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Lecture 6

Sociology 2267A/B Lecture 6: 2267 Midterm Notes

Course Code
SOC 2267A/B
Kim Luton

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The Rise and Fall of Delinquency
Society and Delinquency
- Societies have struggled with the definitions of delinquency and how to deal with youth
crime for centuries
- The main issues concern mens rea and capability
o Basically whether young people can form criminal intent and to what degree they
are accountable for their actions
- Important to recognize that the debate over delinquency and youth crime is situated
within the historical conditions of the time
o It is influenced by the prevailing social, economic and moral circumstances of the
society in which it takes place
o Society then develops policies in response to the youth crime problem
o These policies become accepted as solutions and the normal way of doing things
o Earlier solutions influence later ones and we continue to live with the
consequences of many of the earlier solutions
Delinquency as a social problem
- Under common law, young people were not considered legally responsible until the age
of 7
- They were not held accountable for their criminal behavior because they could not form
mens rea or criminal intent
- Between the ages of seven and fourteen, young people had limited legal responsibility
- The onus was on the Crown to prove that the youth had the legal maturity to appreciate
the nature and consequences of his or her behavior
- Youth over 14 years old were treated as adults
Historical Perspective
- Canadian youth crime history can be viewed within 3 distinct periods:
o Pre-confederation period (17th and 18th centuries)
o Victorian period (19th century)
o Post-Victorian period (20th century)
Pre-confederation period: Colonial Public issue
- Colonial administrators in Canada during the 17th and 18th century were concerned with
lawlessness among youth in the new colonies
- Whereas children in Europe society were seen as having no rights and being at the mercy
of their parents and the state, children in their colonies of Canada had freedom and
independence from their parents
o Parents relied on their children’s labour for economic success and thus rural and
working-class children who were working had considerable independence from
their parents
o Colonial administrators felt that this undermined the authority of the parents
- Two factors were seen as contributing to the problem of youth crime: parents and the
fur trade
o Often overindulgent parents were seen as contributing to the problem
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o As well, the promise of economic success through the fur trade enticed many
families to send their sons to work for the fur trade
o There were many problems for children inherent to the atmosphere and conditions
of the voyages of the fur trade
- During this period there were also large numbers of immigrants arriving from the New
World for hopes of a better life than they had at home in Europe
- Many families faced unemployment, sickness and destitution upon arriving in Canada
- Effects on children including poor living conditions and often times abandonment
through either the unavailability of parents due to the hardships they faced, abandonment
or orphanages, or death of parents
- During the 18th century a number of measures were proposed to deal with the problem of
youth crime
- Disciplinary measures were used as means to control unruly youth
o Fines, punishment, for parents of offenders, and military justice were some of the
solutions used to deal with youth
19th Century: Victorian Period
- Problems of urbanization continued throughout this century
- Problems associated with poverty and the influx of immigrants continued to plague the
early settlers of Canada
- As well, Britain sent orphaned children to Canada in order to provide a better life for
- These children were sent to Canada as servants under contract
- Juvenile institutions were not built until after 1857 so juvenile offenders were housed
with adult offenders
- Many of those who were institutionalized were convicted of minor offences and they
could be as young as 7 years’ old
- In 1857, an Act for Establishing Prisons for Young Offenders provided the basis for
separate institutions for youth
- During the mid-1800s the middle class began to express concerns about the morality of
the poor
- Various agencies were established in order to deal with the problems
- During the latter part of the 1800s youth crime was seen as a moral issue
- Rather than the issues associated with poverty being addressed the morality of the poor
was at issue
o Parents of these children were seen as either immoral or unwilling to control
their children
- Toward the latter part of the 19th century the concept of rehabilitation become prominent
throughout North America
o A reform movement based on humanitarian principles and the role of the state and
professionals in the rehabilitative process marked this period of time in Canada
o The effectiveness of imprisoning youth was also called into question during this
o The concept of a separate justice system for juveniles was brought forward during
the later 19th century
o The Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA) was implemented in 1908
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- As in the 18th century, the role of improper parenting was seen as the cause of youth
- **While in the 18th century attributed the problem to a lack of parental authority
and discipline, the 19th century viewed the problem as neglectful or immoral
parenting of children
- The public issue was one of the moral state of children from working class parents
The 20th century
- Population increase and rapid growth continued into the 20th century
- There was a dramatic increase in crime rates throughout the 20th century
- While crime rates increased it must also be remembered that the overall population was
increasing in Canada
- However, standardized rates also indicate an increase in the crime rate throughout the
20th century
A Sociological Perspective on Youth Crime
- While comparison of crime rates provides us some information about crime and levels of
crime it is also important to consider the meaning of crime, the societal response to it, and
how our responses effect crime rates
Myths and Facts about youth crime
- Most youth crime has consisted of minor property crime, with a small proportion
involving serious personal injury or death to others
- Males have been responsible for the largest share of criminal activity
- People think youth crime is worse than it is, that there is a “crime wave” among the
young population
Is youth crime more serious now?
- Two factors in the 20th century in Canada must be considered when discussing crime
statistics: rapid growth and the creation of a juvenile justice system
o Resulted in increases in criminal activity
o Cannot assume that youth behaviour is any worse now than it was in past decades
- As well changes in policing, juvenile justice legislation, administrative practices and
public pressures to “get tough” all effect crime rates
- It is difficult to separate the actual behavior of youth from the social context in which
such behaviours are viewed within society
Is youth crime a new problem?
- Youth crime and society’s perception of youth crime are difficult to separate
- The current views of criminal youth share similar perspectives to certain Colonial and
Victorian ideas concerning youth
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