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Adolescence and early adulthood are times of change; a period of time when young people face new challenges, growth and increased vulnerability. The Youth Justice Board (2010) suggests that there are currently 2,209 under-18s in custody in the UK. Furthermore, 68.6% of all children under the age of 18, who were discharged from prison in 2004, had reconvicted within one year of release (Chen, Matruglio, Weatherburn and Hua, 2005). With young people who offend early, more likely to go on to be adult offenders, it is of vital importance for criminologists to concentrate on what gives rise to, and terminates, juvenile delinquency.
The aim of this essay is to investigate the case of a young offender, named Len Wade, who has been convicted for repeatedly committing delinquent offences; typically burglaries of dwelling. Many sociological and psychological principles can account for the events, motivations and eventual outcome of Len's criminal behaviour. This essay will adopt a longitudinal approach to criminal behaviour, by investigating the onset and causes of Len's illegal behaviour; before going on to explore the reasons why Len continues to offend, despite his numerous convictions. Finally empirical literature will be explored, to gain an understanding of how plans can be implemented to prevent Len from reoffending in the future. This exploration will centre itself on the key components of Social Bond Theory (SBT) while implementing various empirical criminological literature, to gather an understanding of SBT's potential strengths and limitations in explaining the onset, persistence and potential desistence of Len's juvenile delinquent behaviour. Furthermore, where weaknesses are identified, other key theories and empirical explanations will be integrated and contrasted to account for Len's unlawful actions.
Traditionally much of the blame for youth and juvenile crime has been placed on the parents and guardians of youths, suggesting youths are direct descendants of their elder's actions. One key theory which attempts to provide an understanding into the role social bonds can play in criminal behaviour is SBT. Hirschi's (1969) SBT centres on the idea that during adolescence, strong positive intimate relationships, aspirations and moral beliefs need to be formed to represent the social world in a positive light, and thus prevent future offending. Hirschi (1969) believed an individuals social bond can be classified into four key components; attachment, involvement, commitment and belief systems.
Hirschi (1969) explains that one of the most crucial components when considering the onset of juvenile delinquency is the bond between youths and their parents or peers. This provides a potential explanation for the onset of Len's criminal behaviour, Len's relationship to his parents seems, some what, strained, especially with his father, who is noted to be schizophrenic. Consequently it is unlikely that Len's father has been able to bond and join in with his son's leisure activities. Various self reports suggest, having a father who is unable join in with recreational activities significantly increases his son's later risk of offending (Farrington, 1973). Recent report research and analysis was conducted on 115 delinquent adolescents by Williams and Kelly (2005) who established that paternal parenting style seems to be most strongly linked to a son's future delinquent behaviour in young adulthood;
Agnew (1992) whose general strain theory, proposes that those adolescents who experience unpleasant events, circumstances or aversive situations at home, from which they feel they cannot escape, are likely to experience some negative emotional reactions provides further explanation of these findings. Len's father's schizophrenia is likely to have placed some strain on Len and his family; this unpleasant situation may have caused some frustration for Len, as a young adolescent, possibly provoking him to take action; in a desire to escape his aversive life conditions. Thus reiterating the idea that that the mental health problems of Len's father may have served to exacerbate his criminal behaviour.
Although information regarding Len's relationship with his mother is limited, it is likely that her ability to form a close bond with her son has potentially been thwarted, by the pressure of caring for her partner's intermittent mental health problems. Nelson and Rubin (1997) implemented self-report questionnaires which included a demographic survey, an attachment inventory, and a juvenile delinquency questionnaire to 133 adolescents aged between 13-18 years in rural Washington to gather empirical support for this proposition. Findings indicated a significant relationship between delinquency level and parental attachment to mother and father thus supporting the idea proposed by Hirschi (1969) that, the more attached adolescents are to their parents, the less delinquent they are likely to become in adolescence. Therefore it seems that Len's offending is likely to have been influenced, in part, by his family's preoccupation with his father's illness, and consequently his lack of strong social bonding with his parents.
