‘The application by criminologists of the ideas summarised in this chapter tends to manifest in the form of multifactorial explanations for youth crime. However, in doing this, criminologists generally refrain from presenting a hierarchy of causes. The result is that immediate causes are cited (such as unemployment, racism, labelling, poor schooling), and reformist measures are advocated (such as training schemes, alternative school), but rarely are substantial changes to the social structure as a whole demanded. For those who wish to see major social change occurring, the questions of power and social interests are of paramount importance. Where multiple factors are at the foreground of analysis, the tendency is to respond to the phenomenon of youth crime through emphasis on developing specific projects and programs, More radical perspectives view such proposals as very limiting, unless they are linked directly to a wider politics of social change.’
Critically examine how well criminological theory links with policy responses to juvenile crime. Illustrate your answer by reference to theory, a juvenile justice issue and a policy response.
When young people commit crimes, it is rarely seen that people ask the question why did they do this? The tendency is to respond to these acts by training schemes or to send the youths to alternative schools. The phenomenon of youth crime is responded to through an emphasis on developing programs and projects. Rarely are substantial changes as a whole demanded of the social structure. The root causes should be tackled effectively while the hierarchy are simultaneously attended to causes along the way with due priorities. A juvenile justice issue that is of importance in youth crime at the moment is young men and violence. There are many policy responses to this issue as there are many different causes to the problem. By analysing the many different reasons as to why the young men become violent, substantial changes can be made slowly to the social structure. This essay will demonstrate how criminological theory links to policy responses for young men and violence.
There are many theories and explanations put forward as to why juveniles offend and commit crimes. These range from perspectives that emphasise individual offender choice whether to offend, through to those that emphasise social factors such as poverty, limited employment opportunities, and school performance in shaping juvenile criminal acts (Cunneen, White. 2007). These theories vary considerably.
The classical theory and the individual choice is based on the purpose of punishment within the law is to deter individuals from impinging upon and violating others’ rights and interests. As individuals we are seen to have equal capacity to reason, and so we are seen responsible for our own actions. Thus the classical criminal policy focuses primarily on the criminal act and suggests equal punishments for equal crime.
The positivism theory is that behaviour is determined. Individual behaviour is shaped by factors such as physiology, personality, social upbringing and others. The focus is on the individuals, who are seen to require treatment since they are not necessarily responsible for their criminality. Positivists concentrate on the offender and the offenders characteristics.
A sociological perspective argues that in order to understand that nature and occurrence of crime, we need to look at the structure of the society that moulds and shapes culture and behaviour. Individual action is thus attributable to social causes, and crime can be seen as a matter of social pathology.
Acts of violence have terrible and costly results for everyone involved, including families, communities, and society. Violence is a major part of some people’s lives, especially young men’s lives (Cameron, 2000). Violence in the family has been made visible over the last 3 decades, largely as a result of enquires into domestic violence and child abuse. According to an article printed by the Australian Institute of Criminology about young men and violence statistics found that 6.2% of Australian women experienced either physical or sexual violence by a male perpetrator. These statistics are also an indication of the extent of violence towards children in families. Violence is characteristic of many families, and it has implications for how young men grow up, violence is learnt. In 1990, the National Committee on Violence referred to families as “the training ground for violence”. The Women’s Safety Survey also found that 38 per cent of women who experienced violence by a current partner, and 46 per cent of women who had experienced violence by a former partner, said their children had witnessed violence (Cameron, 2000). Experiences early in life must have some influence on young men who exhibit evidence of violence later in life. Young men between the ages of 20 and 24 experience the highest rate of assault compared with the rest of the population. Not all families or young men are violent. Certain risk factors indicate the likelihood of behaving aggressively or engaging in violence. These include, having a history of violent behaviour, being male, being a young adult, having experienced difficulties in childhood, including inadequate parenting, troubled relationships within the family, low levels of school achievement, having problems of psychotropic substance abuse, especially problematic alcohol use and having severe mental illness, the symptoms of which are not being identified or controlled. Violence in the family is no longer considered a private issue. Moreover, it has implications for broader social policies. Some young men are involved in a culture of violence, well beyond issues concerning the family. In 1998, almost 60 per cent of recorded assaults occurred outside of residences. Alcohol plays a part in a significant number of these offences. Some young men enjoy a fight; a fight can result from a trivial incident. Fights can relate to illegal activities, such as drug dealing, that do not allow young men to resort to legitimate forms of conflict resolution. As a result, groups may develop for protection. As members become hardened, for example, by experience in jail, they may view the world as consisting of the strong and the weak, and as a place of conflict and struggle. They ritualistically convey their ruthlessness and act brutally. In some instances, groups or gangs have emerged around issues of ethnic solidarity. While groups or gangs may emerge as a result of illicit activities, this is not always the case. Young men may feel safe in groups, and when police see three or more young men together they may define them as a gang. Violence occurs at school. Although Australia is fortunate enough to have been spared the school yard shootings, less lethal forms of violence are not uncommon. Bullying may or may not be intended to hurt and may take the form of physical, non-physical, or non-verbal action undertaken by the bully or by someone co-opted to do so. Bullying is hurtful and may have health consequences. Thus juvenile crime takes several forms and shapes.
