Which factors contribute to young people committing crime?

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Which factors contribute to young people committing crime?


I chose this topic for my literature review as I feel that if we understand the root of the problem of the crime, in this case the risk factors that lead to criminal activity, then juvenile delinquency could be understoodand possibly prevented. A risk factor is ‘some specific characteristic displayed by a person or their circumstances that bears some statistically significant correlative position in relation to their behaviour” (Brown, 2005).

Home Office statistics for 2009/10 show that young people age 10-17 were responsible for 20% of all the crime recorded by the police. (Cooper and Roe, 2012). Due to the high number of crime committed by youth, even though they are mostly minor crimes, is it important to understand what leads them to committing criminal acts. Numerous researchers have come up with theories and reasons which try to explain why young people choose to commit deviant acts. The following studies found in this literature review will attempt to explain some of the factors that contribute to young people committing crime.


For this literature review I have used a variety of sources which will provide me with both qualitative and quantitate data. I researched studies from journal articles, government reports and afters going to the library I managed to find many books on the topic of factors contributing to juvenile delinquency. I also managed to find a few websites that provided me with background information and statistics.


A number of researchers categorise ‘risk’ factors in many different ways. In this essay however I will mostly talk about individual, social/family and environmental factors. Each of this category has its own subcategories. For example, under the category of social factors it can be included family risks, peer-related risks, etc.

Environmental Risk Factors

Several research articles I looked at suggests that one of the reasons why youth choose to commit criminal acts is because of poverty. A study was conducted at the Kamiti Youth Corrective Training centre (Y.C.T.C) where the sample were 55 inmates selected by random sampling from a total of 120 inmates. It was found that over 70% of the sample were poor or came from families with poor background. This was based on where they lived, whether or not they owned properties and the types of crimes they committed, For example, some of the inmates stated that because they lacked their basic needs, they run from home into the streets to beg for survival. They stated that they also became involved in petty offences like stealing good or properties values that were not too expensive. This finding showing that poverty is a cause of crime among youth, supports the theory of Thomas R. Forstenzer, in one of his articles called “Tomorrow in North America: Youth between the American dream and reality”, in The Twentieth Session UNESCO General Conference Report titled “Youth in the 1980S “ on poverty as a main reason of deviant acts. He states that economic stress and believing in personal failure is “…the chronic culprit for the symptoms of social decay: drugs, alcohol and sex related problems that will affect the young as long as the family itself difficulty facing the strains of inflation and unemployment”. (Omboto et al., 2013)

As poverty is linked with social class, more than 80% of the sample from the Y.C.T.C. study belonged to lower social class. Before their arrests a majority of them lived in poor areas around Nairobi city such as Kibera and Mathare. The researcher stated that some of these offences were bare footed. This finding on social class and delinquency confirms the opinion of Wright and Younts (2009) that delinquency rate increased while social class decreased.

Social Risk Factors

Other researchers believe that some youth get into crime as a form of rebellion against parental authority and due to peer pressure. Youth people may choose to commit crimes as a way to show their independence of the ‘adult’ word and its rules, as a way of getting attention and respect from peers, as well as trying to compensate for their restricted opportunities at school or in their community. By having good relationships with parents during childhood might help in a fortunate transition to adolescence, but it does not guarantee it, as risk factors are linked together. For instance, even though one might have an outstanding relationship with the parents, they might come from a low social status, and therefore it might led them to commit crimes.

Hirschi (1969) argues that “delinquent acts result when an individual’s bond to society is weak or broken. He states that conformity starts from four types of social control which then these create social bonds. The weaker those bonds are the most likely it is for someone to commit a deviant act. For example attachment is one type of social control. Strong social attachments leads to conformity, and by having a fragile family/peer/school relationship, can make people to commit crimes more easily. (Hirschi 1969 cited in Carrabine E. et al.)

Ojo (2012) states that broken homes and low education attainment as some of the causes for youth committing deviant acts. In the Y.C.T.C. study, most of boys from the sample came from dysfunctional families. Some of the boys were orphans and had no guardian to look after them before their arrest, other boys has divorced parents or a single parents and others’ parents were alcoholics or were not able to give a ‘good’ parenthood. For instance, in the sample7 boys had divorced parents, 6 youths mothers died, 14 has no father (either died or unknown), while 8 had no parents at all. When it comes to education, 78% did not go beyond class six primary with their schooling. (Omboto et al., 2013)

West & Farmington (1973) stated that just like low income family income, large family members is also an important factor of youth offending. This is due to the presence of several siblings that leads to faulty upbringing by parents/guardians at critical stages of the child’s development.

