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SOC 3710 Lecture Notes - Labeling Theory, Longitudinal Study, Anomie

Course Code
SOC 3710
Bill O' Grady

of 5
January 29/2013
Young Offenders
Theories of Youth Crime
Causal theories of crime look at factors of why youth commit crime. We want to know why certain youth
offend but others don’t. Critical theories on the other hand, look at both the rule makers and the rule
breakers in a broader societal analysis.
General Strain Theory - Agnew
o Comes from the anomie tradition of Merton
o Believes youth buy in to the goals of society but don’t have access to the means to achieve these
o Strains results when we want things we can't, which can then result in crime
o Not limited to economic strain, but also includes social-psychological factors: family, friends,
Types of strain
1. Economic strain
2. Unable to achieve positive goals: there's something you want, or some way you want to be, but
you can't reach the goal. Linked to the idea of frustration and aggression
3. Something of value is taken away from you
4. Negative events
These strains can happen in conjunction with each other. A lot of kids experience these things, but not
everyone reacts the same way to them. Social supports function to prevent kids from reacting negatively
as a result of these strains.
o Agnew looked at the different responses of girls and boys
When females feel strain, they often get frustration that is inwardly expressed. They are
more likely to blame themselves ex. drug use
Boys are more likely to blame others and lash out expressing their frustration outwardly
We still see this trend in crime statistics
General Theory of Crime - Hircshi & Gottfredson
o Negative activities are linked together: crime , drug use, no education
o Latent trait: low self control - this is the cause of all these bad behaviors
Impulsive, risk taker
Commitment issues
o Low self control remains consistent throughout the life span - they believe it is a part of your
This could explain career criminals
o What causes low self control? How is self control learnt?
Parenting is key
Need to have restrictions
Consistent discipline is important to prevent kids from thinking they can do what they
want when they want
o Paternoster
Measured self control over the life course
Had 2 groups of high risk kids in a longitudinal study over a 10 year period
Group A: 7 year olds - experimental groups: they gave the parents a "heavy duty:
parenting program meant to help the kids.
Group B: control group - didn’t provide any intervention for the parents, just let the kids
carry on with what they were doing
Once the kids were in high school, they asked questions about the self control to the
kids, parents and teachers
They found that the experimental group had actually gained self control
This showed that self control can grow over time if certain programs are put into place
to help parents deal with high risk kids
o So… low self control is constant if there is no intervention but it can change if there is some sort
of intervention
This theory is not effective in explaining differences in crime rates among girls and boys. Is it all based on
parenting or are there different levels of self control in females and males?
Differential Coercion Theory - Colvin
1. Consistent, Noncoercive Environment
This is the ideal parenting style- firm but fair
Unlikely to generate anger
Inclination towards pro social behaviors and less likely to become involved in crime
2. Erratic, Noncoercive Environment
Control is lenient and weak - kids kind of do what they want
Will not generate anger
May develop low self control and low social control which can lead to experimenting
with pleasurable deviant activities such as drinking, drug use, and illicit sex
3. Consistent, Coercive Environment
Highly punitive relationship develops - can lead to mental health problems
Limits the probability of criminal behavior but also leads to low pro social behavior
When the coercion is finally removed, it might lead to violent behavior
4. Erratic, Coercive Environment
Causes feelings of injustice and anger
Leaves youth feeling powerless and unable to change their circumstances
Leads to coercive ideation: the individual interprets the world as an environment
enveloped in coercion and believes the only way to combat it is through the use of
further coercion
Increased likelihood of involvement in street crimes, hostility and defiant behavior
Critical Theories
This is more of a perspective
o Looks at the bigger picture over a longer period of time
o Interested in the rule makers, the Canadian society, changing of laws, punishments, values of
o Creation of laws, the benefits and drawbacks of the policy goals and instruments
o Why does society react to crime in certain ways
o Macro causal- big picture
o Focus on group differences: overrepresentation of certain groups
o Systemic problems
o This perspective looks at how we can make things better
o Crime control policies are critical- evidence shows that crime control doesn’t work so why is the
government doing it anyway?
These theories often build upon each other. Look at how they are similar, and how they are different.
Labelling theory
o Stigma associated with being called a criminal
o Criminal justice policy does take this into account for young people
o Adults however, are subject to exposure by the press
o The logic behind this is protecting the interests and identities of young people - we don’t want
to see them labelled as a criminal
Can negatively impact how others view the youth
Rehabilitation is much more likely to take place is people don’t see the person as a
Public labels can have a negative impact on youth
o Lemert
Primary and secondary deviation
Argued that the causes of crime are very complex and can involve a wide number of
What is important however, is how the youth is reacted to if they get caught
If they are reacted to, punished and processed through the justice system, they will
grow and perceive themselves as criminal
This will result in the master status of the individual changing to a criminal rather than a