The Youth And Deterrence Criminology Essay

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The problem years of teenage are usually delineated by the terms youth or adolescence a period extending from an innocent childhood to the social maturity of adulthood. But the precise boundaries of 'youth' and 'adolescence' remain uncertain. No one seems to be sure exactly when childhood is left behind or when adulthood is achieved. Moreover there is no neutral English noun which can identify a period of 'youth' with same certainty and impersonality as 'child' or 'adult'" [1] (Springhall, 1983-4, p.20).

The time when a person gains independence from the family home, and when he starts having full employment is defined as adulthood. The difference between being a young child and moving on to the teenage age is characterised by various factors which determine the way young people react and behave to the world around them. This is clearly indicated as the period which is constituted by a number of emotive and troubling images.

The well-being and the best interests of children has always been on every government's agenda. In every society one can find that there is always a small segment of youth and children who are at risk or have had a brief encounter or experience with the law. Regarding this fact, debates have been at the centre of controversy with several entities especially law and order.

Since the 1970's one can notice that problems with youth's growth of crime, youth suicide and self destructive behaviour are on the rise especially the use of violence. Data even shows that in many parts of the world, homicide rates, bulling and fighting have increased and are becoming very common among young people. Youth's major problems also consist in assault, verbal abuse, gangs, vandalism, disturbing public peace and order, drug trafficking, shoplifting, joyrides, consumption, rape and most recent computer hacking. From several surveys it has been established that most girls are arrested for incorrigibility, running away and sex offences while boys are arrested for vandalism, theft, assault, rape, drugs and some other major offences. Gender socialisation theory proposes that men and women are taught to cope with stress in different ways leading women to show a higher rate of internalising responses to stress while men show a higher rate of externalizing responses (Ostrov, Offer & Howard 1989). Males, who at a young age have portrayed or shown traits of delinquency, grow up to have aggressive behaviour. Some factors which lead youths to commit crime are:

Individuals:- At the early stages individuals who would have had problems at school, low IQ, low verbal skills, favourable attitudes towards antisocial behaviour, tendency to attribute hostile intentions to others, impulsive judgement, impulsive behaviour, lack of guilt feeling, Attention defiant disorder or other conditions normally end up involved in criminal activities. This behaviour leads to more serious situations which also involve committing crime. The individual concerned does not even stop to think where his actions are going to lead him and it is very difficult for youth to perceive what the end result is going to be.

Family: - Another factor which leads to Youth Crime is Family where you have lack of monitoring and less supervision, ineffective discipline, low warmth, high conflict, one-parent family, receipt of public assistance and parental difficulties. This will end up with children growing up without values or goals.

Peer:- Peer pressure is associated with deviant peers, poor relationship skills, low association with pro-social peers.

School:- School is another risk factor that leads a youth to criminal activity. Low achievement, drop-out, low commitment to education, early and persistent antisocial behaviour in early elementary school grades and even aspects of the schools show challenging behaviour that later on could lead to delinquency.

Neighbourhood & Community:- High mobility, low community support, criminal subculture, economically deprived area and availability of firearms can also lead the youth to exhibit delinquent behaviour, which as time passes could be aggravated by the commitment of more serious crimes as an adult.

To explain the behaviour of youth delinquency and why juveniles commit crimes, Criminologists have conducted several researches and a number of theories to achieve best results and understand the deviant response pattern and mechanism. There are three major theoretical perspectives that Criminologist would agree on these entail explanations of delinquent conduct. These Theories are the Social Learning Theory, Anomic and Strain Theory and Behaviour Theory.

Social Learning Theory is focused on behaviour modelling and environmental factors. The human behaviour must be controlled and regulated due to the fact that rules and regulations constitute a moral order when living in a society. This fact includes the involvement of attachment to important people and the interpersonal relationship with others. According to Dishion, French and Patterson, (1995), delinquent behaviour is generated and maintained with social relationship. As a child grows up and moves into social context she/he, observes and then imitates the behaviour of adults and what's around. The reinforcements and punishments that a child had received in her/his childhood, forms and re frames the behaviour in certain ways. In practice this could be seen when for example a child is surrounded by smokers, his/her families would let him/her buy cigarettes for themselves and the child starts to smoke.

