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CAUSES OF JUVENILE CRIME
Research and discussions on causes of juvenile crime have a long tradition in Poland. As early as the interwar period, social scientists and lawyers devoted much attention to issues related to the etiology of juvenile crime. At that time social factors, such as family breakdown, poverty, unemployment, alcoholism among parents, as well as low moral and ethical levels of parents, were recognized causes of child and youth crime. Additionally, psychological characteristics of children were indicated as conducive to juvenile crime. Generally, the developing Polish criminology field during the interwar period tried to combine exogenous and endogenous factors when explaining the etiology of both the adult and juvenile crime (Rodak 2009).
Figure 17.2. Number of juveniles adjudicated due to ‘punishable acts’ and ‘signs of demoralization’ in the years 2004-2014. Source: Ministerstwo Sprawiedliwosci (Ministry of Justice 2015a). Wydzial Statystycznej Informacji Zarz^dczej Departament Strategii i Funduszy Europejskich. Nieletni—prawomocne orzeczenia w latach 2003-2014. Retrieved from http://isws.ms.gov.pl/pl/baza-statystyczna/opracowania-wieloletnie/.
Intensive research work focused on causes of juvenile crime that took place in the 1960s and 1970s within the Polish Academy of Sciences. In 1955 in the Institute of State and Law of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Department of Criminology was established at the initiative of Professor Stanislaw Batawia who was the founder of the Polish school of criminology. From the very beginning researchers of the department studied causes of juvenile crime in close connection with problems concerning ‘morally neglected’ children. In the course of research projects conducted at the department, the latter term was replaced by the concept of socially maladjusted children. The definition of social maladjustment applied to children whose behavior was characterized by a set of signs showing that they repeatedly did not observe some of the fundamental social norms expected of young people of that age (Ostrihanska 1978a). As a result of such a research-oriented approach, the studies conducted covered not only causes of juvenile crime but also causes of juvenile predelinquent behaviors, that is truancy, failure to complete elementary school, loitering in the streets, spending time in the company of demoralized friends, drinking, drug-taking, or promiscuity.
Criminological studies on the etiology of juvenile crime and predelinquent behaviors which were carried out in the 1960s and 1970s paid much attention on family background. The studies revealed that in many cases the families of socially maladjusted or delinquent juveniles had not satisfied the needs of children. Among the most common family factors which contributed to both predelinquent and delinquent behaviors of juveniles were the following: family antagonisms and conflicts, breakup of the family, alcoholism, the absence of sufficient parental care and supervision, inadequate methods used by parents in bringing up their children, criminal or demoralized parents who presented socially undesirable behavior patterns to the child, lack of interest in the child and weakened emotional bonds between the child and his or her parents. Unsatisfied emotional needs led the child to seek compensation outside the home in the company of peers experiencing similar situations, resulting in the formation of youth delinquent groups. Family background was found to be a factor of great importance for both juvenile delinquency and the persistence in violations of criminal law. As noted by Kolakowska-Przelomiec (1977, 1978), those juveniles who persisted in their antisocial and offending behavior were frequently brought up in worse family backgrounds than juveniles who reformed.
Other factors that were found to be correlated with juvenile social maladjustment and delinquency, based on the criminological research conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, were school failure and psychological determinants. Wojcik (1978), for example, emphasized that school failure increased the risk of youth predelinquent and delinquent behaviors, particularly when linked with other factors detrimental to a child’s development. The probability of manifestations of social maladjustment and criminal behaviors grew with the agglomeration of a large number of negative factors in the child’s living situation that is family background, school progress, or personality. Studies on psychological determinants often dealt with specific issues such as neurotic symptoms or damages of the central nervous system. Generally, the results of such studies indicated that in a group of juvenile offenders, and particularly juvenile recidivists, there was an accumulation of diverse physical-psychological disturbances which coexisted with adverse elements of the family and school situation (Ostrihanska 1978b).
After the political, economic, and social transformations in Poland some researchers stressed the importance of macro-social factors, such as the lack of stable social structures in postmodern societies and the risk of social exclusion of young people because of the changing labor market and growing unemployment (Wysocka-Pleczyk 2009). Most contemporary criminological, pedagogical, and psychological studies on causes of juvenile crime are still dominated by the multifactorial approach. According to this approach, there is no single cause of juvenile crime, but it is rational to search for different factors and variables which affect the functioning of socially maladjusted persons (Gierowski et al. 2009). A detailed analysis of the results of research conducted in this area would require a separate study. Generally, they confirm findings from the 1960s and 1970s according to which the risk of crime and particularly the risk of reoffending increases with the number of accumulated adverse factors connected with the family background, school failure, and individual psychological characteristics (Rzeplinska 2009, 2011).
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