Although it seems much of Len's criminal behaviour can be explained by his less than ideal upbringing (Hirschi, 1969, Nelson & Rubin, 1997), this explanation is limited in its ability to account for the difference in Len's siblings' offence rates. They themselves experienced the same negative strains placed on Len and his family, but have nonetheless not become delinquents and ''have no history of offending''. One possible explanation comes from Len's strong, but nonetheless negative relationship to his peers. Hirschi (1969) is criticised regarding his strong belief that the presence of any type of social attachment can only be beneficial. Hindelang (1973) argues that close bonds with similar delinquent peers can in fact have an extremely negative affect on future outcomes. Decades of research in this area such as recent research by Nijhof, Scholte, Overbeek and Engles (2010) has illustrated that youths who have delinquent friends are themselves much more likely to offend, especially if these friends are considered to be of high social status in their peer group. This seems to be the case for Len whose only strong social bond appears to be with his peers who he looks to, for the care and encouragement his parents have unsuccessfully provided him. Therefore, although this peer attachment seems to be strong, a positive thing according to Hirschi's (1969) theory, this bond has only served in negatively influencing Len to conform to the norms of his peer group; by taking drugs and beginning to behave in a criminal manner.
The key role that peers play in the onset of offending can be better understood by introducing a psychological understanding of criminal behaviour. Bandura's (1977) social learning theory (SLT) proposes that human beings learn by imitating things they see in the world. In the critical adolescent years the majority of a youngster's time is spent with friends rather than family, thus it is not surprising that peers have a vast influence on future outcomes. (Nijhof et al, 2010) It is possible that it was during this influential period that Len began to engage in delinquent behaviour. It is likely that Len has observed his peers acting illegally and has subsequently been encouraged and motivated to behave in similar ways to gain and uphold respect amongst his friends; which he has not gained through more conventional bonds.
When moving on to consider Len's persistence in committing criminal offences, one area which seems to be vital is his commitment to his peer group; criminals very often feel the need to uphold the negative, but nonetheless desirable, reputations they have gained from peers. (Esbensen, Peterson, Taylor, & Freng, 2009) Len explains his reconvictions as getting ''in with the same old crowd'' suggesting that he may find himself committing crimes to enhance his social status and reputation amongst his peers instead of conventional society. Conklin (1996) criticised SBT for not elaborating on the role of these negative commitments, arguing that Hirschi (1969) focused too much on the role that commitment to conventional society has to play on criminals. Hirschi (1969) suggested that people consider a cost-benefit analysis when deciding whether to commit an offence. If, like Len, the individual has no employment or reputation to uphold, they are much more likely to feel that they have nothing to lose by committing and continuing to commit crime. However Esbensen et al. (2009) would argue that the respect, reputation and approval Len receives from his peers when committing illegal offences is regarded as a benefit to his own self esteem and reputation. This idea has been supported further by empirical evidence from Graham and Bowling (1995), whose large scale, longitudinal study suggests that commitment to delinquent peers is a crucial risk factor to committing offences and reoffending in the future
Len's low commitment levels are further illustrated by his lack of commitment to community service as conveyed by, his prison probation officer, whose records showed that his response to community service was ''poor''. This is likely to have been influenced, in part, by a lack of inherent respect for authority, which Hirschi (1969) referred to as an individual's belief system. It would be hypothesised that Len has not developed a strong belief system due to his poor social bonds (Hirschi, 1969). Yet when talking about his four year sentence Len explains that ''he thoroughly deserved it for what he had done''. This apparent acceptance and regard for authoritative law is not explained by SBT. However, Little (1990) introduced the idea of impression management which may well explain why Len seems to agree with his sentences, in order to present a positive moral impression, of himself, onto lawful figures.
Hirschi (1969) went on to introduce a similar but distinctive concept that, heavy involvement in conventional, legal activities helps to eliminate the time available to commit crimes and is thus beneficial in preventing delinquent behaviour. Downes (1966) explains that a lack of entertainment or leisure time greatly increases the chances of youths, especially males, to commit and persist in committing crimes. Len does not seem involved or engrossed in any conventional activities. This is noticeably illustrated in his response that there is "nowt else to do" when asked why he returned to his heroin drug use. Empirical support from Evans, Cullen, Dunaway and Burton (1995) discovered that being from a religious background had a modest but fairly consistent influence on preventing or at least reducing delinquency among youths. Therefore it seems crucial that Len becomes involved in conventional activities if he is to desist from reoffending in the future.
