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The Influence of Peer Groups on Youth Crime Essay

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Youth crime is a major threat to public safety in many cities all around the world. From as early as ten years old, children may start to get involved with criminal behavior and become members of street gangs, which leads to a substantial number of juvenile arrests: under 18’s account for almost a fifth (19%) of all juvenile arrests (Dodge et al. 24). Moreover, as Smith highlights, the rate of adolescents who are re-convicted within a year is almost at 40% (3). Apart from a significant number of minor changes, such as shoplifting and trespassing, teens are often convicted of serious offenses, including possession and distribution of drugs and even homicide (Smith 70). Teen gangs and juvenile crime in general have a grave influence on the safety of many neighborhoods and the local populations. However, although many efforts have been taken to alleviate the issue, youth crimes remain a threat to communities all over the world. Smith suggests that the current situation is calling for a completely new approach and the restructuration of the juvenile justice system.

Arguably, the key to solving the problem of youth crime lies in exploring its causes and connecting it to the subjects’ background and experience. This is a popular approach – it has been established that teen violence and aggression can come from difficult family circumstances, peer pressure, and other social struggles that many teens experience (Ferguson et al. 1). Most of the practices aimed to decrease youth crime are focused on the prevention of juvenile delinquency rather than on timely intervention (Greenwood 185). Working with at-risk children, providing pre-school education, and introducing the Bullying Prevention program are all examples of preliminary actions that proved to be somewhat effective (Greenwood 196). However, without a suitable low-cost strategy that would act both as a preventative measure and as a correction measure, it would be impossible to achieve substantial results: the ex-offenders who did not receive proper support in the juvenile justice system can return to their gangs and criminal behavior. Moreover, due to the undoubted effect of peer pressure on the criminal actions of youths, they can also use their newfound authority in the gang to attract new members.

This project aims to look into one of the strongest factors affecting adolescents’ behavior: the influence of peer groups. However, whereas most research of youth crime focuses on peer pressure and its negative effect on teens, my goal is to approach the issue from both sides, exploring the negative as well as positive influences of peer groups on adolescents. The ultimate question of this research is whether or not positive peer interactions and peer support could be introduced as part of prevention and intervention strategies to decrease the teens’ inclination towards unlawful behavior.

The present project includes qualitative research based on the analysis of scholarly sources and articles of youth crime and violence, as well as on effective prevention plans for decreasing their prevalence. Some sources study and describe intervention strategies, for instance, maintaining a good interpersonal climate in juvenile prisons to ensure better treatment motivation (Helm et al. 36). The paper also aims to connect the research and recommendations to the Franciscan Tradition to build a deeper understanding of the importance of the issue in a modern socio-cultural and religious context.


Adolescence is one of the most important developmental stages of every person’s life. For many people, it is the time of achievements, building friendships, engaging in first romantic relationships. For some teens, it is also the time of expanding knowledge and experience of social interactions, learning to take responsibility for their actions, and developing self-control models. There are, however, many factors that can influence people at this stage of development and trigger aggression, antisocial behavior, and violence. The impact of youth crime on the community is profound, and so is the influence of criminal behavior on the lives of adolescents. The justice system often ignores the age and immaturity of convicted youths; incarceration of adolescents often contributes to re-offending and hurts the youth’s future social and professional prospects (Scott and Steinberg 16, 26).

If composed and implemented correctly, youth crime intervention programs can decrease crime rates and enhance social welfare (Scott and Steinberg 15). However, the use of youth crime prevention and intervention models in the U.S. remains fragmented, sometimes lacking the understanding of the specific factors that cause delinquency in adolescents in the first place (Greenwood 185). To build an intervention program that would decrease re-offending and promote the future development of adolescents, it is important to address and utilize one of the main factors that affect the social behavior of adolescents – peer influence.

U. S. Youth Crime Statistics

Adolescents constituted almost one-quarter of the United States population in 2010 (Sickmund and Puzzanchera 2). The issues such as poverty, living in single-parent homes, and school dropouts have an increasing effect on the juvenile population. For instance, in 2010, more than 20% of juveniles lived below the poverty level and there is certain evidence that exposure to poverty from a young age is linked to delinquency in adolescence: “Youth who grow up in families or communities with limited resources are at a higher risk of offending than those who are raised under more privileged circumstances” (Sickmund and Puzzanchera 7). Dropouts have a similar effect on adolescents: almost 10% of males who dropped out of high school have been institutionalized on a given day in 2006-2007, versus less than 3% of males with a bachelor’s degree or equivalent (Sickmund and Puzzanchera 15).

