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CAUSES OF JUVENILE CRIME

Canadian research on the causes of youth crime has been mainly empirical, based largely on existing theories developed in other countries, mainly the United States. However, a few Canadian criminologists have made major contributions to new theories of youth crime. Notable examples include the major contributions of Le Blanc and his colleagues who formulated and tested developmental criminology (e.g., Le Blanc & Frechette 1989; Le Blanc & Loeber 1998), the work of Tremblay on the development of violence in early childhood (e.g., Broidy et al. 2003; Nagin & Tremblay 1999; Tremblay 2000; Tremblay et al. 2004), and the power-control theory of Hagan and his colleagues (e.g., Hagan et al. 1985, 1987, 1988).

The bulk of Canadian research on the causes of youth crime is situated within one of the following theories: social control, differential association and peer influence, life course and developmental theory, feminist theories, and social disorganization theory. This necessarily brief review of research is organized under those headings.

Social control theory: Canadian research on the relationship between poor parental attachment and delinquency (reviewed in Bell 2015: 208-222) includes studies of the impact of parenting styles and family violence on childhood aggression or other behavioral problems. Family problems can lead to running away from home, thence to street life and involvement in violence, drugs, and prostitution (Bell 2015: 218-219). Studies of the relationship between school attachment and delinquency (reviewed in Bell 2015: 223-233) include demonstrations that a bad school climate and failure at school are associated with delinquency and that good school attachment can be protective against delinquency.

Differential association and peer influence: Friendships with peers who have delinquent attitudes (Zeman & Bressan 2008) or who engage in delinquent activities (Statistics Canada 2001; Wong 1999) have been shown to be criminogenic for Canadian youth, as elsewhere. Research has also been done on membership in youth gangs (Gordon 1995, 2001; Mathews 1993; Smith-Moncrieffe 2013; Tanner & Wortley 2002; Totten 2000) and on youth committing crimes in groups (“cooffending”) (Carrington 2002, 2009, 2015b, c; Carrington et al. 2013; Carrington & van Mastrigt 2013).

Developmental and life-course theory: Le Blanc and his colleagues have made notable empirical as well as theoretical contributions to this school of criminological theory in their studies of the “psychosocial” development and delinquency of young males in the province of Quebec (e.g., Le Blanc 2003, 2005a, b; Le Blanc & Frechette 1989). Tremblay has made major contributions to the study of the development of violence in children (e.g., Broidy et al. 2003; Nagin & Tremblay 1999; Tremblay et al. 2004). Corrado and his colleagues have also made major contributions to the relationship between psychological development and delinquency (e.g., Corrado & McCuish 2015; Corrado et al. 2004; McCuish et al. 2015; Vincent et al. 2003), including a recent theoretical scheme for a set of models of pathways to delinquency (Corrado & Freedman 2011). Corrado and Lussier (2011) have edited a special journal issue incorporating Canadian research on early developmental prevention of antisocial behavior. Jacob (2010) replicated and extended Sampson and Laub’s (1993) life-course theory of delinquency, using Canadian data. Further, MacRae and her colleagues have studied developmental risk factors and reoffending in the province of Alberta (MacRae et al. 2009, 2011). Finally, Studies of criminal careers in Canada include Carrington et al. 2005, Carrington 2007, Day et al. 2007, Day et al. 2012, Kazemian et al. 2007, Lee 1999, Ward et al. 2010, and Yessine and Bonta 2009.

Feminist theories: The power-control theory of Hagan and his colleagues (Hagan et al. 1985) combines elements of Marxist conflict theory, social control theory, and feminist gender role theory. It posits differences in child-rearing practices in patriarchal and egalitarian households that explain both the genesis of delinquency and differences in boys’ and girls’ delinquency. It has motivated a substantial body of empirical research, in Canada and elsewhere (e.g., Blackwell et al. 2002; Browning & Erickson 2012; Jacob 2006; Jensen & Thompson 1990; Morash & Chesney-Lind 1991; Nakhaie et al. 2000a, b). Other Canadian feminist research includes Landry’s (2008) study of female aggression and studies of girls’ roles in gangs (Dorais & Corriveau 2009; Totten 2000).

Social disorganization theory: One of the major contributions of Canadian criminology to the understanding of the causes of youth (and adult) crime is the adaptation of social disorganization theory to explain the high incidence of reported crime by Aboriginal Canadians. Classic social disorganization theory explained high crime in terms of “socially disorganized” neighborhoods (Shaw & McKay 1931; Shaw et al. 1942), characterized by poverty, unemployment, poor housing, and other social and physical pathologies.

The high crime rate of Aboriginal Canadian youth and adults has been explained by the social disorganization—or attempted destruction—of an entire racial community, which has recently been described by a commission appointed by the Canadian government as “cultural genocide”: the “destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group” in order to “cause the Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada 2015: 1). Numerous Canadian researchers and government commissions have documented the socially disorganized living conditions of Aboriginal Canadians, both on- and off-reserve, and linked them to elevated Aboriginal crime rates (e.g., Fitzgerald & Carrington 2008; Hamilton & Sinclair 1991; La Prairie 1994, 1995, 2002; Ratner 1996; Yessine & Bonta 2009; York 1990).

 
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