Home Law International Handbook of Juvenile Justice
EXPLANATIONS FOR THE CRIME TRENDS AMONG YOUTH
The increase in crime in general and youth offending in particular following the Second World War surprised many Swedish scholars and politicians. Sweden did not participate in the Second World War, and the country started building a
Figure 21.2. Self-reported participation by offending types among Swedish students in year 9 (aged 15-16). Percent (Bra 2013a). *Fare dodging, driving without a license, use of false ID-card.
welfare state while large parts of Europe were still recovering from the war’s impact. By increasing levels of wealth and reducing social inequality, the goal was to build a society in which all citizens could live well. The expectation was that the development of the welfare state would produce a decline in levels of crime. What actually happened was quite the opposite. Scholars (e.g. von Hofer 2011) have explained this trend as having been a result of the increase in wealth production and thereby an increase in the opportunities for crime. Sarnecki
Figure 21.3. Numbers of self-reported offenses per year among Swedish students in year 9 (aged 15-16). Percent (Bra 2013b).
Figure 21.4. Proportion of students in year 9 (age 15-16) who believed that their friends would think it was “completely OK” if they themselves engaged in a number of different socially unacceptable behaviours (Bra 2013b).
(2012), who largely agrees with the arguments presented by von Hofer, noted, however, that changes in the opportunity structure alone could not fully explain why crime increased more among young people than adults. In addition, changes in the opportunity structure could not fully account for the decline in crime witnessed in the 1990s. Sarnecki’s view is that, in addition to changes in the opportunity structure, developments in the field of social control have also played an important role in explaining changes in crime at the macro level. He argues that levels of social control declined more substantially for young people during the period 1950-1990 than for other groups within the population. According to Sarnecki, the crime decline beginning of the 1990s indicates that levels of social control, particularly among young people, started to increase once again.
Changes in young people’s perceptions of their peers’ attitudes toward deviant behaviour may be interpreted as an indicator of changes in social control. According to Matza (1964), for example, youths’ perceptions of other youths’ attitudes to crime may be expected to have a direct effect on their own offending. Figure 21.4 presents data on Swedish youths’ perceptions of their peers’ attitudes to a range of behaviours. The data are from the above-described self-report surveys conducted among students in year 9.
The figure shows a clear trend in relation to the majority of the deviant behaviours examined. Over the course of the 16-year period, the youths described their peers as having increasingly negative views of involvement in deviant behaviour. The exception is found in relation to “testing hash”, where no attitude changes have occurred. As is shown in Fig. 21.2, the level of self-reported drug use has remained stable in contrast to the level of involvement in the other types of offending. The earlier results confirm the hypothesis that levels of social control among young people appear to be increasing, which may constitute one explanation for why youth crime is decreasing, despite the continued increase in economic wealth and subsequent increase in the opportunities for crime.
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