The most common type of crime among adolescents is school crime: in 2011, 1 in 8 students said they were in fights during the past year, 1 in 4 had their property is stolen or damaged (Sickmund and Puzzanchera 61). Nevertheless, more serious crimes among adolescents are not uncommon. For example, in 2010, 1 in 12 murders involved a juvenile offender, and most victims of the murders committed by juveniles were either acquaintances (57%) or strangers (36%) (Sickmund and Puzzanchera 74). Despite the overall decrease in the number of murders committed by juveniles from 1980 to 2010, the proportion of murders multiple juvenile offenders have increased from 30% to 52% of all murders committed by adolescents. Gang involvement in adolescents is also a significant issue: “The membership of gangs in larger cities and suburban counties was made up of 40% and 43% juveniles, respectively. Smaller cities and rural county gangs were composed of a majority of juveniles, with 61% of the gang members being juveniles” (Sickmund and Puzzanchera 74).

Causes of Youth Crime

Many researchers have attempted to discover and summarize the factors that influence aggression and criminal behavior in adolescents. For instance, a study by Ferguson et al., conducted in 2009, aimed to examine risk factors for violent behavior in adolescents. The results indicated that family conflicts could promote aggression in teens, even if the parental use of violence was not directed at them: “Parental use of psychological aggression in romantic relationships and negative relations between the child and adults, in general, was the most consistent and largest predictors of parent-reported youth-aggressive and rule-breaking behavior” (Ferguson et al. 906).

The bullying scheme of behavior could also be predicted by factors such as depression, negative family relations, video game violence exposure, family conflict, and parental use of psychological abuse (Ferguson et al. 906). Another study confirmed that exposure to violence was one of the main triggering factors for self-reported, peer-reported, and teacher-reported violence: “Exposure to violence was found to have a significant main effect on aggressive behavior, such that higher levels of exposure to violence predicted more aggressive behaviors as reported by self” (Benhorin and McMahon 730-731). Overall, the majority of studies found that the key to youth crime lies in the social interactions of the youths, as well as from mental health issues that can be triggered by the lack of social support and perceived loneliness, such as depression.

Negative Influence of Peer Groups

One of the most important communities that adolescents are part of is their peer group. It is no secret that teenagers can be hugely influenced by their peers, even more so than children and far more so than adults: “Several studies show that susceptibility to peer influence, especially in situations involving pressure to engage in antisocial behavior, increases between childhood and mid-adolescence, peaks around age fourteen, and declines slowly during the late adolescent years” (Scott and Steinberg 20). Such dependence on peer groups may interfere with the adolescent’s ability to determine the correct future direction and cause him or her to follow a wrong path, which is why peer groups are regarded as having a significant influence on the person’s criminal behavior (Scott and Steinberg 20).

Ferguson et al. agree with this point; according to the study, “Only delinquent peer associations were predictive of violent criminal behaviors, whereas delinquent peer associations and depression were predictive of nonviolent criminal activities” (906). Kreager et al. move further to discuss the special features of the peer groups that contribute to their delinquency. Research shows that, even though delinquent groups are just as likely to be composed of close, stable, and supportive friendships, the relationships within such friendship tend to be exploitive and more conflicted (Kreager et al. 97). The structure of delinquent groups also distinguishes them from other networks: for example, delinquent groups are normally detached from educational institution networks, i.e. it is common for a delinquent group to be made up of youths from various schools within the same area (Kreager et al. 107).

The effect of delinquent peer groups is persistent and continues throughout the adolescent’s communication with such groups. Dodge et al. attempt to summarize and explain the influence of deviant peers in intervention programs for young offenders. They state, “Deviant adolescents become more deviant by associating with deviant peers. Worse, when well-meaning government agencies act to place deviant youth together, they may contribute to the problem” (Dodge et al. 3). Research evidence suggests that deviant peer groups can promote most types of criminal behavior, such as drug use, covert antisocial behavior, violent offenses, and sexual assaults (Dodge et al. 3). Given this information, it seems at least illogical for governmental organizations to aim to solve the issue of youth crime by removing troubled adolescents from society and placing them into special institutions together.

