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The purpose of this paper is to explain juvenile delinquency using three criminological theories. These include the broken windows theory, the culture of the gang theory and the social disorganization theory.
Shaw and McKay (1942, pp. 89-102) developed the social disorganization theory, which explains crime in terms neighborhood dynamics. According to Shaw and McKay (1942, pp. 89-102), socio-economically deprived neighborhoods are socially disorganized. This is because such neighborhoods are characterized with ethnic heterogeneity, low economic achievements, and high residential mobility.
These factors negatively affect the informal and formal institutions of social control such as schools, family, and churches. As a result, regulation of behavior declines and juvenile delinquency increases (Gary, 2003, pp. 10-25). Socially disorganized neighborhoods also promote the development of criminal traditions, which are easily passed from generation to generation of youths.
In this case, young people learn pro-delinquent attitudes through regular interactions with older juveniles. Thus, juvenile delinquency rates will be high in areas where behavior control mechanisms are lacking and the transmission of delinquent values is high.
Wilson and Kelling (1982, pp. 29-38) developed the broken windows theory to explain crime and juvenile delinquency. The theory compares communities to houses whose windows are broken over time. Houses whose broken windows are repaired immediately send the message that the owners are in charge and are likely to avert future attempts to break the windows.
By contrast, houses whose broken windows are unattended to give the impression that no one is in charge, thereby encouraging vandals to break more windows. In this regard, juvenile delinquency is likely to be high in communities with weak or no social controls. Wilson and Kelling (1982, pp. 29-38) assert that juvenile delinquency rate is likely to increase if minor misconducts are allowed to evolve into serious crime.
This gives the impression that there are no formal or informal social control systems to regulate the behavior of individuals. Ultimately, delinquent youths will flock in areas with no social order, whereas responsible and disciplined people will relocate to areas with low crime rates. This explains the difference in the level of juvenile delinquency in different cities or communities.
Cohen (1955, pp. 173-177) developed the culture of the gang theory to explain the origin of juvenile delinquency. According to Cohen (1955, pp. 173-177), goal blockage is the main cause of juvenile delinquency. In particular, the youth aspire to become members of the middle class in their communities.
However, when they fail to achieve this objective or aspiration through legal or illegal means, they tend to create achievable alternative status systems. This involves adopting values that are opposed to conventional value systems. Concisely, the youth who are not able to achieve the middle class status or any other goal are likely to engage in juvenile delinquency as a means to achieve an alternative status.
The social disorganization theory and the broken windows theory suggest that juvenile delinquency is caused by lack of social control mechanisms. This can be illustrated by the high juvenile delinquency rates in communities with weak control institutions such as the police, schools, and family.
The culture of the gang theory, on the other hand, suggests that the youth will adopt non-conventional values and engage in crime if they are not able to achieve their goals.
Cohen, A. (1955). Delinquent boys: The culture of the gang. New York, NY: Free Press.
Gary, J. (2003). Social disorganization theory. New York, NY: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers.
Shaw, C., & McKay, H. (1942). Juvenile delinquency and urban areas. Chicago, CH: University of Chicago Press.
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Wilson, J., & Kelling, G. (1982, March 1). Broken windows. Atlantic Monthly, 249(3), pp. 29-38.