There are several policy responses available to deal with juvenile crime. Many young men need advice and direction on how to behave towards women and their peers, and they want to talk to you about it. An article discussing young men and violence identified many strategies that they believed would be effective and promising for policy development towards young men (Cameron, 2000). This article identified six prevention strategies.
The first prevention strategy being related to parenting, education and support. Families were characterised as a location of conflict for many young men. They reported that early in their lives parents argued and violence occurred in the family. It is important to develop programs to support families in a rapidly changing society where the structures and relationships are often not available to support parents with child rearing. Also, pre-school programs, including parenting interventions, have reduced some children’s anti-social behaviour and delinquency. A number of programs have been implemented in Australia based on these principles.
The second is focusing on interventions during childhood and adolescents. Research suggests that the greatest likelihood of success results from programs implemented with children before they reach adolescence. Further, programs should target multiple risk factors, including those at the level of the community, the family, the school, and the individual/ peer, which contribute to youth violence. Interventions at this age can also reduce school-yard bullying. This is an encouraging area of research, as school-based programs that address antisocial behaviour and delinquency generally have found that parenting training and skills based training with children can be effective.
Drug use amongst young men was a major issue and a cause for violence. People got involved in drug use due to peer pressure and the requirement to fit in, and youth start it without knowing the harm that would result from regular use. Intervention programs in the area of drugs are most effective when undertaken in the family setting. Young people’s involvement in drug and alcohol use usually results from peer influences. Alcohol plays a significant part in violence that occurs in and around hotels. Success has been demonstrated and repeated in a significant Australian study that aimed to reduce the level of violence related to alcohol in and around licensed premises. By reducing, promotional activities which had brought about binge drinking and high levels of drunkenness resulted in reduced levels of violence.
Many youth have generally poor relationships with the police. Police need to develop an understanding of the youth culture and take young people seriously. Police also need to be more understanding and open minded on youth issues, which would lead to mutual respect. Fairness should be a part of encounters with police and in criminal justice procedures. The benefit of legitimate policing can be seen in the area of domestic violence where it has limited the amount of repeat offending. The process of policing may have implications for how people see themselves in the broader society, and may result in compliance if they are considered to share values.
The most common reason that violence does occur amongst youths is anger issues. Violence counselling or anger management services can also assist young men to break the cycle of violence. A number of Australian anger management programs are in place to assist young men, although the successes of these are unclear. This area of intervention is in early stages of development where considerable attention is being devoted to program development. Counselling and mentoring programs have shown promising rewards. Multi-systemic therapy programs individually tailored for the particular needs of young offenders, which include family, peer, school, and community interventions, have been demonstrated to reduce the level of reoffending. There also appears to be an effect on reducing violence, as there was also a reduction in the frequency of hitting someone.
When violence occurs in the family or when the young men felt explosive and possibly violent and a danger to others, they said they did not have anywhere to turn. The sixth violence prevention strategy is creating recreational and sporting areas for youth to go to if when they have nowhere else to turn to. Recreation and sport are legitimate ways to expend energy. Young men would benefit from accessing to sporting and recreational facilities, such as skating parks and bicycle tracks. The success of the introduction of recreational activities as a means of stopping violence has not been assessed.
The above policy responses are appropriate intervention strategies to help prevent young men from associating with violence. These policy responses are linked to one or more of the criminological theories in the juvenile justice system. The main criminological theories that are linked to these policy responses are the classical theory and individual choice; the positivism and individual criminal behaviour; and the sociological theories. While more than one of the response outlined are necessary in most instances, the policy response of parenting, education and support is one of better ones because it addressed the hierarchy of causes.
A main reason that youths associate with violence is because they have not had a good upbringing in their homes. They have not had a pleasant and peaceful environment at home were family values and social norms are introduced and nurtured. Instead they grew up in a family which more than discouraged encouraged violence. Despite the fact that this policy response shows that it is difficult to introduce a program which demonstrates effectiveness in improving behaviour of adults, it in many ways assists young men in improving their own behaviour. It is important to develop programs to support families in a rapidly changing society where the structures and relationships are often not available to support parents (Cameron, 2000).
This intervention has multiple factors and responded through specific projects and programs. However it did not identify and arrange the hierarchy of cause and responded to with a social structural change. Such structural change would include the families changing their behaviour, anger management and improving the relations with police, both sides taking responsibility and respecting each other’s rights and obligations. This should help eliminate all known factors of youth offending activates.
The policy responses of the juvenile justice issue of young men and violence are closely linked to the criminological theories. However they are not addressing collectively the hierarchy of causes of violence of young men they are not linked to the wider politics of social change.
Cameron, M. (June 2000). Young men and Violence Prevention. Australian Institute of Criminolgy. No. 154.
Chris, C & White, R. Juvenile justice, youth and crime in Austrlalia. Third Edition.