Positive Influence of Peer Groups

However, the effect of peer group socialization is not limited to promoting criminal and anti-social behavior. Since it is evident that peer connections and authority are significant to the vast majority of adolescents, it is also possible to assume that supportive and appreciative relationship with non-deviant peers can have a positive influence on ex-offenders and troubled youths. This suggestion is not ungrounded: research suggests that positive interactions within various intervention programs account for greater motivation for treatment and, consequently, greater efficiency.

A study by Wentzel et al., among others, found that the support of peers and teachers helped students to set goals and put more effort into learning (41). The researchers write, “classmates can motivate each other to value academic activities and believe they can accomplish academic tasks; this is accomplished by communicating positive expectations for prosocial conduct that can facilitate learning (i.e., academic helping) and providing emotional support for learning” (Wentzel et al. 41). The effect of peer support is similar in intervention programs. For example, a study by Ho et al. found that adolescents in therapy were appreciative of the connection with peers, which resulted in increased motivation to use web-based intervention resources, while the decrease in engagement, shown by peers, had a severe adverse effect on the subjects (50). Finally, the value of social support in the juvenile justice system has also been studied by Helm et al. with the following conclusion: “The present study showed that an open group climate positively affected both treatment motivation and internal locus of control in incarcerated juvenile delinquents, and provided evidence that group workers can influence group climate” (45).

Intervention Strategies

Despite the evidence presented above, which confirms the positive influence of supportive and open group climate and shows how keeping delinquent peers together might result in recidivism, the current intervention strategies are aimed at containing delinquent peers together in a closed institution with a strict regime and little to none empathetic or supportive connection between the ex-offenders and the support workers. Abrams presents the experience of youths in institutional facilities, obtained from questionnaires and interviews. Overall, the findings prove that the intervention programs proposed to the subjects of the study used strict methods of control, utilized psychotropic medication to mediate aggression in the clients, and altogether failed to promote a supportive and caring environment that would motivate the ex-offenders to commit to treatment (Abrams). Other government programs aimed at eliminating youth crime are primarily focused on prevention, rather than on decreasing recidivism and supporting ex-offenders’ return to normal life (CrimeSolutions.gov).

In his book A New Response to Youth Crime, Smith suggests that a major juvenile justice system reform is needed to adequately address the issue in the U.S. He uses the example of Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) as an effective intervention model that has a potential to decrease youth crime rates over time. YCJA targeted the unfair treatment of juveniles in court by reducing the use of courts and custody for first-time offenders and juveniles accused of minor offenses, while at the same time encouraging police and prosecutors to make use of the various diversionary programs for youths (Smith 321).

Furthermore, given the potential for the use of positive peer networks to motivate young offenders in their treatment and to reduce recidivism, it would be wise to acknowledge this potential by including first-time offenders and adolescents committing minor crimes in a supportive community rather than aiming to exclude them from it. Examples of supportive communities that could provide positive motivation are teen religious organizations and churches, as well as volunteer groups. Communicating with adolescents who are engaged in improving the community and the life of others could increase ex-offenders’ motivation and minimize recidivism by providing the feeling of social security and inclusion.


In conclusion, I would like to highlight the connection of the proposed way of intervention to the values of the Franciscan Tradition. The Franciscans’ optimistic view of human nature promotes the idea that any person is capable of redeeming themselves, which is the primary principle behind all intervention programs. Moreover, Franciscan Tradition promotes inclusiveness and support within the community. These values are also important to the proposed intervention program as they would encourage ex-offenders and prevent the feeling of alienation that could intervene with the treatment. Finally, the concept of social justice is important in the Franciscan Tradition. The current treatment of juveniles in court is unjust and ineffective, whereas the proposed intervention model would increase the effectiveness of treatment, prevent recidivism, and thus have a positive impact on the community and social welfare.

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"The Influence of Peer Groups on Youth Crime." IvyPanda, 12 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-influence-of-peer-groups-on-youth-crime/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Influence of Peer Groups on Youth Crime." September 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-influence-of-peer-groups-on-youth-crime/.


IvyPanda. "The Influence of Peer Groups on Youth Crime." September 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-influence-of-peer-groups-on-youth-crime/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "The Influence of Peer Groups on Youth Crime." September 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-influence-of-peer-groups-on-youth-crime/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Influence of Peer Groups on Youth Crime'. 12 September.

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