Individual Risk Factors

Other studies have found that individual risk factors also play a role in the behaviour of the youth. Individual factors include factors such as impulsivity, attention problems, low intelligence and low school attainment. For instance. LeMarquand and Tremblay (2001) cited in OJJDP’s argued that “the best social behaviour characteristic to predict delinquent behaviour before age 13 appears to be aggression”.

Hawkins at al. (1998) cited in OJJDP’s also found ‘a positive relationship between hyperactivity, concentration and attention problems, impulsivity and risk taking ad later violent behaviour’

Herrenkohl et al (2001) cited in OJJDP’s stated that “children with low academic performance, low commitment to school, and low educational aspirations during elementary and middle school grades are at higher risk for child delinquency than are other children”

Otherl Risk Factors

Other risk factors found in the literature which might influence a young person’s behaviour can be community and neighbourhood. Young people who live in a neighbourhood with a high level of poverty and crimes, is likely to increase the risk of young people being involved in a serious type of offence.( McCord, Widom and Crowell 2001 cited in OJJDP’s).

Prevention strategies which can help to lessen the risk factors

Richards (2011) believes that taking away the youth form their areas and putting them behind the bars, does not deal with the underlying problem. Therefore some measure should be put in place to help reduce young people involvement in crime. For example the government and private agencies should creaser employment opportunities for youth of employable ages. Parents must also be responsible for their own children (providing moral guidance and material needs). But also learning institutions for youth must put in place sport and extra-curriculum activities, as this will leave them less time, if no time at all to be preoccupied with other things like offences


From summarising the studies, I have identified 3 main risk factors that can have an impact on young people’s involvement in crime: Social, individual and environmental risk factors. I have also identifies other risk factors which are not too important but it does have some relevance to young people’s behaviour. I have also identified some prevention strategies which might help to young people to stop getting involved in criminal activities. Overall, whether is down to individual, social or environmental factors, young people’s involvement in crimes sees to decrease since 1995. But we cannot say crimes declined due to the improvement of one factor (i.e. social factors) because as I discussed earlier, risk factors are connected with one another.

Even though risk factors give us an understanding to why young people might choose to commit crimes, risk factor approach has its limitations. One of them being the risk of being labelled, young people being generalised and it also fails to distinguish correlation form causation.

Preventing the delinquents is a big problem with no easy and quick solutions. Risk factors only offers the possibility to establish which youth is more likely to commit deviant acts.

If I was to do further research on this topic, I would try to find more research based in the United Kingdom as most of the research I found was from America, however the short time prevented me from doing so.


Brown, S. (2005). Understanding youth and crime. 2nd ed. London: Open University Press, p.100.

Carrabine, E., Cox, P., Lee, M., Plummer, K. and South, N. (2009). Criminology. A Sociological intrdouction. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, p.83.

Cooper, C. and Roe, S. (2012). An estimate of youth crime in England and Wales: Police recorded crime committed by young people in 2009/10. 1st ed. [ebook] London: Crown. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/167982/horr64.pdf [Accessed 2 Nov. 2014].

Ojo, M.O.D. (2012) A Sociological Review of Issues on Juvenile Delinquency The Journal of International Social Research Volume: 5 Issue: 22 465-482

Omboto, J., Ondiek, G., Odera, O. and Ayugi, M. (2013). Factors influencing youth crimes and juvenile delinquency. International Journal of Research in Social Sciences, [online] 1(2), pp.18-20. Available at: http://www.ijsk.org/uploads/3/1/1/7/3117743/sociology_2.pdf [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014].

Richards, K. (2011). What makes juvenile offenders different from adult offenders?. [online] www.aic.gov.au. Available at: http://www.aic.gov.au/media_library/publications/tandi_pdf/tandi409.pdf [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014].

West D.J. and Farmington D.P. (1973) “Who becomes Delinquents” Second report of the Cambridge Study in Delinquent. London: Heinemann

Wright, B.R.E. & Younts, C.W. (2009) Reconstructing the Relationship between Race and Crime: Positive and Negative Predictors of Crime among African American Youth Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 2009 46:327