Anomic and Strain Theory: As stated by Agnew, 1992, experiencing unpleasant events or circumstances, including repellent situations particularly violence and arguments consist in general strain Theory (Broidy, 2001 pg21). While Merton (1957) presented as an extension of Durkheim's writings were from his end stated that deviant behaviour is a response to anomie which means:

"a breakdown in the social structure, occurring particularly when there is an acute disjunction between the culture norms and goals and the socially structured capacities of members of the group to act in accord with them" [2] (Merton, 1957: 162)

It is very important to teach juveniles to acquire the necessary skills to succeed and reach their aims and goals. Poverty and low social standards can be considered as a low achievement which is otherwise reached through illegitimate means for juveniles to reach their goals.

Behavioural Theory has been studied by J.Watson, I. Parlov and B.F Skinner, and describe methods which are used and that result in positive or negative results. These consist mainly in conditioning processes whereby one gets rewarded or punished according to the behaviour portrayed. The end result would be that were conditioning is successful this could eventually lead to an extinction of a particular behaviour. Punishment is one of the hardest type of conditioning and this is carried out to reduce delinquent behaviour especially in juveniles. Individuals react differently to circumstances and this occurs also in such cases. The community and social aspects surrounding juveniles also determine the way these behave. Social aspects could have either a positive or negative effect which determine behaviour. The Community sets rules and laws and their enforcement has an impact which results in the development of delinquency-deterring measures.

In the Maltese Criminal Law in Chapter 9 Art 35-37 states that the age of an offender should be exempt from criminal responsibility for Minors which are under nine years of age. Minors which are under fourteen years of age are exempted from criminal liability for acts committed by a minor without mischievous discretion. And those minors that are fourteen years of age till eighteen years of age are considered to be responsible for acts committed however the degree of punishment is diminished by one or two degrees. The Juvenile Court Act Chapter 287, was forced, in 1980. This Act endorses a treatment social welfare approach to both offenders and non offenders and no difference is made between the delinquent and the neglected in which both require social intervention. The Juvenile Court is composed of one magistrate, assisted by two persons, one of whom has to be woman, whom the Court may consult in any case for its decision. The two assistants are appointed by the President of Malta acting in accordance with the advise of the Prime Minister from amongst persons who in the Prime Minister's opinion have previous experience and special qualifications for dealing with problems involving juveniles.

Moreover, the Juvenile Court is also competent to issue a care order, that is, committing a child or a young person who has been found guilty of a criminal offence to the care of the Minister responsible for social welfare for a period of not less than one year and not more than five years unless the child attains the age of eighteen years of age, in which case the order shall cease to have effect.

The increasing problems of youth offenders who end up committing crimes is a pre-occupation in many countries all over the world. In Ontario, Canada, the Ministry of Children and Youth services have adopted a youth justice system that dates back to 1908 that is based on welfare-oriented policies. The last paper was modified in 2010 and targets empirical and deterrence based theories related to youth correction and even punishment. Taken into consideration on how according to classical criminology theories, very often individuals who have committed a crime would have done it because there would be potential gains for themselves and the fact that they would not be caught. "Deterrence theorists maintain that as a punishment increases in severity, so too should its efficacy in deterrence and it is further main that, in order to effectively deter punishment must be swift and certain" [3] 

Deterrence can be divided into two specific elements and these could be considered as the two major ways how it should function. The first is "specific deterrence" where the offenders are apprehended and appropriately punished for their crimes in such a way that it would serve them as a harsh lesson not to commit crimes again. Bentham explained that "the profit of the crime is the force which urges a man to delinquency: the pain of the punishment is the force employed to restrain him from it. If the first of these forces be the greater the crime will be committed; if the second, the crime will not be committed." [4] 

Secondly there is the "general deterrence" those who commit crimes will serve as an example to potential offenders. According to this theory when youth offenders are being brought in front of criminal court and then being sentenced into adult correctional facilities it would have a general deterrent effect on youth crime rates. This means that a potential youth offenders, either those who are not first offenders or those who have not yet participated in illegal behaviour should theoretically be deterred in the future from engaging in delinquent activities due to fear that harsh adult-like sanctions could be effected if one could get caught.

Through studies it has been noted that over the years "stricter laws and harsh punishment are effective ways of deterring crime". Further studies have shown that it is not always the case and there might be a section of the youths who would still once again commit crimes. Punishment by itself is not enough and there also has to be a specific programme that would include counselling and anger management and emotional therapy.


Theories on Youth and Deterrence have focused a great deal on the social aspects, environment and upbringing of the youths. These as has been argued and shown, have great impact on how youths react and what leads them to commit crimes.

Punishment has its toll as a deterrent type of conditioning, but the problems are far from being solved. In a Society that evolves round the family, school, peers in an ethical way one's behaviour should be acceptable to others in undergoing a continuous struggle to bring up law abiding youths.