It is clear throughout this case that Len's peers have played a crucial role in the onset and his persistence in deviant behaviour. Furthermore Len's peers have introduced him to drugs, which seem to be of upmost importance to preventing him from reoffending again in the future. Dull (1984) criticised SBT concluding that, although SBT does provide some explanation regarding why criminals may develop addictions, it nonetheless fails to provide an adequate explanation regarding the essential role drugs play in the process of committing criminal acts. Campbell and Harrington (2000) used the 1999 Youth Lifestyle Survey to illustrate that the use of drugs directly influences the possibility of offending, making boys aged between 12 and 17 five times more likely to commit crimes; as well as increasing the risk that an individual will reconvict in the future. Harlow (1994) analysed empirical statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1991 and illustrated that of those imprisoned for robbery, 27 percent of State prisoners admitted committing their offences to obtain money, to fund their drug addictions. Len openly admits that he committed crimes to fund his heroin addiction, thus reiterating the idea that his drug use is a major determinant of his criminal reconvictions.
When exploring the essential role of drug use, in criminal behaviour psychological theories provide a useful insight. Eysenck (1964) focused his work on the role of personality in criminals. Eysenck (1964) would suggest that Len is likely to have traits of high extraversion, and neuroticism and was thus especially difficult to condition as a youngster. As a result, Len is unlikely to have learnt to respond to antisocial impulses and risky behaviour such as drug use with feelings of anxiety. Consequently, Len is more likely to take illicit drugs and as a result act antisocially in situations where the opportunity presents itself, in fact much of Len's crimes seem to be opportunistic in nature. Furthermore Eysenck & Zuckerman (1978) identified a strong link between sensation seeking and high levels of extraversion and psychoticism.
Zuckerman (1978) went on to suggest that certain individuals are naturally sensation seeking and are thus more biologically and environmentally vulnerable to engage in deviant acts or to take illicit drugs. Yanovitzky (2005) used questionnaires to provide empirical support, that a sensation seeking personality is a great predictor of drug use. Furthermore it seems that those who are sensation seekers are also those people who take higher risks in regards to committing criminal acts. (Yanovitzky, 2005) Len himself talks about the ''thrill' and ''buzz' he feels while, committing crimes and taking drugs, explaining that he initially found drugs and crime ''exciting''. Len also relates his drug use to feeling ''relaxed and nice inside'' These theories also provide a possible explanation for why Len's siblings have gone on to lead normal, law abiding lives. It may be that Len's siblings are not biologically vulnerable in regards to sensation seeking traits and have thus been sufficiently conditioned, to associate these criminal behaviours with disregard and anxiety, hence going on to lead crime free lives.
To prevent Len from reoffending it is essential that his association with delinquent peers along with his sensation seeking behaviour are thwarted as this seems most critical to his reoffending. Home office research by Graham and Bowling (1995), in which, in depth interviews were undertaken with 21 desisters of crime, confirms that one of the most negative factors in male desistence from offending is the use of 'hard drugs', thus suggesting treatment which aims to lower drug use in males also potentially reduces offending among juvenile delinquents. Further interviews conducted by Jamieson, McIvor, and Murray, (1999) suggests that Len must attempt to disconnect from his delinquent peers in order to present himself with the opportunities, which are essential for him to cease offending in the future.
In the preceding review, it is apparent that SBT is a well covered and well applied theory of delinquency. In the case of Len it is clear that SBT and the empirical evidence to support it, presents clear and logical explanation for the onset of his criminal acts, however it seems as though his strong peer bond and subsequent drug use are most essential to his perseverance and eventual termination of this criminal behaviour. It is intuitive that those, young people who engage in delinquency tend to be free of intimate attachments, aspirations and moral beliefs, that would otherwise bind them to conventional ways of life. However since bond strength alters in certain kinds of lifestyles the affects will be different in all cases, thus each individual case must be analysed with consideration of the myriad of sociological and psychological explanations. Hence an individualised and longitudinal approach focusing on the onset, persistence and desistence of offending is vital to prevent youth offenders from becoming adult criminals.