid explanation for the drift theory and the "aging out concept."
By integrating these two theories, delinquency can be much more understood in terms of the constant internal struggle that humans face against the inherent evil they are born with. The environment which youths encircle themselves in plays a role in how well they can control the evil that so wishes to emerge. This integrated theory's outlined struggle between the environment and the inherent evil can also better explain the drift theory and "aging out" because it shows the fact that though youth believe in the socially constructed norms, they are not perfect and sometimes the opposing side of their battle wins and thus causes them to commit a delinquent act. An impressionable, influenced youth who is trying to create an identity may struggle to find a "niche" or environment which they feel can allow them to both express themselves and be in congruence with the morals and values their parents, and society have instilled in them. The struggle to maintain control of internal evil is more difficult for youth than adults because they do not yet have enough commitment to their future to want to control their delinquent impulses. This is why "aging-out" applies because as youths grow older and mature into adults the idea of their future becomes more real and thus they need to find ways to secure the well being of both themselves and their families. Ultimately their attachments grow to more conventional things.
My integrated theory is especially important when considering the lower class because with the lack of institutionalized means to create a healthy environment, youths tend to turn to illegitimate means in order to commit and believe in something, regardless if it is healthy or not. The struggle to maintain control of their evil is attributed to the fact that they do not have a secure future due to broken families, school failure and status frustration, and lack of exposure to legitimate means of achieving the cultural goal. This situation is to blame for youths falling into unhealthy peer groups, taking advantage of illegitimate means, and ultimately becoming delinquents. For example a student who is failing in school because his school does not have funding for extracurricular activities does not have as much attachment to school as does a middle class student who is committed to their future by means of programming that influences her to believe education will guide their to success. Also, if a student's family does not appreciate the value of a college education the student will thus not be in an environment that encourages this particular legitimate mean. Thus in a circular fashion, the parents don't attend college or pursue a higher education and so the children do not feel an attachment, commitment, or belief in the idea of education. They then cannot make enough money to support themselves, and like many in their community turn to illegitimate means of making money.
According to the anomie theory, the disproportion of the institutionalized means is to blame for delinquency. An obvious solution would be to offer more institutionalized means to the lower class. I feel that by both adding and sharing the experiences of the higher social classes, it can offer commitment and attachment to the lower class youth. I believe that if society provides more institutionalized means to the lower class, the youth will then socially bond to the means and the positive influences they will bring. Thus, delinquency will diminish based on the fact that youths will learn skills that will help them control their inherent delinquent impulses. This integrated theory is better than the theories alone because it provides both an explanation for the drift phenomena and it will provide opportunities to help prevent white collar crime as well. The two theories both complement each other and offer a solution for each others' shortcomings. I also feel that this would address all levels of crime even white collar crime because it could potentially bond those who have achieved the cultural goal with those who have not. This would allow people who "have it all" so to speak have more charitable opportunities and would offer them an opportunity to help others through the legitimate social bond process. This would spread goodwill among the upper class and allow them to have more generous thoughts. Perhaps, if given the opportunities to help others in need of institutionalized exposure, the greed that drives a lot of white collar crime could be potentially lessened as well as the lower class delinquency. Basically, this would bring less divide between the social statuses.
The most beneficial delinquency policy prevention to my integrated theory would be mentorship programs and funding for extracurricular activities for youth in underprivileged communities. I believe that by implementing sports teams and after school organizations with students who are of a mixed social class, but similar athletic ability and interests, would both bond the students and offer good role models for the lower income students to look up to. I feel that many children do not get the exposure to legitimate institutionalized means or people who conform to the means enough to fully understand and appreciate them. If a child had a mentor who has a strong commitment to the future, and a low record of delinquent acts, perhaps the child could also learn to have a commitment to their own future. I also feel that schools could sponsor more trade programs and apprenticeships for students who are academically challenged.
I also feel that by funding more extracurricular organizations for different cultures, religions, and interests for youth of all kind would attract a more diverse population to the community in question. By forming a stronger more opportunistic community, people would bond with others in different races or of different cultures. We need for people of different backgrounds to attach to the same activities and mentality so they can all pursue a common goal and so they can all believe in and accept the same conventional value system. There needs to be more interaction between the classes so that the environment becomes more neutral and the institutionalized means become more available to people out of the upper class. Children who have a tutor who does well in school and is praised for it may look up to their tutor as a role model and thus decided that they too believe in the value of an education. People need to start using each other as a resource for a better society in the future. If more people acted on the beliefs of this theory not only do I feel delinquency would be significantly less in youth, but those youth would grow to make society as a whole better in their adulthood. This theory helps ensure the future of tomorrow with the youth of today. I feel that this could condition children to believe in and be open to all kinds of people and thus reduce racial tension, gender bias, and even police discretion. I feel that it is time to break the stereotypes and labels that we have been socially conditioned to believe in.
I also feel that more academic funding is necessary for scholarships to be given to a wider range of people across the social classes. I think that scholarships are too easily given to those who can afford to attend college without assistance and thus leave little opportunities for students who are truly in need. In addition to college scholarships I think apprenticeship scholarships to pay for job training and equipment is necessary too. I feel that students are too often pressured into thinking that college is the only form of higher education.
This theory could be easily tested. I would first take a random sampling of data from youth from different social classes about their experiences with school and their community. This would measure happiness, fulfillment, delinquent acts in the individual, and goals or plans for the future. Then I would do a more restricted sampling and survey from students who have committed delinquent acts and upper class students who have secure grades, access to institutionalized means and seem destined to succeed in society (probably based on teacher recommendations etc). After taking this basic data I would conduct another survey after implementing an afterschool mentorship (with the same delinquents in question) which includes; college visits, community service, job shadowing, sports and recreational activities, and free tutoring. After six months with this mentor, I would administer yet another survey to both the mentor and mentee and see if social bonding occurred and if the delinquent is happier now that he or she has adopted many similar values and beliefs as their mentor. Finally a year after the mentorship ends, I would find those previously deemed delinquent students and hope that the mentorship programming encouraged the students enough that they would then have faith in their futures and would be doing better socially, academically, and legally. It is my belief that the interaction would prove my theory correct.
My final step in the policy amendments and testing procedures would be to encourage for the juvenile court system to adopt and attempt to fund such mentorship programming for first time delinquent youth's. I feel that this would help stop things before they become repeat offenders and thus will quicken the "aging out" process by surrounding youth with a more positive environment. Repeat juvenile offenders could potentially be asked to serve their time and then be placed in a regulated apprenticeship to learn a trade. Hopefully they will socially bond with co-workers and age out of delinquency in pursuit of a steady paycheck.
Though I realize that my theory would take a lot of work to implement and would never be able to completely annihilate juvenile delinquency, I do feel that it could create positive changes in the lives of youths everywhere. If more people believed in sharing institutionalized opportunities with the lower class and making institutionalized opportunities more available we could provide positive influences for youths. This would allow youth to learn all the skills necessary to control their delinquent impulses and thus would give youth a reason to conform to the socially accepted norms of society.